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2008 Aki Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls here.
You've all heard the term less is more. It's unfortunate that Musashigawa Rijicho didn't implement that concept when he was suddenly handed the keys to the Sumo Association. His feeling of having to do something tangible right away now that he was in charge translated into calling all of the judges together the night before the basho started and ordering them to get strict on the rikishi's tachi-ai. It was a move that made no sense because there wasn't a problem to begin with. The response from the judges and the referees was to make up ridiculous false starts to give the appearance that they were actually following orders. The results of the new mandate were outright embarrassing. You had bouts called back with sound tachi-ai only to have a rikishi fail to put both fists down on the do-over with nothing being called. You had bouts fought to completion before the rikishi or referee even noticed the head judge raising his hand furiously to call things back. You had rikishi letting up in their bouts and subsequently losing because they were worried it would be called back. You had Asashoryu blatantly fail to put both fists to the dirt in a bout that wasn't called back which resulted in a public reprimand of Takanohana the head judge on duty who stated afterwards, "To me, if the rikishi are in synch, it's okay." And on and on. It was so painful that even the Japanese press couldn't avoid commenting on how inconsistent things were.

If there was anything positive to take from the debacle, Hanaregoma-oyakata looked as if he would actually burst into tears on multiple occasions when completely ignored sitting in the head judge's seat, and the stares some rikishi (especially Kokkai) would give the referees after a sound tachi-ai was called back as if to say "are you a dumbass or something?" were entertaining. But on the whole, when you have a boring basho, you can't afford to soil it further with meaningless, inconsistent calls that only add to the bad publicity surrounding the sport. And I sincerely hope that the commissioner's actions were not the result of buying into the hype produced by the Japanese press that Asashoryu was the root of the tachi-ai problem. After Musashigawa Rijicho called the judges together for that impromptu meeting, the press practically creamed themselves with headlines pointing the finger directly at Asashoryu as if to say "Ha, the commissioner is onto you!". I cannot figure out why people want Asashoryu out of sumo. Who is going to sell tickets? Who are the press going to have to generate their sensational, bullying headlines? Who is going to pay any attention to the Yokozuna Deliberation Council? Who is going to keep Hakuho in check on the dohyo? The answer is no one, so be careful what you wish for. The minute Asashoryu was henka'd into a couple of losses and withdrew from the basho, Aki 2008 suddenly became a non-event where the closest Ozeki to the yusho rikishi was three losses off...where the jun-yusho rikishi was two losses off...where the yusho was decided in anti-climactic fashion on day 14...and where only a total of two special prizes were awarded. That's a bad basho, but you could see it coming from the outset with all the distractions prior to the festivities.

As for the rikishi themselves, let's start with Yokozuna Hakuho who has solidified himself this year as not only a dai-Yokozuna but as a legitimate threat to put himself into the top three of all time. Near the end of the basho, the NHK announcers (no, not the English guys) began a discussion about just how far Hakuho could extend his winning streak. When a rikishi is able to solidify himself in the Sekiwake rank and contend for the yusho as Ama has, you talk of Ozeki promotion. When an Ozeki takes a yusho and is fighting at a level where he is likely to take consecutive yusho, you talk of Yokozuna. When a Yokozuna winning yusho no longer becomes news, you start to talk about the hallowed records: career yusho and win streaks. Hakuho is already there. In fact, since being promoted to Yokozuna, the only time he has failed to take the tournament championship was when he was henka'd out of it. He has risen to the same level now as Asashoryu when that Yokozuna was at his prime. The only difference is Hakuho doesn't have the flash nor the controversy. It will probably please some of the sumo fans to see such a dignified Yokozuna, but it will be boring.

As for Hakuho's sumo, he has cemented himself as a dai-Yokozuna thanks to an adjustment in his tachi-ai where he no longer lunges forward completely committing himself. He forces the rikishi to come and get him, a task that has proven tall for everyone unless Hakuho gets careless as he did against Kisenosato on day 4. Highlights for the Yokozuna this basho came against Aminishiki on day 8 when he read Sneaky's henka; on day 10 when he thoroughly dominated Ama; and on day 14 when he outlasted Kotooshu in the best bout we've seen since Hakuho - Asashoryu this year in Hatsu. That bout against Kotooshu really typifies where Hakuho is at right now. The bout itself lasted 30 seconds or more, but it was over less than five seconds in when Hakuho got the uwate and had the slightly lower position. Kotooshu gave a valiant effort, but you cannot beat Hakuho these days unless he beats himself. Settle yourselves in because Hakuho will hit 20 yusho in three years.

Moving to the other Yokozuna, Asashoryu, the Associaiton has taken something from him. I'm not exactly sure what it was, but here are a couple scenarios.

