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2013 Aki Pre-basho Report

Let's begin talk of the Aki basho with the recent announcement that Tokyo was chosen as the host site for the 2020 Summer Olympics. I don't know of any country that is more emotionally invested than Japan when it comes to international events like the World Cup or the Olympics, so props to Japan for scoring the gig. What this also means is that sumo will be guaranteed a Japanese Yokozuna in the year 2020. Part of the charm for the Japanese in hosting this event will be introducing the uniqueness of the culture to the West, and sumo will be part of that conversation. Nobody in the West would even notice if there wasn't a Japanese Yokozuna when Tokyo hosts the Olympics, but the Japanese people would notice, and so congratulations to Japan on the birth of a Yokozuna in the next seven years. It's very unlikely that said Yokozuna is not on the banzuke already, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few years. If I had to guess now, the two most worthy rikishi are Chiyotairyu and Endoh, but we have seven years to watch that prophesy play out, so let's focus our attention on the present.

After reporting ten or so days during the Nagoya basho, I didn't have enough ammo for a post basho report, but really the only point that I want to rehash from Nagoya is that I think Hakuho's injury was staged. He may very well have tweaked a muscle near his rib cage, but I believe he was exaggerating the extent of the injury. I've scrutinized that bout against Kotoshogiku as close as possible, and I just don't see a point where the Yokozuna could have suffered an injury like that. It reminded me of Asashoryu when all of a sudden he suffered an elbow injury supposedly in a bout against Wakanosato. I never did see any evidence of an awkward throw or awkward stance that would have contributed to a bad elbow, but all of a sudden, Asashoryu had bad elbows. Sorta like Harumafuji has bad ankles. The only pattern I see in all of that is the Yokozuna rank and Mongolian rikishi. I'm not saying that these injuries are fake because I doubt there's a rikishi on the banzuke who isn't dinged up somewhere; I am saying that I believe the injuries are over-exaggerated just in case someone needs an excuse to withdraw from a basho thus opening the door for someone else.

On that note, let's examine the banzuke starting with Hakuho, who upon learning that Tokyo would host the twenty twenty Olympics stated that he intends on fighting as an active rikishi until then. If Hakuho was serious with that statement, there is no way that he doesn't surpass Taiho's all-time record for career yusho, but I'm not convinced yet that the Sumo Association will allow him to do it. If Hakuho fought at full strength the last two and a half years, he'd already be at 33 yusho. The problem currently, however, is that Hakuho can stil take two steps back each basho, and he's still the favorite to take the cup by default, so there may be no other choice than to have Hakuho set the all time record...unless an injury derails his career. With all the pre-basho focus on Endoh this month, I've ready very little of Hakuho's practices, but he's easily the favorite to yusho. I suspect this is a basho where he'll take a few steps back, so I'll predict 12 or 13 wins and an ugly yusho in the end because nobody else was able to secure it.

The big problem with Hakuho stepping back in a tournament is Harumafuji, who has already demonstrated that he's the only one capable of mopping up when Hakuho doesn't. Having one Mongolian step aside for another is about as meaningful as weaning yourself off of a heroin habit by snorting coke instead, so it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. I believe that sumo is trying to slowly wean themselves off of the Mongolians, but the gap is just so vast that a Japanese rikishi really hasn't threatened the winner's circle in seven years now. Baruto was able to capitalize in Hatsu 2012, and then there was that utter fluke a few basho later when the experiment to have all foreign rikishi step aside backfired as Kyokutenho ended up taking the yusho, but the point is...the Japanese rikishi are still so far away from being able to yusho that Harumafuji will easily step in and clean things up. I haven't read any of the Yokozuna's keiko reports due to other news headlines, but he's second in line as usual. I'm going to say that Harumafuji finishes around 11 wins because I just think there needs to be a pull back this basho.

There's really nothing to comment on regarding the Ozeki as their roles are firmly cemented and have been for at least a year. You have Kisenosato who has been given every opportunity to be Japan's first since Tochiazuma; Kotoshogiku who is too slow to supplant Kisenosato but usually backs into the second Ozeki slot by default; Kakuryu who is clearly the best Ozeki on the board but isn't allowed to show it; and then Kotooshu who can't be far behind Baruto. Expect the same old in Aki from the Ozeki...quick starts from the group and then age kicking in by day four or five.

Speaking of reruns, the Sekiwake rank is once again occupied by Myogiryu and Goeido. I mean, what is there new to say about either of these two guys? Neither is a threat for the Ozeki rank, and then we still don't quite have enough youth just below them to really threaten a take over in rank. Expect 15-16 wins between them.

In the Komusubi ranks, Tochiohzan is as solid as you can get, and I think he's better than both of the Sekiwake. The problem is Tochiohzan doesn't have quite enough muscle to knock the two Sakaigawa-beya rikishi out of their Sekiwake perches for good, but in the near future, these three should play musical chairs with the two Sekiwake ranks and the East Komusubi slot. 7-8 wins.

