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2009 Aki Basho Report   |   Pre Basho Report Meet Japanese girls.
On paper, the Aki basho had everything you could ask for, especially the finish where the Yokozuna trailing by one loss beat the undefeated Yokozuna to set up a playoff bout for the yusho. You couldn't script it..er..uh..hope for anything better, so why is it lately that on senshuraku my armpits get about as moist as the skull of a dead animal that's been lying in the Sahara for twenty years? I wish it were me just being skeptical, but then I see the following stats in the same paragraph of a newspaper article, and I can't help but notice the contradiction:

Hakuho becomes the first rikishi ever to win at least 14 bouts in five consecutive tournaments.
Hakuho becomes the first rikishi ever to go 0-3 in yusho playoff bouts in the same year.

If those stats were referring to Kotooshu now or Kaio in his prime, I'd say yeah, maybe. But Hakuho? Notta chance. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, you're new to Japan and should go back and read the introduction of my post-basho report after the Nagoya basho to understand what is going on in sumo right now. And if you're new to Japan and a betting man, put your money on Hakuho to take the Kyushu basho yusho because it's his turn. I mean, he's due.

But enough of my weak intros, let's get to the field starting with the yusho rikishi, Yokozuna Asashoryu, who picked up his 24th career yusho, which puts him in a tie for 3rd place all-time with Kitanoumi. Before we talk about the Yokozuna's sumo, we have to address his two guts pose gestures on senshuraku. As corny as it sounds, Japan uses the term "guts pose" to describe an athlete pumping his or her fist in the air. The gesture is frowned upon in sumo as it's a sign of disrespect for your opponent, so to have a Yokozuna do it only compounds the gesture as it's a supposed sign of indignity mostly if the offending rikishi is a foreigner. Regardless of anyone's opinion on whether or not it's acceptable for a Yokozuna to give a guts pose, the real talking point here is Asashoryu's intentions.

The Aki basho yusho was a mirror of the Hatsu basho yusho. Both tournaments saw Asashoryu come out of nowhere to capture the emperor's cup, and both tournaments saw identical guts poses from the Yokozuna, one atop the dohyo after he clinched the yusho and one during his yusho interview ringside. At the end of the Hatsu basho, the Japanese media and other Asashoryu detractors cried foul and tried to make an incident of it, but apologies were made and the incident blew over a few days after the basho. It was a sort of "lessons learned" moment where Asashoryu apparently got caught up in the moment but was forgiven considering all of the circumstances.

So now after his Aki basho yusho, Asashoryu does the exact same thing. There's no way he could have forgotten the reaction the move received in January, so this was another calculated gesture on the Yokozuna's part. So, that begs the question "why did he do it again?" He did it again because he knew he'd get away with it. He knew it'd piss off Makiko Uchidate (pictured at left) and other elders in the Sumo Association, but he knows full well they can't do anything about it. No other rikishi can put fannies in the seats as Asashoryu can, and the media coverage of sumo will lessen by nearly half once the Yokozuna retires. So, the Association has to put up with his antics, and the Yokozuna knows it. And it's not Asashoryu just trying to be an ass. The dude's been mistreated so badly by the media and the Sumo Association over the years that this is his way of showing all of his critics including most of the Association board members the middle finger. Plus, the fans love it.

Asashoryu has now tied Kitanoumi for third place all time on the yusho list, so the Yokozuna will pick up one more over the next year and ride off into the sunset with Kitanoumi in his dust. Asashoryu's 24th yusho came on his 29th birthday, so I'd be surprised if he fought as an active rikishi much after 30. The Mongolians are in control, and they will see to it that Asashoryu picks up yusho #25 before he retires. Take that to the bank along with all the other caish the Yokozuna is going to try and milk from the Association the final year or so of his career.

As for Asashoryu's sumo, the best word I can use to describe it this basho is "fast." Asashoryu's speed allowed him to take the initiative from the tachi-ai, and the result was a slew of forward-moving wins not the least of which was the tsuri-dashi win over Baruto on day 1. You look at what Baruto did this basho, and it puts Asashoryu's dominance over him into that much more perspective. The Yokozuna was also able to get inside of his opponents which is emphasized not only by that tsuri-dashi win over Baruto but by his inside throws of heavyweights Kotomitsuki and Kotooshu down the stretch. This is the best Asashoryu has looked in about 18 months. His yusho in January contained some very close calls early on, but Asashoryu was never in danger the first fourteen days of Aki.