1) They took away his desire. Asashoryu single-handedly carried sumo from 2004 until Hakuho won his first yusho. Yet, the Association never gave him the proper respect deserved of a Yokozuna. To this day, he has never received the benefit of the doubt in regards to a close call in the ring; they continue to turn a blind eye and allow the media and other Association-appointed figures to publicly bully him and soil his reputation to no end; and when they were looking for a scapegoat to cover up the killing of Tokitaizan, they took it out on their Yokozuna. It wouldn't surprise me if Asashoryu's attitude simply became eff you all...I'm gonna milk this for as much money as I can and then ride off to the plains of Mongolia.

2) They took away his freedom. Beginning with his two basho punishment when they put him under house arrest--a violation of basic human rights in my opinion, the Sumo Association may have taken Asashoryu behind closed doors and said one more minor misstep and you're out no questions asked. No more rough keiko. No more rough sumo in the ring. No questioning any judges calls. Ease up on your opponents. Wait...yaocho doesn't exist in sumo. Regardless, something could have been said to Asashoryu where he is now afraid to be the guy he used to be.

He has clearly become a watered down rikishi, so the question is why? I don't think it's his elbow. Every Yokozuna has a chronic injury to fall back on when they need to withdraw or get out of the exhibitions. In Asashoryu's case, his elbow looks fine to me. What does it say when on day 9 against Ama that Asashoryu failed to give his mawashi the usual exaggerated slap to fire himself up the last time he grabs the salt as Kenji pointed out in his report? This is not the same rikishi, and it's a shame that he hasn't been more appreciated.

As an aside, I noted with amusement that Asashoryu has returned home to Mongolia. And just after the press made a big deal about Musashigawa Rijicho being a hard-ass who wouldn't put up with Asashoryu's antics. Apparently not. Asa went home again AND he's missing the exhibition season. That's not misbehavior; that's the right of a Yokozuna.

Let's move onto the Ozeki ranks starting with Kotomitsuki who looked slow to me in Aki. His 11-4 finish looked good on paper, but that was largely due to the upper Maegashira ranks sucking so bad. From the M1 rank down thru M8 only three rikishi scored kachi-koshi in Goeido, Henkanishiki, and Toyohibiki at 8-7. Of course the best Ozeki on the board behind Ama is going to clean up with that kind of competition. Kotomitsuki was average in Aki.

Which makes Kotooshu's 8-7 look pathetic. Kotooshu is so fragile mentally that any sort of disturbance will throw him off. This basho it was the scrutiny at the tachi-ai that caused Kotooshu to be a half second slower at the initial charge. Good thing he won't have anything hanging over his head come Kyushu. You know...something like rumors that he bought his yusho in May. I was pleased that all of Kotooshu's wins were forward-moving, but the frustration will continue for Kotooshu fans because this dude is not mentally tough.

I was impressed with Kaio's 9-6. Not only did he beat both Sadogatake Ozeki, but dude's 36 years old. He also handled young guns like Baruto and Goeido. Save a pull down win against Miyabiyama, the rest of Kaio's victories were by forward-moving sumo including a few of his signature throws. The Ozeki probably would have reached ten wins if he hadn't laid down for Chiyotaikai on day 11. Great stuff from Kaio this year.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Chiyotaikai was okay finishing 9-6. The reason why the Pup was just okay while Kaio was good is that five of Chiyo's nine wins were by pull down. There was nothing cheap really; it's just that Kaio finished his opponents off via yori-kiri and throws while Chiyotaikai needed to skirt a bit for his wins. The Ozeki got off to a decent start with solid wins over Kisenosato and Toyonoshima, but he ended up with only one win over a kachi-koshi rikishi (Kaio threw their bout, so I'm not counting it).

In the Sekiwake ranks, Ama had the best basho of his career. He suffered two bonehead losses yet still finished 12-3. That's what rikishi do when they're about to yusho, and Ama may get his before the end of 2009. On Day 2 he completely lost his focus against Kakuryu and was forced out of the ring without a fight, and then on day 14, his loss to Goeido was a semi-fluke. That leaves his only straight up loss against Hakuho on day 10. Aside from his henka against Asashoryu in a bout that was probably thrown, Ama straight up kicked everyone else's ass. Ama is using speed and confidence to will his way to the Ozeki rank. He needs 11 wins in Kyushu for promotion to Ozeki. We'll see how well he holds up mentally, but who is really going to rise up and stop him?

Across the aisle, Toyonoshima was okay in his Sekiwake debut. Toyonoshima deserved the promotion, but he is not Sekiwake material; thus his 6-9 finish despite the weak upper Maegashira. Toyonoshima could never get on a roll, and his 1-3 start didn't help. The Sekiwake showed great fight in that win over Asashoryu, but he only won consecutive bouts once. A Sekiwake cannot survive without any momentum, so we'll see if Toyonoshima is booted from the sanyaku altogether come November.