Takayasu graces the Komusubi rank for the first time in his career, and after a bit of ballyhoo after the initial release of the banzuke, it didn't take long for other news stories to crop up and bounce Takayasu to supporting actor status. It's so easy to root for this kid, and I'm a big fan, but I don't think he's quite ready to overcome the rough week-one schedule thrown the Komusubi's way. And speaking of supporting actor, I can't wait to see if Harumafuji will give us yet another Oscar performance when he fights Takayasu. Look for Takayasu to fade quickly and finish with six wins.

I've kind of quickly run through the Ozeki and sanyaku ranks, but there's been so little turnover in a couple of years that it's like breaking down a sweet pool of flotsam and jetsam. There has been a bit of turnover in the upper Maegashira ranks but it's been mostly crap in crap out. Shohozan leads the way, but this guy hasn't done much when ranked this high. I didn't realize the dude was as small as he is until I read that he is tied with Harumafuji for lightest rikishi in the division. That explains some of his shenanigans and inability to become a sanyaku mainstay. The reason the Ozeki and Sekiwake don't change ranks is because they feed off of guys like Shohozan, so expect Matutano (are you still alive, Oscar?) to finish with five wins or so.

I don't exactly get a stiffie seeing Ikioi across the aisle, but at least the dude's got some size. I think Ikioi's ability to rise this far in the ranks is more a case of lightweight rank and filers than it is of Ikioi actually having any game. What's the point in making a prediction?

The M2's, Okinoumi and Aoiyama, are going to be useless up this high. We've already seen that Okinoumi will quit, and while I don't think Aoiyama just gives up, he doesn't have that work ethic that will help him to succeed at this height.

M3 Chiyotairyu has got to learn to become a finisher. It's crazy...the dude will be standing at seven or so wins after fighting all of the Yokozuna and Ozeki only to flounder around and actually make-koshi in the end. He's done that two basho in a row now, and hopefully that doesn't become the norm for this guy. Sumo could really use Chiyotairyu to have break-out basho and stir things up a bit in the sanyaku.

Now that we're out of the jo'i, it's just pointless for me to comment on all of the rikishi, so let's skip down and hit only rikishi of interest this basho. In order to do that, we've got to drop all the way down to M9 where Kotoyuki sits after his first kachi-koshi effort in the division. When Kotoyuki is committed to forward moving sumo, he's tough for a lot of these guys to handle. The dude will sometimes lose confidence and resort to the pull, but if he can concentrate on his brand of sumo and keep his legs moving forward, he could be one of the best rikishi in the rank and file.

M10 Tokushoryu became the first rikishi this year to kachi-koshi in his debut basho in July, and he looked great doing it. Early on in Nagoya, you could see Tokushoryu not to sure of himself mixing in a few pulls here and there, but something clicked around day 5 to where he was able to focus on a straight forward attack, and there was no turning back. This will be a crucial basho for the sophomore in terms of keeping the momentum and his confidence going.

I'm glad to see M11 Tochinowaka back in the division after a breather in Juryo. I don't expect great things from him, but the potential is there, so keep an eye on him.

M13 Endoh is worth the hype. I rarely comment on Juryo rikishi, but even NHK could tell this kid was something special because they highlighted his Juryo bout nearly every day during the Makuuchi broadcast. I commented on this in one of my daily reports, but his bout against Osunaarashi told you everything you know about those two. Osunaarashi will have the success of the Eastern Europeans like Roho, Wakanoho, and even Aran in his heyday, but he'll resort to ugly sumo in order to get there. Endoh on the other hand is straight forward and one confident sumbitch, so I can't wait to see what he does this basho. Most of the guys around him are regulars to Juryo anyway, so there's really nothing new for him in the division. When a guy fights in Makuuchi without his hair in a top-knot, you know he is a game changer. Can't wait to break him down daily in Aki.

Across the aisle from Endoh is Homasho who has recovered from a torn rotator cuff that actually required surgery. This dude is everyone's favorite, but he cannot sustain a solid basho in Makuuchi. He may kachi-koshi this low, but he's too old and beat up to make any real noise. Still, it doesn't mean we won't root for him.

Before I close, I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the recent retirement of Baruto. Baruto was one of the brighter spots in sumo the last few years because of his smile and personality. It was easy to see the potential in the Estonian, but his less than strong work ethic was also evident. After his yusho early last year, Baruto quickly resorted to passive sumo where instead of trying to catch his opponents with both hands at the neck and moving forward, he tried to catch them with both hands at the neck while standing up straight or even stepping back a half step. He was mildly successful resorting to counter sumo, but you know what they say when you let up in the ring. I think we're all going to miss Baruto, and I wish him well in retirement.

I believe Captain Mario Kadastik said that Baruto was buying up a bunch of ranch land back in Estonia, and let's hope the dude enjoys a quiet retirement. I suspect he's a pretty practical guy unlike Roho who blew 10 million yen on a Hummer when he was an active rikishi, and if Baruto wants a career in Japan in variety TV, he's got the personality for it, so let's hope the dude doesn't have to work another serious day in his life. Oh, and Mario, text Baruto and see if he wants a gig on Sumotalk.

Here are my predictions for what I think will be a slow, sloppy basho:

Yusho: Hakuho (12-3)
Shukunsho: Chiyotairyu
Kantosho: Endoh
Ginosho: Endoh



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