And the funny thing is he wasn't really that close to being the best rikishi during the tournament. That title of course goes to Yokozuna Hakuho, who has become quite the philanthropist in sumo. His domination over Asashoryu on senshuraku in their first bout was a little bit misleading because if he and Asa are gonna trade bouts, Asashoryu will let up at the tachi-ai, which explains why that first bout was so lopsided. Still, Hakuho has been maintaining a torrid pace the entire year, and the Aki basho was just another demonstration of his power.

There's really nothing new to point out regarding his sumo. And since I covered day 6 when he lost to Shotenro, you already know my thoughts on that bout. The highlight of Hakuho's basho in my opinion came on day 13 when he was henka'd by Kotomitsuki in a bout that saw the Ozeki grab what looked like an insurmountable left outer grip. Any time Hakuho has lost to either Sadogatake-beya Ozeki the past couple of years, it's been the result of a henka, so to see Hakuho overcome it this basho was awesome. Hakuho is dominating sumo now and will continue to dominate it in a fashion unseen since Taiho hung it up, especially after Asashoryu's retirement. This domination may never be reflected in his final all-time career yusho tally, but he's performing at such a high level with another dai-Yokozuna on the board, a handful of good Ozeki, and some stellar sanyaku material.

Let's move to the Ozeki ranks where Kotooshu showed once again that he cannot sustain a run for two complete basho. The Ozeki's 6-0 start was good, but you could see in some of his bouts that he was being driven back a step or two at times. When Kotooshu is on, he's always moving forward, so it was no surprise when Kakuryu read the Ozeki like a book on day 7 and used some terrific nodowa at the tachi-ai to completely dismantle the Ozeki's attack and swing him down to his first loss. The Bulgarian regained his footing the next two days before going on an 0-5 slide in week two that included a loss to Tokitenku and a loss to Baruto where the Estonian exhibited his worst tachi-ai of the basho by far. In fact, Kotooshu didn't beat a kachi-koshi rikishi the entire tournament until senshuraku when he bested fellow Ozeki Harumafuji to at least move his record to 9-6. Aki proved once again that mentally Kotooshu is like a house of cards. It just takes one minor misstep to bring it all down.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki's basho was similar to stablemate Kotooshu's. A soft schedule the first seven days led to his fast start, but the Ozeki suffered another mental lapse against nemesis Kisenosato on day 8 that led to a 2-6 finish that included a win by default over Chiyotaikai. You could just see with both of the Sadogatake Ozeki by about day 5 that they weren't quite at the top of their game in Aki, although you have to hand it to Hit and Mitsuki for his thorough ass-kicking of Kakuryu on day 9. The Ozeki hit Kakuryu so hard with a face slap that it snapped the string that tied Kakuryu's top-knot together and made his mage stand stiffer than a dog in heat.

Ozeki Harumafuji simply took himself out of this basho early on with losses to Tamanoshima and Tochinoshin that first week. Those two Maegashira rikishi struggled throughout the fortnight, so for hAruMAfuji to lose to them is simply inexcusable. His other four losses were understandable, and the two losses to the Yokozuna in week two were expected, so Harumafuji was just "there" this basho. This Ozeki will continue to ride the coattails of the Yokozuna and only occasionally impact a basho on his own.

Ozeki Kaio is good for six wins per tourney but needs help getting the final two. End of story.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai is good for one or two wins per basho, and those are usually over unsuspecting Maegashira new to the area. The Pup is watering down the Ozeki rank making his record-setting tenure there absolutely meaningless.

The Sekiwake were simply shown up this basho by Baruto and Kakuryu. Kisenosato's only bad loss was against Tochinoshin, but failure to beat anyone else of significance and still getting kachi-koshi from these parts is reserved for the Ozeki...everyone knows that. Thankfully, Kisenosato will stay in the sanyaku for the Kyushu basho where he should repent of his sins this basho. Sekiwake Kotoshogiku will fall out of the sanyaku after his 6-9, but if that means seeing Bart, Kakuryu, Kisenosato, and Goeido up there instead, cry no more. The Geeku just didn't have any significant wins in Aki, and his loss to Chiyotaikai should be grounds for public reprimand. Kotoshogiku's place in sumo now is among the jo'i but not in the sanyaku. If he had to fight Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki every basho, he'd be a notch above rival Toyonoshima status.