Dropping down to the Komusubi ranks, Baruto did extremely well to pull out a kachi-koshi in his sanyaku debut. Baruto did best Kotooshu on day 2, but he failed to pick up any other significant wins the first nine days. For a Komusubi to make an impact, he's gotta do better against the Yokozuna and Ozeki. Still, Bart did what he needed to do which was finish 6-0 against the rikishi ranked below him. Regarding Baruto, the most telling incident of the basho for me came on day 3 when he lost to Ama. Ama beat Baruto handily and then promptly went back to the dressing room and lit up a cigarette to celebrate. Smoking has been banned in the dressing rooms at the Kokugikan for over a year now, but Ama ignored the ban and lit up anyway. The press tried to make an incident of Ama's behavior, and the Association complied by warning Ama, but I think they did it more to shut the media up. Anyway, for Ama to brazenly break the rules like that in front of the press tells me that he was pumped after beating Baruto as well he shoulda been. It's a sign of respect that even the top rikishi in the division are aware of Baruto and his potential. Hopefully the Estonian can live up to it. Great basho for Baruto.

Counterpart Asasekiryu was a disgrace in Aki. His 4-11 finish was lowlighted by two tachi-ai henka against Chiyotaikai and Miyabiyama. He did pound Kotomitsuki, which was probably more of an indicator of how average Hit and Miss was fighting, and then he did beat Baruto fair and square, which raises the question why couldn't he beat anybody else? With such a terrible performance from the Maegashira ranks, average Ozeki, and an ineffective Sekiwake, Asasekiryu greatly underachieved in Aki.

Let's head to the aforementioned Maegashira ranks where it gets even uglier. Kotoshogiku, a former Sekiwake mainstay, was lethargic yet again despite the watered down competition. His only win over a kachi-koshi rikishi was against Kaio on day 1, a good win in hindsight, but other than that, he stunk. Counterpart Miyabiyama was in my back pocket the entire basho. He carelessly got off to a 3-3 start and accidentally pasted Asashoryu on day 3, but after his win on day 6 against Kyokutenho, I reminded him that if he wanted to see the pics of Martin in his ballerina gear, he better cooperate. The Sheriff complied going 1-8 down the stretch to finish with four wins giving me the victory over Martin. Since Martin at least had the stones to challenge me before the basho started, I won't post his photo shoot here, but you can bet you'll find some of the glossies in Miyabiyama's akeni.

M2 Kisenosato is partly to blame for the string of bad basho lately. A tournament needs a young rikishi in this position to stir things up, and while the Kid did upset Hakuho on day 5, that win was sandwiched by six losses leaving Kisenosato at 1-6 after the first week. He failed to pick up another win over a kachi-koshi rikishi and wasted a Shukunsho and chance to return to the sanyaku with lethargic sumo. Something tells me Kisenosato's keiko needs improvement because he looks limp on the dohyo right now.

M3 Kyokutenho was yet another non-factor this basho. Shame on Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, and the Chauffeur for failing to show up. Tenho did beat Kotooshu on day 3, but that's not saying much this basho. I'm tired of Kyokutenho giving up among the jo'i.

M4 Aminishiki was the only rikishi who managed a kachi-koshi among the jo'i, but I need not remind anyone how he got it. Sneaky apparently feels as if he needs to pick up where the brother's Ro left off. Beating a Yokozuna and scoring a kachi-koshi in the same basho normally means a Shukunsho, but hell if the Associaiton was going to waste the reward on Aminishiki's effort. It burns me to no end that the new commissioner is wasting his time on the tachi-ai when he should be reprimanding guys like Aminishiki who make a joke of the sport with their crap sumo.

Counterpart Tochinonada marked yet another 6-9 rikishi to round out the jo'i. Perhaps we can give all these guys the Hanaregoma-oyakata award for lacking any sort of presence during the basho.

M5 Kakuryu scored some nice wins on paper over Ama and Kotooshu, but he took advantage of a major brain fart from Ama and then delivered as dirty a henka as you'll see against Kotooshu. Still, the Mongolian only lost one of his eight to a rikishi who didn't kachi-koshi (Tochiohzan), so he's right there. He just needs to focus on his style of sumo and stop the shenanigans. Counterpart Goeido needs to take his sumo to the next level starting in Kyushu. Enough of beating up on the rank and file; it's time to beat the big boys now. Goeido of course jumped out to that nice 9-1 start, but only managed a 1-4 finish after being paired with the likes of Hakuho, Kaio, and Kotooshu down the stretch. It's almost as if Goeido has it in his mind that he shouldn't be beating those guys, so he isn't. He's gotta realize that he can kick anyone's ass save maybe Hakuho and then go out and do it. He did beat Ama on day 14, but it was a bit of fluke sumo. Take nothing away from Goeido in that bout, however, as his tachi-ai was deafening and threw Ama off from the start, but Goeido has got to deliver that kind of tachi-ai every bout. Dude is like a sledgehammer at the initial charge, so he needs to get it in his noggin' that he can beat anyone, and then go out and do it. I slobbered plenty over the nuances of his sumo during the basho, so let's sit back and see how he does in Kyushu from the Komusubi rank. Can't wait.

