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2012 Aki Post-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
I keep telling myself that this
basho will be different; that I'll get my post-basho report done by the
Wednesday after the basho instead of three Wednesdays after, but every time I've
sat down in front of my typewriter, the same thought has popped into my head:
"there's nothing new to say." And so I'll rehash the theme that has pervaded
Sumotalk for the past 11 basho and then weave in Harumafuji's promotion to
Yokozuna since it has everything to do with an agenda set by the Sumo
Association and less to do with Harumafuji's actual ability.
If you are new to Sumotalk--and I know we get a new influx of readers each Aki
basho, you need to visit my blog and read the entry I posted after last year's
Aki basho entitled Orchestrating an Ozeki Run. There I break down how Yokozuna
Hakuho was reined in by the Sumo Association in order to aid the promotion of
two Japanese rikishi to the Ozeki rank. I was only partially right in that blog,
however, and you need to read my post-basho report from the Nagoya basho
available in our archives to get further insight. In a nutshell, I have been
proclaiming for nearly two years now that Hakuho is intentionally making himself
vulnerable and dropping bouts in order to lessen the gap between him and the
rest of the field. The reason for this is threefold:
1. With the imminent retirement of Kaio in early 2011, there would be no
Japanese rikishi occupying the Ozeki or Yokozuna ranks, and that void had to be
2. From the 2012 Hatsu basho, a portrait of a Japanese rikishi no longer hangs
from the Ryogoku Kokugikan rafters meaning it has been more than six years since
a Japanese rikishi took a yusho.
3. Hakuho must not be allowed to break sumo's most hallowed record, career
yusho, currently held by Taiho at 32. Nor can he be allowed to reach
Chiyonofuji's record of 31.
What I have just mentioned is not a conspiracy; it's a matter of survival. If
Japanese rikishi do not legitimately occupy the sport's highest ranks or take
the yusho on a frequent basis, the Japanese public is simply not interested, and
we see evidence of that by all of the empty seats that are showing up at the
venue. It used to be that the media would publish attendance figures and
viewership numbers from NHK's television broadcast stating that this or that
basho had reached a new low, but things have gotten so bad recently, the media
has been asked not to follow that storyline any more.
What we are seeing in sumo right now is simply the Japanese people trying to
protect their national sport to the extent possible. They may be getting their
asses kicked atop the dohyo by foreign rikishi, but they can and are limiting
the extent to which foreign rikishi will be remembered in the future, and I'm
actually okay with it because I want sumo to survive. Just don't ask me to come
on this website and bullshit you all by glossing over the obvious yaocho in the
ring and pretending as if all of this is legitimate. I mean ask yourself...how
in the hell has Hakuho only taken one yusho out of five this year? This last
basho was perfect evidence about how sorry the banzuke is right now, and Hakuho
can only go 1 for 5? I mean hell, Kyokutenho has more yusho than the Yokozuna
does the last three basho.
The problem with the sumo right now is not the gap between Hakuho and the others
lessening. The problem is that Hakuho is lowering the bar in order to make that
happen, so by nature, the quality of the sumo is dropping as well. If we go back
just over a year and look at the results of Hakuho lowering the bar, we can see
the following anomalies:
Harumafuji yusho in July 2011
Kotoshogiku promotion to Ozeki
Kisenosato promotion to Ozeki
Baruto's first career yusho in Hatsu 2012
Kakuryu promotion to Ozeki and near-miss at Haru 2012
Harumafuji consecutive zensho yusho
Harumafuji promotion to Yokozuna
If Hakuho was fighting his hardest the last 18 months, not a single one of those
events would have occurred, and so we're seeing the wealth spread around, but at
I was fortunate enough to hop on the sumo bandwagon for the latter half of its
golden era, and so I was able to witness the rise of Akebono, Takanohana,
Musashimaru, Asashoryu, and now Hakuho. I know what it's like to have Ozeki on
the banzuke so powerful that they are legitimate yusho contenders each basho. I
know what it's like to have Sekiwake mainstays like Akinoshima, who holds the
record for all-time kin-boshi, because they were true ass-kickers. I experienced
the Golden Age of sumo, and so I watch the crap that passes for sumo these days,
and it rings so hollow to me.
