Expert Sumo Analysis

Mike Wesemann's Blog



Off Topic


What was Roho thinking?

I watched the last few day 7 bouts as fast as possible while my ride to the airport waited out in front of the house, so while I did see the Chiyotaikai - Roho bout, I hit the fast forward button before Chiyotaikai had even hopped off the dohyo and the two exchanged words. So you can imagine my shock as I scrambled off of my plane in Osaka and ran to the nearest television showing NHK to get an update on the day 8 bouts only to see that Roho had been suspended from action for three days and Otake-oyakata would be docked 10% of his allowance from the Sumo Association for the next three months.

After pouring through the headlines and going back to watch that bout over and over to see what really happened, I came to the following conclusion: Roho is an idiot. As for the bout itself, Chiyotaikai did move to his left at the tachi-ai, but Roho read the move perfectly. However, instead of driving Chiyotaikai back and into the second row on the head judge's side with a nice thrusting attack, he went for a stupid pull-down that Chiyotaikai capitalized on by driving Roho into the second row. Now I don't know why Chiyo hopped off the dohyo after the bout. I don't know if his momentum just carried him off or if he wanted to stare Roho down a bit. The reason doesn't matter. The Ozeki has every right as Roho's senpai to do whatever he wants after the bout. I would love to know the contents of that conversation the two had, but I'm guessing Chiyotaikai said something like, "You dumbass. You had me strung up, but you went for the pull-down instead?" Regardless of what Chiyotaikai said, Roho has got to keep his trap shut unless he's going to offer a slight bow and a "hai" acknowledging Chiyotaikai's advice.

Now, if you've read Sumotalk for more than a few basho, you know where I stand in regards to Chiyotaikai, but I give the Ozeki a hard time because I don't like what I see from him in the ring. Outside of the ring, I have no problems with him, and I'm glad to see him in his kohai's face, especially after said kohai breaks protocol. One thing I love about Asashoryu is that he polices the other rikishi. He doesn't put up with sumo that sucks, and he doesn't put up with rikishi who are slackers in the dohyo. I'm glad to see Chiyotaikai doing the same. Regardless of how far his sumo has fallen at this point in his career, he's an Ozeki and champion three times over.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's gaijin who come to Japan and then complain about this or that, accuse the Japanese of racism, or think they're better than the establishment here (and the same goes for you Japanese folk who go abroad and complain!). They think they are some sort of revolutionaries out to enlighten this country. They criticize, they disrespect, and they belittle...all while they're fattening themselves up on Japanese cuisine, sleeping with the Japanese women, and earning more money here than they do in their own sorry-ass country. If you live in Japan and you have a single complaint about it...get the hell out. If it's so bad, why are you still here? The Japanese will probably never tell you foreigners this, but their biggest complaint about you is that you don't respect them. And for the most part, they're right.

Roho's act was a perfect example of this, and all it did was to validate the Japanese people's opinion about foreigners. Roho's refusal to bow to Chiyotaikai after their bout was a disgrace. And his being pissed off after that bout was ludicrous. Roho's over here performing half-assed sumo, he's pulling in a paycheck probably 50 times what he could earn in Russia, and he's even driving a Hummer for godsakes. He's living off the fatted calf of this land, so the least he could do is show a little respect and bow to an Ozeki that just kicked his ass when it should have been the other way around. He's an idiot if you ask me, and he's damn lucky the only punishment he got was three days off. They should have deported him back to Russia for a year or two and actually made him work for a living.

Geez, I'm worked up already, and I haven't even talked about Roho's assaulting two cameramen. I actually don't care a lick about that. The Japanese press can be annoying as hell and probably deserved everything they got. Did those two dudes really need a close-up of Roho's face coming out of the bath room? Actually, does anybody really need to see a close-up of Roho's face? Just pull out an old picture from one of your files. You're not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for being sneaky enough to capture a photo of Roho in the back halls of the venue. There's press seating and a press room for a reason. Stay the hell out of the rikishi's private lives unless you're invited in. It's not like Mrs. and Mr. Britney Spears were in the house.