How about M6 Toyohibiki scoring kachi-koshi this high in the ranks? The Nikibi was overshadowed by Goeido's excellent start, and his own 1-4 finish took the luster off of his t-zone, but that will happen when you get two Ozeki and Ama down the stretch. With the lack of kachi-koshi rikishi above him, Toyohibiki should be slotted near M2 - M3 for Kyushu, so that puts him among the jo'i. I'd like to see him stick to his tsuppari attack and not clam up as he did against Kotooshu this basho and quickly settle for a yotsu-zumo contest. Guys like Kotooshu, Baruto, and even Hakuho are big targets, so use your tsuppari and trust in your sumo. Along with Goeido, Toyohibiki will be a nice new edition to the jo'i in Kyushu.

Counterpart Tochiohzan struggled yet again when ranked in the upper half of the Maegashira ranks. Oh started out okay, and scored some nifty early wins over the likes of Toyohibiki, Kakuryu, and Futenoh, but his 2-8 finish was a disaster, especially considering that all but one of these losses came at the hands of make-koshi rikishi. This guy's a headcase if there ever was one.

M7 Tokitenku falls into the same category as my gains in the stock market this year...all but disappeared. This former constant threat to the sanyaku only managed to string consecutive wins together the final two days of the tournament. When Tokitenku first entered the division, he steadily rose up the ranks with solid sumo, but once he began hanging around the jo'i, he turned to shenanigan sumo, and he hasn't recovered since. Let that be a lesson to the kids reading at home.

M8 Masatsukasa was a huge disappointment only picking up five wins after a super debut last basho. But that will happen when you're too good at first. You get vaulted up the ranks into territory occupied by wily veterans who know every trick in the book and use them liberally against newbies. It also didn't help that Masatsukasa was fighting on a gimpy knee. Rest up son, and show us what you got in Kyushu.

M9 Hokutoriki jumped out to that fast 4-0 start only to realize that such consistency would send him too high in the ranks for the next tournament, so he settled down nicely going 4-7 the rest of the way. Counterpart Wakanosato is one of my favorite rikishi to watch in the mid-Maegashira these days because I dig the guys that fight from the inside out like Croconosato and Tochinonada. Waka's 9-6 finish should send him up around M4 for Kyushu where hopefully he'll do battle with some of the Ozeki.

M10 Tochinoshin is one of the quietest guys in the division. I don't remember a one of his bouts, but dude finished 8-7 thanks to a 6-0 stretch mid-basho. Counterpart Futenoh is another guy that likes to fight inside out, and he looked good this basho doing it cruising to an 11-4 finish. The problem is, though, that he's gonna get worked like a Japanese OL among the jo'i in November.

M11 Takamisakari gave us a scare starting out 2-6, but the Robocop ensured himself another tourney in the Makuuchi division finishing 6-9. None of Takamisakari's bouts stood out for me this basho. Same goes for M12 Tamanoshima (7-8) and M12 Dejima (9-6).

Like Masatsukasa, M13 Chiyohakuho was disappointing in his second go-around in the division. Dude did finish 6-9 to keep himself in the division, but he only had two wins the first 10 days. Chiyohakuho has got to stabilize his sumo again starting with the lower body. Last basho he got on a roll after a fast start, and you could see his confidence flowing. In Aki, however, his 2-8 start had Chiyohakuho second guessing himself throughout.

Counterpart Kitataiki had an okay debut. He did manage to finish 7-8 with a left knee that was so injured I don't know how he finished the tournament, but dude's gotta lose those tachi-ai henka. We weren't able to see the real Kitataiki in September due to his injury, so let's hope he can heal himself up in time for Kyushu. This kid should be good.

M14 Takekaze finally scored a kachi-koshi after four horrible basho that saw him fall from the Komusubi rank all the way to M14...and he wasn't injured. With the influx of new talent in the division, Takekaze doesn't reach the sanyaku again. I can't believe that counterpart Kimurayama will still be ranked in the division come Kyushu. When you're a one-dimensional rikishi and that one dimension is a tachi-ai henka every single day, you will not last. Kimurayama has managed fast starts in both of his Makuuchi tournaments, but the rikishi inevitably figure him out in the end sending him to these massive losing streaks that deny him kachi-koshi. This basho's slide was a 1-5 finish.