Komusubi Baruto was phenomenal in Aki losing only to the Yokozuna in week 1 and Kakuryu on day 14. I thought it was critical how Baruto bounced back after that loss to the Kak and pasted Kisenosato on senshuraku to pick up his twelfth win. In terms of an Ozeki run, any win past 10 is so hard to come by, so the Estonian can actually digress the next two basho and still pick up his 33. As Clancy once correctly pointed out, Dejima and Miyabiyama all but ruined the 33 wins over three basho = Ozeki promotion rule, but I'll take it a step further and say that the Association just can't afford six Ozeki on the banzuke, especially when two of them receive constant charity. I don't see Baruto getting promoted to Ozeki until Chiyotaikai retires. Let's hope that's much sooner than later.

As for Baruto's sumo, there was a noticeable difference in the Estonian's tachi-ai as he looked to move forward at the charge instead of holding back and waiting for his opponent to come to him. We saw some great oshi-dashi ability as well in early defeats over Harumafuji and Aminishiki, so it's clear that Baruto has determined to take his sumo up a level. It will be exciting for the sport to have him at the upper echelons based on decent technique and not just his massive size. Baruto should prolly be Ozeki by the end of January.

Komusubi Aminishiki was useless this basho. Three of his seven wins were by pull down, and that mirrored his whole attitude this tournament. Shneaky failed to score a memorable win or beat a kachi-koshi rikishi, and he'll be thankfully replaced by better company in Kyushu.

M1 Tochinoshin was okay this tournament. His two yori-taoshi wins over Harumafuji and Kisenosato were legitimate and show this rikishi's potential, but Tochinoshin has got to learn to be consistent. He simply has to take advantage of older, slower guys near him like Miyabiyama and Tamanoshima. He didn't; thus his paltry 4-11 finish. The light hasn't clicked for Shin yet at his level. As for counterpart Miyabiyama's 4-11, you couldn't realistically expect more than that.

M2 Shotenro was visibly injured and not himself in September. That's not to say he would have done much better than his 2-13 finish, but it was too bad that we couldn't see a healthy Shotenro battle the top dudes. I like Shotenro a lot more than I liked Kakuryu when the Kak was just a few basho into his Makuuchi career, and I think he has the ability to surpass Kakuryu's accomplishments. Counterpart Kyokutenho was demoralized after a brutal stretch days 2 thru 6 and then just picked his spots the rest of the way. He went 0-3 against fellow Mongolians (not ranked Yokozuna) in week 2 without putting up much of a fight, and that includes the loss to Shotenro, so read into that what you will.

M3 Tamanoshima actually took down two Ozeki in his 5-10 effort, so I'd call that an overachievement even if one of those wins did come against Chiyotaikai. You know, as dreary as the upper Maegashira was up to this point, it should be noted that all of these guys except Shotenro beat Chiyotaikai.

Counterpart Kakuryu was as slick as his nickname in Aki finishing a legitimate 11-4. Thanks to his positioning just outside of the jo'i, the Kak was able to avoid Asashoryu, but he fought Hakuho, four Ozeki, both Sekiwake, and both Komusubi. He didn't get Chiyotaikai, which would have compensated for a loss to Asashoryu, so anyway you look at it, he may as well have been fighting from the jo'i; and he still finished 11-4. The highlight of the basho hands down was Kakuryu's defeat of Baruto on day 14. The Kak coming away with a win after those two had hooked up into the gappuri-yotsu position was simply incredible. Furthermore, there wasn't a blemish on his card in terms of shady wins. He dismantled Kotooshu from the tachi-ai with his nodowa charge, and there wasn't anything cheap about that tottari win. Kakuryu was simply brilliant at the Aki basho and is here to stay for awhile.