You can't argue that Harumafuji didn't deserve promotion to Yokozuna, but there
was nothing impressive about it. Nothing. Name one big win he had during this
Yokozuna run. There isn't one. On paper he beat Hakuho twice, but both bouts
were clearly yaocho. The third-highest rikishi on the banzuke was Kisenosato, a
rikishi he just toyed with at Aki, and then he was given another freebie against
Kakuryu. Due to the withdrawals of Baruto, Kotooshu, and Kotoshogiku, his next
biggest win on paper was against Myogiryu, but he lost the tachi-ai there and
won by a desperate kubi-nage, the result of which was not superior sumo by the
Mongolian; rather, Myogiryu isn't a finisher yet. In fact, I would submit that
Kakuryu's run to Ozeki was far more superior and impressive than Harumafuji's
run to Yokozuna. I don't blame Harumafuji a bit for taking what was given to
him, but dude's a legitimate Yokozuna to the extent that Kisenosato is a
legitimate Ozeki. Pretty watered down ain't it.
So why am I still interested in sumo? It's a fair question, and I guess my best
answer can be explained by my reaction to the two documentaries NHK aired
previous to the Makuuchi bouts on day 7 and then day 8. On day 7 they documented
Chiyonofuji's rise to the Yokozuna rank and had him comment on what a rikishi
goes through. They showed clips of his keiko, clips of fans just clamoring to
get a glimpse of him, and then memorable bouts during his Yokozuna run where the
crowds were just going crazy.
Then on day 8, they followed Okinoumi back to his hometown in the Okinoshima
islands and showed scenes as Okinoumi visited old acquaintances, they showed
scenes from a summer festival that includes bouts of sumo where young kids do
battle after the spectators throw copious amounts of salt on them from the
stands, and they interviewed the locals who are for the most part poor people
trying to eke out an existence where their only joys in life are the simple
things. I don't know why these two documentaries stirred me the way they did,
but it reminded me that sumo does have a draw on me like it does you, and so I
will always come back in hopes that we can relive some of the past glory.
Before I get too sappy here, let's shift that focus back to the rikishi starting
from the top, which means we begin with Yokozuna Hakuho. Kublai's performance
was perfect in Aki whether it was his sumo or his acting. With such a weak
banzuke, I think it was too much to ask to have Hakuho look sloppy as he did the
last couple of basho, but as soon as he lost to Tochiohzan on day 10, Clancy
called the senshuraku yaocho. I don't know why the Yokozuna would choose
Tochiohzan as the benefactor instead of someone else like Kakuryu, but if I had
to speculate my guess is that the stench of that debacle knows as the Natsu
basho was still in the Kokugikan air, and so losing to Tochiohzan sorta
validated his coming in as the jun-yusho rikishi at Natsu because who can forget
Tochiohzan and Kyokutenho's follow-up performance in July? Not the Sumo
Ozeki Harumafuji did go 15-0, but I would rate his sumo as status quo. There
were too many bouts where the Ozeki was pushed back from the tachi-ai for me to
call his sumo great, but you have to credit him for not dropping any of the
early bouts (losses referred to as tori-koboshi). It was evident after like two
days that Harumafuji wouldn't be challenged until late in week 2, but that's due
more to the lack of competition than stellar sumo. The Sumo Association knew
this going in, and so for the first time that I can remember, they didn't even
stipulate the number of wins necessary before considering promotion. Harumafuji
will be just fine as a Yokozuna because the surrounding competition is falling
apart, but I'm taking him as seriously as a Yokozuna as I did Wakanohana III.
Next up is Ozeki Kisenosato for whom I'm starting to feel a bit sorry due to the
pressure put on him by the Sumo Association. Okay, I don't think sumo officials
are visiting the heya and explaining their expectations, but the Kid's not dumb;
he knows things are being set up for him, and he's unable to deliver. I thought
the Ozeki looked great this basho...two seconds into his bout, but there's a
reason why so much emphasis is placed on the tachi-ai. I frequently pointed out
early on how well he forced his opponents out and I tried to find pics that
showed just how good his positioning was when he went for the kill, but he is
continuing to get crushed at the tachi-ai. How does he expect to even compete
with Harumafuji if he can't help but give up moro-zashi at the initial charge?
Kisenosato has got to develop an effective tachi-ai, and once that happens, he
will be a legitimate Ozeki and one who's worthy to yusho.
There's no sense commenting on Kotoshogiku, Baruto, and Kotooshu, all of whom
withdrew very early in week one other than to say I don't see Baruto and
Kotooshu hanging around much longer. When even they can't dominate on this
banzuke, it's time to move on.
Rounding out the Ozeki, Kakuryu was okay this basho but not great finishing
11-4. If you look at the list of his kimari-te, there's no consistency to his
sumo...yori-kiri one day, hataki-komi the next day, then an oshi-dashi. Dude
used six different kimari-te, which is too high for an elite rikishi. An Ozeki
needs to settle into his strength and play off of that, not rely on finesse to
get by. I don't know if Kakuryu is trying his hardest these days, but he's been
a non-factor since his yusho threat in March.