Our other Makuuchi rookie, M15 Tamawashi, looked truly awful. Is this a sign that the Mongolian well is drying up...what, after Koryu last basho and Tamawashi's 4-11 finish this basho? To his credit, Tamawashi stuck to his oshi attack and managed four straight-up oshi-dashi wins, but he ran out of gas after week one getting worked to the tune of an 0-7 finish. Tamawashi's gotta toughen up some. Counterpart Kasugao turned out to be the biggest casualty of the new tachi-ai mandate. Time after time his tachi-ai were getting called back taking the Korean completely out of his rhythm. At an all-hands rikishi meeting after the basho, Kasugao had more than his share of complaints to the oyakata in attendance. In fact, the complaints from multiple rikishi were so numerous that Hanaregoma-oyakata had to finally raise his voice and insist the case was closed from further discussion. I can't fault Kasugao for his 2-13 "effort".

And finally, it was nice to see two veterans in Kokkai (8-7) and Kakizoe (10-5) pull off kachi-koshi from the M16 rank, especially Kokkai who had to win on senshuraku to get his majority. Kokkai is as lost out there these days as Michael Jackson in the Playboy Mansion. How does the Georgian go just 8-7 with the horrible competition this low in the ranks that included two wins against Juryo guys? I don't see how you can't write Kokkai off at this point. He no longer does his tsuppari sumo, and he has abandoned his yotsu-zumo leaving him nothing but the dreaded pull sumo.

And that closes the book on the Aki basho. I apologize that this report was 10 days overdue, but it was tough to get motivated with such little content to analyze. From the look of things, Wakanoho's scorched earth tactic should keep things interesting until the release of the Kyushu banzuke a little over three weeks away. See you all then.

2008 Aki Basho Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls here.
If you're fairly new to Sumotalk then you missed the old days when two contributors would write pre-basho reports. One would focus on the banzuke just after it was released, and the next one would come a few days before the basho started and took into consideration all of the keiko reports and then forecast how the basho would play out. In the last few years, I've been flying solo with the reports and so I obviously wait until a few days before the tournament so I have as much information as possible before I work my magic. But this pre-basho has been like none other for obvious reasons. Talk about the number of blog entries I've started and then had to scrap because a new event or new twist has popped up every day. On the short list of topics are potheads of course, double-standards in treating foreign rikishi, racism, Yaku Mitsuru, and Kitanoumi's long-overdue resignation just to name a few. But those takes will find their way on Sumotalk in time. For now, let's focus on the ones of keiko reports that have come across the wires and try to prognosticate what will be the strangest basho in memory.

The basho will be strange because we're just a few days away from day 1, and no one has been focusing on the tournament. It's created such an odd atmosphere that even the rikishi have to be affected by it all. The only semblance of a keiko report that I've read so far was the granddaddy of 'em all...the Soken general keiko session held in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council. But the only news that came out of that was that the Yokozuna and Ozeki looked out of shape and listless. The cause is because unlike any other basho in history, there have been too many distractions. There's a reason why the Sumo Association let Asashoryu go home last year at the end of August: they had to get him out of sight and out of mind so the focus could turn back to the basho. There was a reason why the facts surrounding Tokitaizan's death came out just after the Aki basho last year. Get the scandal over with in between basho. The former Tokitsukaze-oyakata's arrest for the killing? In February...conveniently after the Hatsu basho. These were all timed moves to let the hon-basho enjoy its 15 minutes before the Association was forced to address yet another scandal under Kitanoumi Rijicho's reign. This basho, however, there is no way to turn the focus back into the ring in time, and I think the result will be a sloppy as hell tournament where we'll be lucky to see the yusho line even at 13-2. 

If we must, let's start at the top as usual with Yokozuna Hakuho, who officially established himself as thee man back on senshuraku of the Hatsu basho when he toppled Asashoryu in that bout for the ages. The advantages Hakuho has over Asashoryu are youth, strength, size, and health, and this is what makes him the favorite on paper to win this basho and every basho here on out where he isn't injured. But there are frequently those intangibles that come into play, and I think Asashoryu has the advantage there. I'll expound in a bit, but getting back to Hakuho, the Yokozuna will do well to employ the same tachi-ai he used in Nagoya...which was a passive charge that took away the possibility of being henka'd outright. If Hakuho doesn't forget that tachi-ai, he is the favorite to capture his 8th yusho. I will give Kublai a 13-2 record.