M4 Toyonoshima had a hard-luck basho but still managed to finish 7-8. He was in that range where he was fed the three Sadogatake elite and Harumafuji, and a lot of guys near to him on the banzuke who had outstanding basho. So for him to finish 7-8 was good for Toyonoshima. We've seen the best of this guy unfortunately, so now it's a matter of hanging on for that Makuuchi paycheck for as long as possible. This guy can manage that for a few more years. And speaking of hangers-on in the division, counterpart Tokitenku is in the same boat. Tenku also had a tough schedule, but the difference for him was his win over Kotooshu that led to his deserved kachi-koshi. Both Tokitsukaze-beya rikishi fought well considering their circumstances, but they are no longer sanyaku material.

M5 Goeido finished a very quiet 10-5, but a 3-5 start will do that to you. Before we get too geeked about his performance, his toughest competition the entire tournament was Kakuryu (a loss) and Kotoshogiku (a win). Now, to be fair, Goeido was coming off of elbow surgery in August, and probably hadn't participated in any legitimate sumo until day 1, so I'm encouraged by his 7-0 finish. Still, his competition will be completely different next basho. Goeido has got to commit to his brand of sumo, which is fighting from the inside out. The minute he takes an arm on the outside and settles for an outside grip, he's gonna get his ass handed to him. Counterpart Takekaze managed a 9-6 for the same reasons as Goeido...much weaker competition. This guy probably fills out one of the M1 slots for Kyushu so pencil in 13 losses already.

M6 Asasekiryu's inability to win more than six from this rank tells you that Asashoryu needs a new secretary in a hurry. Counterpart Homasho finished 7-8, which is for his own good. He didn't need a good basho that would have put him back up at M2 only to get thrashed by the sharks again at that level.

M7 Aran was a disappointment again this basho, and it wasn't just his 7-8 record; rather, it was the content of his sumo. The Russian started out okay picking up decent wins over Asasekiryu and Goeido, but as the basho wore on, the losses piled up, and then he was disqualified against Takamisakari, so he threw his sound sumo out the window and opted for shenanigans and pull sumo. His last two wins were by hataki-komi including his despicable tachi-ai henka of Bushuyama on senshuraku. You can just see the pattern with this guy where he tries hard at first, panics mid-basho, and then resorts to any means he can to get a win. Counterpart Takamisakari just couldn't finish a good basho off going 0-4 down the stretch to end up 6-9. That's okay though from this rank. M10 next basho gives him a great chance to kachi-koshi, and for this guy, the important thing is that he stay in the division.

You gotta love M8 Iwakiyama enjoying this brief resurgence at this point of his career. Guys like Homasho, Aran, Asasekiryu, and even Takamisakari couldn't kachi-koshi this basho, but damn straight that Iwakiyama did. And the old-timer even showed some moves highlighted by his watashi-komi win over Aran. Aran could learn a lesson or two from Iwakiyama, who scored seven of his eight wins with forward-moving sumo. Can't say enough about Iwakiyama. M8 Shimotori is simply overmatched this high in the ranks, and his 4-11 showed why.

M9 Mokonami needs to revisit his approach a bit. He has great energy and he fights hard, but his preferred style (fighting with an outside grip) doesn't fit his body. He reminds me a lot of Goeido right now. Not in terms of potential but in terms of bad habits on the dohyo. Counterpart Toyohibiki has just stalled in the division the last year. Yes, injuries have had something to do with it, but he just can't seem to focus his sumo towards his strengths. It's probably got something to do with the culture at the Sakaigawa-beya.

M10 Tosayutaka seems too small to really get over in this division. I love his style and his energy, but he loses too many close bouts. This is one guy that is obviously affected by no weight class in sumo. Guys like Harumafuji can adjust due to his speed and overall instinct for the sport, but Tosayutaka is short, light, and he's ready to assume the crown of crocodile arms when Wakanosato retires, so what's a guy gonna do? He has no choice but to fight in close. His 6-9 will keep him in the division, which is good because he's I guy I always enjoy watching. Look at counterpart Bushuyama finishing 10-5 and getting robbed of a Kantosho by an Aran henka on senshuraku. The beautiful thing about Bushuyama's sumo is he always charges straight ahead illustrated by his ten wins all by forward-moving techniques. Something has clicked with this guy the last two and half basho, and he's learned to throw his weight around not to mention those bosoms. Excellent stuff from Bush.