The whole point, Roho, is that you need to get over yourself. Nobody wronged you in anyway on day 7. You brought it all on yourself and you look like a complete dipshit at this point. It's no wonder that the Sumo Association has put a limit on the number of foreigners they want in their sport. On one hand, yes, they are tired of getting their asses kicked by the foreign rikishi, but on the other hand, Roho showed just what a liability they can become. Letting bad sumo work you up to the point where you disrespect an Ozeki on and off the dohyo and assault two other people afterwards is a problem. Thanks to you, the focus of his basho has been taken off of the dohyo and redirected in all the wrong places. Way to take a great 4-2 start and parlay that into a 4-6 record and possible legal action. Stupid is as stupid does, so you deserve everything you get. Sumo has taken a step backwards thanks to you, your piss-poor attitude, and your bad sumo.

Read Clancy's rebuttal

How to beat Baruto--or Bruto if you announce for the NHK English broadcast

Baruto has just been sweeping through the lower Makuuchi division leaving nearly every rikishi he faces crumpled in a large heap on the dohyo. It's almost like watching a super human in the movies brush off his attackers as if he's swatting flies. Can someone email me and verify whether or not this guy is a direct descendent of Goliath? Start out with the Philistines and see if they migrated and settled in Estonia.

Despite Baruto's run the previous seven days (remember, he DID start out 2-2), the dude's sumo is still quite unpolished, and he's made plenty of mistakes. He just hasn't paid for many of them thanks to his size, thus the 9-2 start. Let's go back and review his bouts to this point:

Day 1 Easy force out win over Homasho, a rikishi who has no thrusting power. You gotta come out thrusting against the Philistine.

Day 2 Loss to Tochinohana, a rikishi who is tall to somewhat neutralize Baruto's height and a rikishi who WISELY set up his win with tsuppari to the upper torso

Day 3 please

Day 4 Loss to Kitazakura, once again a rikishi whose height and size can neutralize Baruto's beef a bit. The key here was that Baruto was denied the right outer grip

Day 5 Win over that guy still breathing?

Day 6 Win over Hakurozan where like Homasho, Hakurozan made the mistake of going chest to chest with Baruto

Day 7 Win over Jumonji resorting to a tachi-ai henka. Careful Bruto, what comes around goes around

Day 8 Win over Yoshikaze. I think they're still trying to untangle him from Katayama

Day 9 Win over Kasugao. This was Baruto's worst sumo of the basho set up by an awful tachi-ai. If Kasugao looks forward with his eyes open at the tachi-ai, I think he wins.

Day 10 Win over Futenoh. Bad tachi-ai from Baruto giving his opponent moro-zashi. Futenoh panicked by failing to grab the belt. Mistake avoided for the win.

Day 11 Win over Tamanoshima where Tama really played this one smart using the tsuppari and keeping Baruto moving. He eventually gave up the right uwate (a huge no-no) and it was curtains. A weak Tamanoshima had his way for awhile against Baruto. If that was a genki rikishi like Kotomitsuki or Kisenosato, Baruto would have been in trouble.

Baruto has admitted himself the last few days that his sumo hasn't been pretty...and he's right. He is vulnerable but it will take this kind of attack to beat him:

- Tsuppari from the tachi-ai, no exceptions. If you can't thrust at the tachi-ai, call in sick the morning you face Baruto.
- Never give up the right outer grip or you're toast. I'm not suggesting a tachi-ai henka, but attack from your left side disallowing Baruto a right outer grip.
- Keep Baruto moving and hopefully thrusting...bigger opponents are easier to attack when they're flailing away
- Take advantage of Baruto's tachi-ai. I think the Estonian still tends to stand up too high at the initial charge. Hakuho was a lot like this when he was new, but you've seen how he has settled into the most solid tachi-ai in the bidness. If Baruto learns this, watch out.

I think Iwakiyama is a rikishi who will give Baruto trouble tomorrow IF he has confidence in his tsuppari and fires away with them from the tachi-ai. He's bulky enough like Kitazakura to actually move Baruto around, and he's a veteran who should have a little pride running through his veins. We don't know Baruto's opponents the last three days, but they should all be kachi-koshi rikishi, so don't expect the cakewalk we've seen the last seven days. I'm sure Kyokushuzan will be one of them, and that should be interesting. Anybody wanna bet that Shu doesn't henka to his left? Wily E. hasn't stuck around this long in the division because he goes chest to chest with his opponents. Back to the point, I mentioned in my day 9 report that I didn't think Baruto was a serious contender for the yusho, and my reasoning is that I think over the last 4 days, he's going to get quality rikishi who can expose his mistakes and take advantage of the rough edges to his sumo. Still, it should be no surprise to see this dude hoisting the Emperor's cup in a year or so.