As for Asashoryu, before all this talk of marijuana surfaced, the news of the day was the Mongolian jungyo. Asashoryu had it going on for him. Hakuho's plane was delayed for a day, which meant Asashoryu made the rounds by himself and quickly became the center of attention. The Yokozuna basked in the limelight, and you could just tell he was thoroughly feeding off the moment. It's a shame that Clancy and I have only briefly chatted for about two minutes the last few weeks, but when we did catch each other just prior to the Mongolian exhibition, Clancy literally took the words out of my mouth when he said "Asa's back in his element again isn't he." That's the intangible that I'm talking about. Asashoryu has admitted that he doesn't take criticism well, especially when it comes from the fans, but make him the center of attention in a positive atmosphere, and Asashoryu thrives. The current scandals have kept Asa out of the limelight other then the cheap pot-shots taken by the press in always trying to get a negative line in regarding the Yokozuna when they report the current scandals, but Genghis can handle that. What I'm trying to say is that I think Asashoryu is on an emotional high right now. You even look at his comments after his keiko session at the Sakaigawa-beya earlier in the week, and he not only noticed that Makiko Uchidate cut her hair, but he remarked that she looked beautiful. Dude is in his element. Even when his recent release of a tell-all book was set to invite major negative headlines on September 2nd, the Ro brothers tested positive for marijuana on the very same day forcing the press to back off their favorite target. It just seems to me that Asashoryu is getting the breaks right now. His left elbow worries me a bit, but it could just be that trump card he falls back on as an excuse to take a basho off or go back to Mongolia. Hakuho is still the better rikishi this basho, but I just can't discount Asashoryu taking the yusho in Aki. I'm going to give him a 13-2 record and victory over Hakuho in a playoff.

In the Ozeki ranks, there are zero keiko reports to refer to, but we do know that Kotomitsuki was hospitalized in the last few weeks with bladder problems again. He did attend the Soken keiko session, which was encouraging, but after his disappointing finish in his hometown at the Nagoya basho, I think the momentum is swinging against him at the moment. Give him 9-10 wins.

As for stablemate Kotooshu, I'm not sure how close he was to the three Russian rikishi, but I can't help but think their ouster is on his mind. Also throw in the distractions in general heading into this basho, and I don't see Kotooshu focusing as much as he needs to be. I see an average basho for the Bulgarian, which equates to 9-10 wins.

If anyone has reason to get excited about something it's Kaio. Dude is 36 yet he of all rikishi was the grand poobah in Mongolia when it came to attention from the female fans. That's gotta do something for the old man. If I knew that female fans were scrutinizing my every move at work, I'd try harder, and I think Kaio will too. Considering the banzuke, this Ozeki should easily win his eight and maybe one more. The Yokozuna are insurmountable and Baruto is a huge favorite against him, but Kaio has a great chance against everyone else 'cept maybe Ama.

Chiyotaikai doesn't.

Speaking of Ama, now is the time for him to make that Ozeki push. I wonder if Ama isn't the hardest working rikishi in sumo these days. I underestimated the Sekiwake for years, but I think his work ethic combined with his speed and technique is what has propelled him to this level in the sport. Of all the negativity coming from the Soken keiko session, Ama was mentioned as one of the bright spots. I think he is in a different zone right now and will be able to shut out the distractions, so I expect double-digit wins. 11 would be great; 10 is more realistic.

Across the aisle, Toyonoshima makes his Sekiwake debut, and dude has definitely earned it. At first glance, you might think that the Tokitsukaze-beya prodigy will get rocked, and while I do think he's over-ranked, the schedule favors him at this level. Unlike the Komusubi and upper Maegashira, the Sekiwake have a fairly easy schedule the first week, so if Toyonoshima can take advantage of everyone ranked beneath him, he can easily score a kachi-koshi. I see him hovering right around the 7-8 win mark and won't be surprised in the least if he's ranked Sekiwake again in Kyushu.

Moving down to the Komusubi ranks, how long have we waited for this? Baruto makes his sanyaku debut, and it's really a shame that he has been overshadowed by all of this news off of the dohyo. For a normal basho, he would have a great deal of the coverage in the pre-basho reports, but all that we have to go off of is that he beat Hakuho twice at the Soken session. That doesn't say much, but both wins were yotsu-zumo wins, which means Bart has his strength. You look at the banzuke, and he can paste all of the Ozeki, he just needs a belt grip against either Sekiwake, and he'll keep the Yokozuna honest. Baruto is going to have a rough schedule that first week, but I think he can pick up three wins that first half. I look for the Estonian to kachi-koshi late in week 2 as he takes advantage of the upper Maegashira.

Asasekiryu (yawn) finds himself back in the sanyaku where he'll try and win his eight by putting his opponents to sleep on the dohyo. If that doesn't work, I guarantee that he'll at least put me to sleep as I watch.

M1 Kotoshogiku is great at this rank in terms of not giving any of the elite a pushover bout when they fight him. You'll remember the Geeku is coming off a stretch where he occupied the Sekiwake rank for half a year, but at the tail end of that stretch, he was fighting for his life just to pick up his eight wins. It finally caught up to him in Nagoya where he could only manage six wins against some pretty awful competition. At 24, I hope he hasn't already peaked. Eight wins is definitely in the cards.