M11 Kakizoe was on the brink of having a great basho, but three straight losses to make-koshi guys Futenoh, Aran, and Mokonami in week 1 cost him an 11-0 start. Zoe Jane was definitely sweet in September. Counterpart Kasugao was sour for sure. The bad news is he only finished 6-9, which means he'll be in this division again come November. I was really high on Kasugao when he first rose up, but his sumo is lateral from the tachi-ai and too full of shenanigans for me to stomach these days.

M12 Tochiohzan went...(yawn)...11-4. The only talking point regarding Oh is what's he gonna do among the jo'i. Counterpart Tochinonada has fallen and can't get up...literally. His 4-11 sends him down to Juryo for November. Is it me or has his decline been abnormally fast? A year ago he was a legitimate jo'i rikishi who could keep anyone honest, but now he's become a pushover. I see Nada struggling in Juryo as well with the younger guys there using their speed to take advantage of him.

M13 Tamaasuka never really could figure things out in his return to the division. He finished 3-0 to make things look respectable at 6-9, but of the guys he beat, only three of 'em will be in Makuuchi for November. Tamaasuka may be able to hold onto that final Makuuchi slot, however, since there aren't a host of guys at the top of Juryo demanding a place in the division. Counterpart Wakanosato was par for the course with his 10-5 finish. You gotta respect the guys like Wakanosato who absolutely refuse to henka opting to trust in their strengths. Croconosato can win nine next tourney as well.

M14 Kokkai managed to survive yet again at 8-7 thanks to a 3-0 finish. The curious thing about Kokkai is all of his wins were with forward-moving sumo save a day 1 hataki-komi over Wakanosato, and all but one of the other wins came from yotsu-zumo. Then, you look at his losses, and the majority of those come from non-yotsu bouts, so it's clear that Kokkai needs to go back to the full-out yotsu strategy he tried with success about two years ago. No surprise that counterpart Hokutoriki finished 11-4. He's one guy that knows how to win. Then there's the henka element. I don't like it, but he keeps his opponents guessing at the tachi-ai, and that's largely why his moro-te tachi-ai works so much: the henka is in the back of his opponents' minds. Still, give credit to Hokutoriki for his good footwork. It's what keeps a Joker like him alive this long.

No real comment on M15 Yoshikaze, who finished 9-6. M11 - M12 is where he rightfully belongs on the banzuke in my opinion. Counterpart Futenoh is done with a 5-10 showing from this low in the ranks. Unlike Tochinonada, I expect Futenoh to do really well in Juryo and be right back in Makuuchi come January. Futenoh has stuck with his yotsu-zumo, which is good, but he's losing strength and is unable to really bully anyone around any more.

Last and probably least, M16 Masatsukasa enjoyed a surprising 5-0 run to begin the basho. I say surprising because the rest of the way he went just 2-8. It's safe to say that Mats' opponent were probably overlooking him early on, but the final two-thirds of the basho, the field was ready for him. Expect to see him back up here in January.

And that's a wrap on another basho. Looking ahead to Kyushu, the only way Hakuho doesn't take the yusho is if a non-Mongolian wins it. I also really mean it this time when I say let's hope Chiyotaikai retires. Perhaps Arbo knows a tailor or two in Kyushu who can have Chiyotaikai fitted for a drab navy jacket and some gray slacks. I can't see him sitting on a cheap folding chair working security detail in the hana-michi soon enough! Baruto will be another rikishi to watch as the Association has to acknowledge his candidacy for Ozeki. The sanyaku as a whole will be awesome, so lets hope the likes of Kisenosato and Goeido can bring some excitement back for the Japanese fans.

Be well and get your rest. We'll see you in a few weeks.

2009 Aki Basho Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls.
Now that's what I call a long lay off in between basho. It seems as if it took a lot of people including the rikishi more time than normal to get back into the swing of things. And the keiko reports that I've read so far seem to back that up. When no one really seems on fire, the yusho favorite immediately defaults to Hakuho, so it was no surprise that Kitanofuji declared after watching a recent practice session featuring the Yokozuna, "There's no question he'll yusho in Aki." With no new faces in the division, no newcomers to Juryo, and no kadoban Ozeki, let's hope that more headlines are generated once the tourney gets going than we've seen so far. Otherwise, we're in for a long fortnight.