When all else fails against Bruto, dere's always da spinach! A-ga-ga-ga-ga-guh.

Mike cries on senshuraku

Talk about a cheesy ending to the Haru basho. It couldn't have been scripted any better right? I mean, everyone comes out as winners. Kaio gets his miraculous eighth win, Tochiazuma's Yokozuna hopes shockingly continue through May, and Asashoryu and Hakuho lose nothing as they legitimately duke it out in a playoff to determine the yusho. Two of the last three bouts on senshuraku were thrown in my opinion to give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling following the Haru basho. No problem, though, right? The yusho was not compromised in anyway. Wrong. I say sumo took a blow integrity wise thanks to the senshuraku happenings despite from what you'll hear in the Japan news media, both English and Japanese. It was obvious to me, and I'm sure to a lot of you.

Let me start my reasoning with a little quiz:

1) From the tachi-ai, Hakuho favors securing what position?

a. right outer grip
b. left frontal belt grip
c. moro-te (both hands at the throat of his opponent)

2) Which of the following rikishi past or present never attempts/attempted to grab the uwate over the top of his opponent?

a. Takanonami
b. Kyokutenho
c. Asashoryu

Now this is actually a pretty serious quiz that a lot of beginners to sumo will not know. If you fall into this category, I'll provide photos showing you what I mean. For those of you who got the answers right away, I don't see how you could say with a clear conscience that there was nothing fishy going on in Osaka.

First, the Hakuho - Kaio bout. I must preface this by saying if you go to my profile page, you'll note that Kaio is my favorite current rikishi. I wanted Kaio to win 8 as much as anyone else, but not in the way it happened. The first red flag popped up in my mind on day 14 after Kaio beat Kotomitsuki. I don't remember who was in the booth for NHK, but the guy commented on the implications of the Kaio - Hakuho bout because both rikishi are from the same ichimon (an affiliation of stables). These days, rikishi from the same stable do not fight each other, but it used to be that rikishi from the same ichimon would not fight each other. The announcer for NHK on day 14 did not expound, but he implied that it would be a very difficult situation for Hakuho come senshuraku. Ozeki promotion was in the bag for Hakuho, so normally, it would be nothing to defer a loss to Kaio, but the tricky part was that Hakuho was tied for the yusho.

Fast-forward to today's bout. The correct answer to the first question of my quiz is B. Just watch a Hakuho false start and you can see his left arm extended and turned upwards aiming for that frontal belt grip. He always tries to secure that grip and work from there, and today, the left frontal belt grip was WIDE OPEN yet Hakuho not only failed to grab it, but turned his hand inwards so that it wasn't even pushing against Kaio (see picture at left, opposite angle of the NHK broadcast). You couldn't see this from the shomen angle NHK broadcasts their bouts from, but the replay from the opposite angle showed it clearly. For the first few seconds of the bout, the back of Hakuho's left hand was touching Kaio's thigh just under the belt, but he obviously had no intention of grabbing the belt or even pushing against his opponent. This point is indisputable as you can see in my photos.  Hakuho's left arm just danlges as he waits for Kaio to grab that outer grip.  Also note in the picture lower left how Kaio is standing straight up.  He gave Kaio the right outer grip, then once that was secure, Hakuho grabbed the left inner to make things at least look interesting. From this point, Hakuho attempted no charge of his own, nor was there any wrenching of his body trying to throw his opponent off balance or break his grip. It was too easy for Kaio, and there was no "digging in" by Hakuho. Yaocho through and though in my opinion. The NHK announcers also knew something was up. Of course they can't say anything, but they're stumbling all over themselves afterwards trying to explain what happened. " just didn't seem to have that same desire this bout..." Yeah, that's what I'm saying.

Once Hakuho lost, I KNEW that it was now Tochiazuma's turn to win. You had to have known it. Hakuho would give up a loss to keep Kaio in his rank for two more tournaments at least, and Asashoryu would give up the loss to allow Tochiazuma's quest for the Yokozuna rank continue. No skin off either of the Mongolians' backs because they were still guaranteed a playoff for the yusho.