Counterpart Miyabiyama is way over-ranked these days at M1. Major props to him for getting this high again, but about two years ago, he was like the gas gauge in your automobile. You know when you fill your tank up the gauge slowly creeps down until it hits 1/4 mark and then the next thing you know it's flirting on empty? That's what's happened to Miyabiyama's career. Dude damn near won a legitimate yusho in May 2006 and had a helluva run just coming short of regaining the Ozeki rank he once held, but just over a year ago, he hit that quarter of a tank mark and has become as slow as a white guy running the 100 meter dash. The Sheriff can no longer keep order atop the dohyo at these ranks, and I'll be surprised if he wins more than four.

Kisenosato checks in at the M2 rank, and like Kotoshogiku, he will be another anchor in these parts to ensure it isn't a complete cake-walk for the elite. We see it for Kisenosato where he fights extremely well for about four basho a year and then sorta shuts things down the other two. He was definitely off in Nagoya, and I think it was a lack of keiko. In fact a lot of the rikishi were complaining about the Nagoya heat (I guarantee you the heat wasn't coming from the geisha sitting ringside), so that may have contributed to it as well. The Kid needs to learn not to get discouraged even after a slow start. I expect him to bounce back famously and notch 9-10 wins.

Counterpart Homasho has announced his withdrawal from the basho after having wrist surgery performed after the Nagoya basho. His rehabilitation hasn't gone as expected causing him to sit this one out. It's unfortunate...I wanted to see him be tested at this level again.

M3 Kyokutenho usually sandbags this high up so he can drift back down to the comforts of the mid-Maegashira ranks, but the Mongolian can actually take advantage of this banzuke. He'll be a bitch to match up against for all of the Ozeki due to his height and yotsu-zumo skills, and if he's only a 9-6 performance away from a trip to the sanyaku and a decent pay raise, it could provide enough incentive. This basho needs Kyokutenho to try his best.

Across the aisle sat Roho who I notice the Association has already struck from their online banzuke. The Russian will be missed by exactly no one. How loathsome was this guy's sumo the last two years? Roho was a disgrace to the sport, and his smoking marijuana had nothing to do with it. He disrespected his opponents with the number of tachi-ai henka he pulled every tournament, and he disrespected the sport with his attitude that was solely to get fat at the Association's expense giving nothing in return. I love to repeat myself if you hadn't already noticed, and what was the one line that I always used about Roho? I would always mention how Kitanoumi Rijicho must seethe every time that he has to scratch his signature on Roho's paycheck. Dude didn't earn a single yen he brought in the last few years, and sumo is better with him and his brother outta here. And that's being nice. Furthermore, Wakanoho has hardly a chance now of being reinstated because of Roho and his brother. After spinning that web of lies and threatening those lawsuits, any Russian rikishi has now become a huge liability that no one will dare assume.

Aminishiki fills out the M4 East slot which means your M1 - M4 rikishi fighting from the East are Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, Kyokutenho, and Sneaky. That's a helluva combination and with Roho being stricken from the records, all of the jo'i are guaranteed to fight these four. Getting back to Aminishiki, I mentioned that his stablemate, Ama, was probably the hardest worker in sumo right now. I think Aminishiki has also benefited from that. For a time, Aminishiki was considered a scrub, but ever since Ama has risen up the ranks, Aminishiki has followed suit to some extent. Let's hope we get more of Ami this basho and less of Sneaky. Kachi-koshi will be tough with his fellow Easterners, but watch for him to hover in the 7-8 win range.

Rounding out what would probably be considered the jo'i this basho is M4 Tochinonada, the perfect presence to have at this rank. The Gentle Giant can beat anyone above him, and while he's probably not favored outright against too many opponents, nobody will overwhelm him this basho. He's probably the last guy the Sadogatake rikishi or even Asashoryu want to see moving up into their schedules since they won't fight their stable mates. Nada also hovers around 8 wins.

That wraps up the jo'i rikishi, but there are some quality rikishi lurking just beneath. Kakuryu checks in at M5, and this will be a significant basho for the Mongolian in my opinion. Earlier in the year, Kakuryu actually had some good showings among the jo'i, but after being swatted back down the ranks, he hasn't shown that same ability to win his bouts. Yeah, he's a sneaky guy, but he also used his speed and technique to pull out some nice wins several basho ago. I don't think he has quite returned to his former glory (what little he had), so he'll do well to score 6 wins.

Counterpart Goeido is our other M5, and I'm disappointed to see this kid constantly hovering near the jo'i but failing to cement himself as a mainstay. Considering that Kakuryu is the lowest-ranked opponent the Sadogatake boys will see (unless someone withdraws), Goeido is in the perfect position for a breakout basho. I like that Asashoryu has continued to train at the Sakaigawa-beya, and it will only help this kid get better. I expect Goeido to start out fast and be on pace for a 10-11 win basho, so let's hope he can finish strong as well.