The short list for the yusho heading into the tournament goes in this order: Hakuho, Kotooshu, Asashoryu, and Harumafuji. Harumafuji will prolly outfight Asashoryu in Aki due to Asa's new knee injury, but it takes a certain something to yusho all by yourself, and Asashoryu is much stronger than Harumafuji in that department; thus the order. Still, no rikishi 2 thru 4 really has a good chance of taking down Hakuho, so it's an easy call. As for Hakuho's pre-basho keiko, he got off to a late de-geiko start but declared when the banzuke was released that more rikishi would visit his own stable early on, so that's a non issue. He also sparred once earlier this week with Harumafuji for 30 bouts, and that's sufficient enough to gauge his condition. If Hakuho felt comfortable with his chances after that session, then he's ready to go. Hakuho's mentor, Kumagatani-oyakata, commented as well that Hakuho looks to be in the same shape as when he last went 15-0 (March of this year). It's really not a question of whether or not Hakuho will yusho; the question is will he run the table. He has a 75% chance.

Yokozuna Asashoryu had enough issues as it was after the Nagoya basho, so his suffering that knee injury in August only hinders him further. As I alluded to earlier, Asashoryu knows what it takes to yusho, and this will allow him to keep things respectable, but the only way he takes the yusho in Aki is if he goes junior Forrest Gump and kicks off that leg brace mid-tourney. Run Asa, run! Watch for a repeat of what we saw in Nagoya...a decent start thanks to a weak upper Maegashira and then setbacks once we enter week 2. This time Asa's got the excuse to go kyujo, so I say it's fiddy-fiddy he even finishes the tournament. If he does, he's 12-3 since no Ozeki need any wins. If he withdraws, it'll be after his fourth loss.

Ozeki Kotooshu has to make a statement this basho. I thought he performed his best sumo ever in Nagoya but only fell short when facing the three-headed monster down the stretch. Kotooshu is also the second best guy in the division right now, so he must take advantage of this banzuke. The key will be his day 1 bout against Kisenosato. Topple the kid and he ends up with 12-13 wins. Lose on day 1 and he never threatens finishing 10-5.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki has about one good basho a year these days, and that came in Nagoya. Still, I look back at his 12-3 record and think that sure felt like 10-5. Kotomitsuki should be a non-factor this basho and struggle to even get his 10. Don't be surprised with a 9-6.

Ozeki Harumafuji will be key to keeping any interest in the yusho race down the stretch. You all know my opinion that there was some wheeling and dealing (or will'n and dill'n as we say in Utah) going on the last few tournaments with Harumafuji smack dab in the middle, but I think the slate's clean for Aki. If there's someone who doesn't act slovenly during a long layoff, it's Harumafuji, so I expect good energy from the kid and 11-12 wins.

Go ahead and lump Ozeki Kaio and Ozeki Chiyotaikai together. Both of these guys are from Kyushu, so it'd take the sting off a bit if one of them ended up retiring next basho in front the hometown fans. With nobody kadoban this basho, I just don't see how all of the Ozeki secure at least eight wins in Aki. Chiyotaikai is the likelier candidate to suffer since he can no longer win with his brand of oshi-sumo. Kaio still can and will with relative newbies to the jo'i, so give Kaio 8-7 while Chiyotaikai falls short with six wins or so.

The best of all the rest is definitely Kisenosato, so it's good to seem him in the East Sekiwake slot. I expect the Kid to rock to the tune of 10 wins. If he can beat Kotooshu on day 1, he prolly replaces that Ozeki on the leaderboard in week 2. Kisenosato should be fully healthy and ready to go.

Counterpart Kotoshogiku has enjoyed a brief resurgence, but I don't think he can maintain this Sekiwake rank anymore. There are really no pushovers for him this tournament (although he has dominated former rival Toyonoshima), and the schedule in Aki will be tougher than what he's used to. Yes, he managed an 8-7 kachi-koshi last basho from the Komusubi slot, but guys like Iwakiyama and Aran are further down the ranks. I expect about six wins from the Geeku.