The answer to question number 2 of my quiz is C. You all remember Takanonami constantly going over the top of his opponent to grab the back of his belt. Kyokutenho is tall enough and lengthy enough to do it too on occasion, hell, even the lanky Takamisakari does it all the time. But stubby- armed Asashoryu? Has anybody ever seen Asashoryu attempt this? So why today? He needed to give Tochiazuma a position from which the Ozeki could not screw it up. After giving Tochiazuma the deep inside position, next Asashoryu grabbed Tochiazuma's right arm and looked confused as to what do to next. Not having practice throwing bouts will do that to you. Tochiazuma instinctively drove Asashoryu to the straw where the Yokozuna stood fully upright for a moment before Tochiazuma finished him off with a shove (see lower right). When have you ever seen Asashoryu not dig in his heels and pull out every stop when he was in trouble. And that's when the yusho ISN'T on the line for hellsakes. He'll arch his back, he'll hold onto the mawashi when thrown for as long as possible (remember that bout against Kotonowaka?), he'll do everything physically possible to dig in and hope. Today, however, at the tawara he stood straight up and gave up on the bout before he was even out of the ring. Very uncharacteristic, especially when all he needed was a win to clinch the yusho outright.

Once again, the NHK announcers were in a difficult situation. They knew what they saw too. Kitanofuji oyakata stumbled a bit and then offered, "What was the Yokozuna trying to do?". We all knew, but there's no way anyone affiliated with NHK or the Japanese mainstream press can even hint that something was going on. No problem. I'm here to tell you straight up what happened.

Let's address the question of "why." For Asashoryu, what has been the biggest criticism of his domination and current yusho run? Answer: there's no competition. However, if another Yokozuna is on the banzuke when Asashoryu racks up yusho 17 through 30 or whatever, the take of "weak competition" becomes just that...weak. Having another Yokozuna on the banzuke affects Asashoryu in no negative way. His pay isn't reduced; his likelihood of losing doesn't increase; he know longer has to shoulder all the burdens of a lone Yokozuna, etc. I honestly don't think Asashoryu cares one way or the other if there's another Yokozuna, so for him to throw today's bout to extend Tochiazuma's run is no sacrifice to him whatsoever.

How about Hakuho? Not only are he and Kaio from the same ichimon, but their stables are very closely-knit. I saw this first hand in the mid-90's when I used to live in Fukuoka and loiter around the sumo stables. If I wanted to find Kaio early on in the pre-basho keiko sessions, I'd always go to Miyagino-beya and find him. It's the old "o-sewa ni narimasu" thing in Japan. Kaio was the Makuuchi rikishi who lent his chest to the Miyagino boys all these years when there were no Makuuchi rikishi of their own. Hakuho loses nothing if he throws the bout assuming he knows Asashoryu will lose too. He does Kaio a favor, he still has Ozeki promotion tied up, and he still has a fair shot at the yusho. Once again, absolutely nothing to sacrifice.

Now the question of "who" as in who arranged it. I don't know. I'm not close enough to the sport living 6,000 miles away, and even if I did have close contacts, no one would dare say anything. My thinking is that it was between Asashoryu and Hakuho for the reasons I've mentioned above. Both fought from the East side today, so they were in the same dressing room. It also helps that they speak the same language. Perhaps there was some encouragement from their oyakata, but I don't think any was necessary. I knew the scenario heading into today, and one of our loyal readers Natsuki Yamamoto emailed me the exact same scenario after day 13. I'm sure a majority of you figured it out coming into the day's bouts. I think all it took was a certain "look" between Asashoryu and Hakuho to seal the deal.

So is sumo fake?  No...but I guarantee you that bouts are thrown when someone needs a favor and one's own yusho, kachi-koshi, promotion, etc. is not on the line.  Today's two yaocho really doesn't hurt anything, but it sure left a bad taste in my mouth and really ruined the fantastic playoff between Asashoryu and Hakuho.  Get used to those two occupying the final bout of senshuraku for the years to come...both as Yokozuna.  I'm looking forward to it; just stop the hand-outs and favors.

Frustrating Sumo from the Eastern Europeans

I would say that more often times than not, the sumo of Roho, Kokkai, and Hakurozan can be described as "frustrating." All three hail from Eastern Europe, and all three made rapid climbs up the banzuke only to stall once they neared the Makuuch jo'i or sanyaku. Why? Roho and his brother, Hakurozan, boast significant strength, but each seems to fail to capitilize on that strength opting for too many pull down moves or too much sumo where their chest isn't up against the chest of their opponents. Kokkai, no weakling, has also shown flashes of brilliance--hey, he kicked Asashoryu's ass last basho, but far too often the Georgian looks confused and abondons his style of sumo that gives him the advantage over his opponents. I submit that the un-polished sumo exhibited by these guys is a direct result of being brought up in stables where the proper hazing, bullying, and discipline from senior rikishi did not exist.