M6 Toyohibiki is extremely compelling at this rank, especially if Asashoryu's words that Goeido and Toyohibiki have gotten stronger are true. It's time for this kid to make a move, and he's in the prefect position to do it from. Last basho Toyohibiki's tsuppari charge looked great, and I think he can easily kachi-koshi at this rank if he comes out confident. Counterpart Tochiohzan is equally compelling, but like the Nikibi, it's time for this kid to break out as well. Fight like you're not afraid bro. My guess is he won't, so give him seven wins.

M7 Iwakiyama is simply overmatched at this level. Six wins from the Hutt would be a successful basho in my opinion. Counterpart Tokitenku used to be on of those guys riding the elevator between the Komusubi rank and the M3 level, but since dropping about six months ago, he has been unable to regain his former success. There's just better, younger rikishi in the division now keeping him down. Still, kachi-koshi isn't out of the question, so expect 8 wins or so from this Mongolian.

In the M8 ranks, Roho's absence leaves is with Masatsukasa fighting from the West. Was last basho a fluke? I don't think so. This shouldn't be the second coming of Satoyama. I love Masatsukasa's energy and see him flirting with a kachi-koshi...a not easily accomplished in a rikishi's sophomore basho.

M9 Hokutoriki could surprise at this level, but you don't want to see him do it because it would put him back up in the jo'i only to get creamed again. Counterpart Wakanosato should excel down in these parts. I have loved watching this guy of late burn the younger competition fighting from the inside out. Double digits is possible.

M10 Tochinoshin has the tools but just can't seem to rise any higher than this in the ranks. Fortunately, the rikishi around him don't exactly strike fear in anyone's mawashi. I'm expecting another quiet kachi-koshi. Counterpart Futenoh will be more comfortable at this rank, so look for him to win 10.

What is M11 Yoshikaze doing higher in the ranks than former Komusubi and stablemate Takekaze? Inconceivable!! Nothing new to comment on counterpart Takamisakari. At this level he should give the fans that kachi-koshi stiffie. I just wanna see the interview when he gets it.

M12's Tamanoshima and Dejima are two veterans just hangin' around. Neither has what it takes to keep themselves in the upper half these days.

You gotta love the M13 rank with Chiyohakuho and Kitataiki checking in. Anytime you get a rookie in the division who has a great basho, it gives you hope that he can stick around thus bumping some of the crap out of the ranks. Chiyohakuho gave us that basho in July, and I expect him to have a similar performance in Aki. The competition around just isn't that good, and it's certainly not any better than what he faced in Nagoya. Kitataiki is one of our two rookies, and he's already better than Chiyohakuho in my opinion. Fortunately, I was in Japan during most of the Nagoya basho and was able to follow the Juryo ranks. Kitataiki is an exciting rikishi who should win 9-10 if he isn't intimidated by his new fighting grounds.

M14 Takekaze was a Komusubi in March. His oyakata said then at the press conference that he didn't care of Takekaze lost all of his bouts...as long as he tried hard. Your oyakata was only talking about that basho, son. Get your ass in gear. Counterpart Kimurayama is one of our other sophomore this basho, but he doesn't have the goods to stick around in the division long. I'll be surprised if he gets kachi-koshi.

Tamawashi, our other rookie, checks in at M15, and here's yet another quick Mongolian who favors the oshi attack. Tamawashi was overshadowed by Kitataiki last basho in the Juryo ranks, but he's quick enough to stick in the division. He should hold his own with the weak competition at these ranks. His counterpart is Kasugao, who makes his return to the dance. If the Korean is healthy, he should smother his opponents with his potent yotsu attack.

And finally, can somebody explain what Kokkai is doing at M16? This guy has looked as lost in the ring the last few basho as Richard Simmons visiting the Playboy Mansion. I don't know what to expect from the Ossetian, but he has to be a safe bet to kachi-koshi. Rounding out the banzuke is veteran Kakizoe who is on the brink now that some fresh blood has entered the division. I'd say he's in trouble of falling to Juryo if it wasn't the freebie one rank advancement every rikishi beneath M8 will receive due to Roho and Wakanoho being erased from the banzuke.

The first two days' worth of bouts have been announced, but the news is still being overshadowed by talk of Wakanoho and lawsuits. Not a good way to start a basho. I hope I'm wrong about the basho being sloppy, but just ask my wife...I'm never wrong.

Finally, there's one more scenario to watch for this basho. Is this the tournament where we have both Yokozuna start out 14-0 and meet on senshuraku for all the marbles? With the recent PR hit the Association has taken, if they really do have a hand in scripting things when necessary, this would be the perfect time to have this scenario play out.

Here are my predictions for the basho:

Yusho: Asashoryu (13-2) in a playoff over Hakuho
Shukunsho: Kisenosato
Kantosho: Kitataiki
Ginosho: Goeido






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