Komusubi Baruto is a wildcard because you never know in what kinda shape he'll show up. Rumor has it that Bart contracted the swine flu in the off season, so if I know Japanese culture, I'm sure tons of guys were lining up to do de-geiko at the Onoe-beya. Or not. With blobs like Yamamotoyama and Sakaizawa as sparring partners, the question is just how well can Baruto prepare for a basho? You can never count this guy out of the running for kachi-koshi due to his size and strength, but I don't see him making an impact. 8-7.

Counterpart Aminishiki should be his ole pesky self in this slot. He's prolly salivating at the thought of fighting four Ozeki early on. He's better'n most of them, and he's usually successful against Kotooshu. I look for Ami to get out to a quick start for a Komusubi--which equates to 4-3--and then weasel his way to an easy kachi-koshi.

Leading the Maegashira ranks is none other than Tochinoshin, a direct result of Asashoryu paying him visits every other day the last few basho. That sorta practice helps Tochinoshin learn the importance of good footwork, positioning, and a good tachi-ai. I think the Private will be too much in awe of his new rank early on and unable to recover late in the basho. I expect an overall good showing from Shin once he gets going, but I'm afraid he'll win no more than seven. Counterpart Miyabiyama is already on a spit and roasting over the flames. Four wins?

None other than relative newcomer, Shotenro, leads the way at M2. I really like this kid and have already mentioned that I think he's better than Kakuryu. Shotenro is stronger than Kakuryu, plus he has the speed to match. That doesn't mean I expect him to do well his first time among the jo'i. In fact I think the nerves are gonna get to him leaving him about 5-10, but this is the basho where he just needs to gain experience. Expect a lot of really close bouts the entire two weeks where lack of experience leaves this guy holding the short end of the stick, but he'll be back and should grace the sanyaku within a year. Counterpart Kyokutenho falls from the Komusubi rank he held in Nagoya, but he's as likely as any of these guys to regain it. It appears to me that Kyokutenho has actually cared the last few basho, and I expect him to do so again in Aki meaning he will keep everyone above him honest and flirt with kachi-koshi. Give him 8-7.

M3 Tamanoshima is number 16 on the banzuke which means he rounds out the jo'i and should get everyone ranked above him. I expect him to put up a decent fight at first, but he'll break soon enough and take his 5-10 into Kyushu. The wily Kakuryu occupies the West slot just out of reach of most rikishi. This may be a case where it actually hurts the Sadogatake to reach further down the ranks to find their opponents because if memory serves me right, the Kak never met a henka he didn't like. Knowing that sanyaku paycheck is well within reach, I expect Kakuryu to finagle nine wins.

M4 Toyonoshima has managed to play his way out of the jo'i the entire year. I'd say he has about two more basho left until his fude at the Tokitsuumi-beya is moved over a notch to make room for Tosayutaka's. Sure, he could kachi-koshi in the end, but I see him struggling to get it. Speaking of fude at the Tokitsuumi-beya, Tokitenku checks in at the West slot. Like Toyonoshima, this rikishi has been unable to keep up with the younger rikishi who have invaded the division. Tenku well definitely be used to his competition, which means he's as good'a bet for kachi-koshi in these parts as anyone.

M5 Goeido has been slumping of late, but it turns out this kid's elbow was injured to the extent that he required surgery on the joint in early August. I haven't read any keiko reports regarding him, so I'm not sure of his current condition. A healthy Goeido would win 11 at this rank, but a rusty Goeido struggles to kachi-koshi. Still, even if he's not 100%, Goeido is a safe bet for eight wins. Counterpart Takekaze isn't.

M6 Asasekiryu has made the switch from constant jo'i mainstay to rank-and-filer. I don't really see Sexy rising much higher than this in the future. He hovers around the eight-win mark. Counterpart Homasho has got to have a good basho ranked higher than M13 to re-establish himself. Problem is, he doesn't take advantage from the tachi-ai, and it forces his smaller frame to do counter sumo most of the time. It's hard to win a majority doing that. Maybe he gets kachi-koshi, but I say he comes up one short at seven wins as much as I hope I'm wrong.

M7 Aran should feel much more comfortable at this rank. The Russian must take advantage of this new scenery to establish himself as an ass-kicker and then rise right back up the ranks and make a better stand among the jo'i. The experience up high the last few basho will do wonders for him this tournament. 9-10 wins. Counterpart Takamisakari has enough average guys around him to win eight, but he'll win no more.