Sounds crazy, I know, but let's use Hakurozan as an example. He fights from the Hatachiyama-beya. Ever heard of it before Hakurozan came along? I didn't think so. You look at the current lineup of Hatachiyama-beya rikishi, and it consists of Hakurozan and 10 other rikishi with the highest being Shotenyu ranked at Sandanme 28. Suppose you're Shotenyu, the highest-ranked rikishi in your stable, when they introduce the new guy, a beast from Russia who is already bigger and stronger than you. You're not going to bully him even though it's your right as his senpai because you know full well he'll pass your current rank in a year or so and then turn around and kick your ass in return for all of the unkind treatment. So Hakurozan enters the fray and begins practicing with his stablemates, but there's no one there standing over him with a bamboo sword taking swipes at him when he veers away from sound sumo. There's no one there to practice butsukari-geiko with him and drag him around by the hair or his ears until he collapses in exhaustion. Hakurozan learns the system as he goes and rises through the ranks on sheer ability and size.

Roho hails from the Otake-beya, another stable with the next best being a Sandanme rikishi. Same story. Sure, Roho's original stable master was the great Taiho, but the stable master is in a difficult position. He really needs a senior rikishi to take charge of the keiko sessions and discipline, but there's no one to do it. The stable master can also step in and administer the beatings himself, but he can't risk breaking the relationship with his golden goose. A foreigner like Roho was obviously brought in to get the stable's name on the map and to generate more income by having a high-profile rikishi.

Kokkai comes from a bit more prominent stable that inlcuded at the time Hayateumi, but Kokkai was bigger on his first day on the job than Hayateumi was already. Furthermore, can you picture Hayateumi as a stable leader barking out orders to the younger guys and kicking their asses around? I believe at the time, Hayateumi also had more things to worry about like a blown out knee. The majority of rikishi enter the sport as scrawny 15 or 16 year olds who are too young to shave. That tranlsates into easy bully material. Then you have Kokkai come in who is already bigger and stronger than everyone and has facial hair growing back 30 minutes after he shaves. No one is going to push Kokkai around incessantly because they all know that what goes around when Kokkai is new will come around when Kokkai rises above them in the ranks.

My theory is, then, that these huge foreign rikishi, are brought into the sport and rise up the ranks on size and ability, but aren't receiving the discipline that helps them conform to the sumo basics once they reach the big time. Contrast these three guys with Kotooshu, who comes form one of the most well-established stables in the history of the sport, the Sadogatake-beya. Grant it, line all four of these guys up before they enter the sport, and Kotooshu has the height advantage, but I think that Kotooshu's superior yotsu-zumo skills, his ring sense, and his rapid success in the sport is directly related to the training he received at the hands of his senpai as he rose through the ranks. When Kotooshu entered sumo, he had Kotomitsuki, Kotonowaka, Kotoryu, and a recently retired Kotonishiki to train and discipline him. You can't beat that, and now Sadogatake-beya is reaping the rewards.

Switching gears, have you ever watched amateur sumo? It's okay entertainment, but the first thing I always notice is that the tachi-ai are horrible. Sound sumo basics are also frequently substitued by hyper dudes trying to tackle each other rather than basing their attacks from the lower body up. If Japanese rikishi are in the amateur tournaments, they'll usually come out on top as they've received the necessary training and discipline from their school clubs, etc. You know...the whole senpai - kohai thing chock full of bullying, hazing, and discipline. I think amateur sumo is so different from professional sumo in Japan because the amatuers do their thing and then go home. They don't have to cook anyone's meals; they don't go hungry; they don't have to wipe anyone's arse; they don't get dragged around the dohyo by their ears or hair; no bottles are broken over their heads; no bamboo sword strikes on the back of the leg; basically, they don't suffer any abuse. I think all of that is a critical element of the sport that makes the sumo you watch on NHK so high-quality and polished...for the most part. I'm not suggesting that Roho, Hakurozan, and Kokkai are glorified amatuers--far from it. I am suggesting, however, that their lapses in the quality of their sumo is a direct result of insufficient training and discipline when first entering the sport.


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