Sekiwake Myogiryu has established himself as the next in line for Ozeki once a
few of the white stiffs retire, but he's still a largely unpolished rikishi. I
thought mYogiBear was average in Aki even though he did win in double digits.
Look, with the banzuke they had this basho, a Sekiwake better win in double
digits. His only win over a rikishi ranked above him was against Kakuryu, who
for some reason insists on trying to pull Myogiryu down from the tachi-ai.
Nothing really special to further point out except for the dude deserves props
for at least finishing 10-5.
Because Sekiwake Goeido needed help to finish just 8-7. Six different kimari-te
in eight wins spell instability, and that's probably the best word used to
describe his sumo. The problem with Goeido is that he doesn't have a style. When
he first entered the division, he was a yotsu guy, but now he's turned into a
pull guy and a henka guy mixing in sound sumo only on occasion. I think he was
the biggest waste of talent in the division until Chiyotairyu came along.
I really have no comment on the two Komusubi who were just worthless this basho.
I get it that they have a tough schedule that first week, but they need to at
least threaten the upper class. I guess Aoiyama gets a pass once due to the
nerves involved with a sanyaku promotion, but his 4-11 was weak. Tochinoshin was
able to muster a 6-9 finish primarily because he's been here before, but still,
with that body and this bad banzuke, his inability to kachi-koshi shows how
spent he is in the division.
Both M1 Shohozan and M1 Kaisei did well to finish 7-8, and there's nothing worth
pointing about either of them. I think Shohozan's giving Kotooshu the business
on day 4 is more about a dwindling Ozeki than it is about Shohozan's potential
as a jo'i rikishi.
M2 Aran's 3-12 was pathetic, and I don't want to see him here again, and I can't
even explain how Gagamaru floundered to a 4-11 record.
M3 Homasho will assume the Komusubi rank for Kyushu, and it's deserved due to
his overall fighting spirit and big win over Kisenosato. Age-wise and
physically, Homasho should not be able to out perform his peers at this level,
but he's doing it with hard work. I believe that counterpart Toyonoshima is also
trying his hardest, so when he stumbles in at 6-9, it goes to show that he's no
longer a threat in the division.
M4 Aminishiki will fill out your other Komusubi slot coming in at 10-5 and like
Homasho, he simply did it with hard work.
I'm not sure M5 Tochiohzan is comfortable with his 9-6 finish because that puts
him at the M1 rank for Kyushu. I don't see how he doesn't get destroyed again in
Kyushu, and his win over Hakuho was a gift. It just can't be explained any other
I was stoked to see M6 Masunoyama pick up his kachi-koshi on senshuraku, and I'm
excited to see how he'll fare among the jo'i. I don't expect more than five win
in Kyushu, but this dude's got some serious pop from the tachi-ai, and I think
he can catch some of the Ozeki sleeping.
M8 Okinoumi will get another shot at the jo'i after his 11-4 showing, but
there's no use gushing over such a record at this level. Is there such a thing
as a big win from this level of a crappy banzuke?
M9 Takayasu made noise early with his 8-0 start, but there's concern when they
gave him slightly tougher competition in week 2 and he only mustered a 10-5
finish. Still, on this banzuke, you've done nothing in Makuuchi until you
kachi-koshi from the jo'i.
Ditto for M10 Kyokutenho who finished 10-5 after a 9-0 start. Yeah, yeah, I know
he's got a yusho this year, but remember the crap opponents they gave him even
down the stretch? Kachi-koshi from the jo'i, and then we'll talk.
As previously mentioned, M12 Chiyotairyu assumes the title of biggest waste of
talent in the division. When this guy first entered the division and started
bludgeoning his opponents, I really hadn't seen that kind of domination since
Baruto. But all it took was that one hataki-komi, and this guy hasn't been the
same since. A 6-9 finish for this lad at this level is a complete failure. The
Japanese rikishi just don't have the hunger that existed a decade or two ago.
And finally, let's conclude with our Makuuchi rookie, M14 Asahisho, who picked
up kachi-koshi at 8-7 but sputtered a bit after his 6-2 start in week one. His
youth and size alone will allow him to stay in the division for several years
and I like it how he tried to take it to all of his opponents from the tachi-ai
with his oshi-attack. I didn't see any fear or hesitation from him, and he's a
welcome addition to the division.