Like Aran, M8 Iwakiyama can breathe easy at this rank, but unlike Aran, Iwakiyama should be ranked this low. You look at the guys surrounding Iwakiyama, and there's not that much size, so I think the Kong has a great shot at eight wins. No comment on counterpart Shimotori who is a rikishi that's "just there."

M9 Mokonami should get his first career kachi-koshi in Aki. This kid lost a lot of close calls in his debut, but he no longer will have the nerves of being in the big dance. I like him to win 8 or 9. Counterpart Toyohibiki is a large mystery. He has so much potential, but he's so erratic. One thing I am sure of is he won't impact the basho.

I really like M10 Tosayutaka and like Mokonami, he lost a lot of close bouts in Nagoya. I think he turns half of those around and wins 8 or 9 just like Mokonami. Tosayutaka has that same fire that Toyonoshima had when he first arrived. The difference is he hasn't been beaten up the last few like Toyonoshima, so enjoy it while it lasts. When counterpart Bushuyama first entered the division, I was sure he wouldn't last more than a basho or two, but it seems as if something has clicked that has enabled him to survive. Let's hope so for the sake of childish jokes. Seven wins.

No comment on M11 Kakizoe as usual, but I'd have to say counterpart Kasugao is the worst rikishi on the board. The Korean is kinda like those Police Academy movies. His first coupla trips to the division were good, and you enjoyed his sumo quite a bit, but now after part 8 or so he's become unwatchable. It's straight to DVD for this clown with six wins.

I expect M12 Tochiohzan to do well...again after another tired fall from high in the ranks. He may find himself on the leaderboard in week two, but it means nothing from this low in the ranks. Counterpart Tochinonada is in danger of falling to Juryo. He struggles to kachi-koshi regardless of rank anymore, and with the quality rikishi ranked beneath him, he'll have a tough go of things. Six wins.

Lookie here at M13. None other than Tamaasuka returns to the division after something like four years in Juryo and mostly Makushita. This guy actually entered the same time with Hakurozan, but injuries have kept him away from the big leagues. At least he still pulls a paycheck. He was such a promising rikishi back then, so we'll see how he handles the beef in this division. I can't wait to see how he does, and if he's anything like his former self, he can easily win his eight. Counterpart Wakanosato should post a great record in Aki. Injury sent him down to Juryo, but he toyed with the fellas in the minors and should be ready to school these guys near the bottom of the ladder. I expect double-digit wins for the artist formerly known as the Barometer.

M14 Kokkai's got his work cut out for him. As I mentioned with Tochinonada, there's few slouches this low in the rank. The competition low will actually be better than in the middle of Makuuchi, and that spells trouble for Corporal Kokkai. No way he wins more than eight, but I like him to kachi-koshi simply because he'll resort to anything in order to get those wins. Expect some ugly sumo that second week. Counterpart Hokutoriki makes his return, and I actually think he's gonna have a good basho. His demotion to Juryo provided a nice wake-up call, so expect Jokutoriki to bring it this basho. 9-10 wins.

M15 Yoshikaze is holding on and can no longer breeze to a kachi-koshi at this level. Just six months ago he was over-achieving among the jo'i, but it's gonna be cutthroat down here with all these veterans fighting for wins. It should be a good subplot to the basho. I expect Cafe will get eight in the end. Counterpart Futenoh is in the same boat, and I expect he'll get at least eight too because of...

M16 Masatsukasa. This guy should be happy for his temporary two-month pay raise, but he's gonna get thrashed in Aki. Everyone above him is better, and they're veterans who know the implications of falling to Juryo. I remember when
Masatsukasa made his debut last year with Chiyohakuho, and he actually showed some promise, but he has been deflated the last couple of tournaments looking horrible in the promise. You hope to see these guys do well, but I think the sharks get him, and he only manages about five wins.

I do believe that's a wrap for my pre-basho report. I think the interest level of the basho hinges on Kotooshu's performance. We gotta hope for a focused Bulgarian; otherwise, Harumafuji is the only other guy with a chance. At least we don't have anyone kadoban, so this should a fairly straight-up tourney. Here are my predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho
Shukunsho: none
Kantosho: Tochiohzan (Goeido if he's 100%)
Ginosho: Kisenosato






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