Mike's 2003 Haru Basho Archives

Roundtable

On the whole, the Haru basho was a let down to me although it kept me captivated up to the end.  I attribute the let down to the number of high-ranked rikishi missing or fighting poorly, the yusho line teetering on 3-4 losses, and the lack of any fighting spirit.  Big congratulations, though, to Chiyotaikai for beating Asashoryu straight up on senshuraku >>>>to clinch his third yusho.

A new record was set this basho at 12 for the number of sekitori sitting out or withdrawing due to injury.  That means one out of every 5.5 rikishi was missing, including a handful at the very top.  It's no wonder that TV Asashi in Japan is canceling its nightly Sumo Digest broadcasts at the end of the Aki basho this year.  This is a big blow to all gaijin in Japan who can't quite make it home in time to see the live Makuuchi bouts.  When I worked in Japan, many a time did I excuse myself early from a night out with the co-workers telling them that I had to catch the last bus home when really I had to make it home in time for sumo digest.

The Sumo Kyokai is taking huge measures to curb the number of injuries.  A mandatory meeting of all sekitori was held in February focusing on ways to reduce the risk of injury.  It was also stated at the meeting that the Kyokai was going to become more strict regarding its granting of kosho status.  Kosho status means the Sumo Kyokai recognizes the rikishi's injury as sustained "on the job," or in the ring of a hon-basho bout.  This status guarantees a rikishi the same rank on the banzuke for the next basho.  Up until now, the Kyokai would grant the status if a doctor recommended two months or more of treatment to rehabilitate the injury.  Now the bar has been raised to "more than two months" so we'll start seeing the kosho status granted less and less.  I personally don't see how this will help to curb the number of injuries, but at least the Kyokai is attempting to address the problem.  There was a bit of controversy in Osaka this time around when Musoyama went down with an apparent shoulder injury.  Doctors said that he needed two months to recover, but the Kyokai refused to grant him the special status despite the appeals of his stable master.

As for the rikishisí performances, I'll start with the winner, Ozeki Chiyotaikai who ended up at 12-3.  Though I was never impressed by the content of Chiyo's sumo this basho, in looking back, he was the most consistent.  I think it says a lot as to the quality of this basho when the Director of the Sumo Kyokai, Kitanoumi, stated that Chiyotaikai would NOT be up for Yokozuna promotion next basho.  And he shouldn't be.  His sumo was good, but not the best we've seen from him and certainly not sumo worthy of a Yokozuna.  In order to become a Yokozuna, you have to thoroughly dominate the rest of the field for two straight basho, and while Chiyo was good enough this basho to win, he didn't dominate everyone else.  Much has been said and much will yet be said about Chiyo's bad habit of pulling down his opponents, but until he can overcome this, he will not be fighting at the standard of a Yokozuna.  Coming into senshuraku, he had exactly zero wins against Komusubi rikishi or above where Chiyo was moving forward as he clinched victory.  Chiyo is a solid Ozeki (how many of the other Ozeki are solid?), and he has what it takes to become Yokozuna; he just needs to turn it up mentally and he's there.

Yokozuna Asashoryu finally succumbed to some pressure this basho.  I guess his botched dohyo-iri on day 1 set the stage for his performance in Osaka.  I was beginning to think this guy was invincible, but he proved he is still human posting a paltry 10-5 mark as Yokozuna.  Asa seemed to lack his usual speed this basho, and I also didn't see that mean streak he displayed the two previous tournaments.  Asa particularly looked bad the final two days in his bouts with the Ozeki going 0-2.  It seemed to me he played right into his opponentsí strengths both bouts.  Against Kaio, he decided to go chest to chest with the bigger, stronger Ozeki; and against Chiyo, I guess he thought it would be better to stand directly in front of the hard hitter and withstand 34 blows in 11 seconds rather than to move laterally and force his opponent to chase him.  It's mental lapses such as these that separate the truly great rikishi from the rest of the pack.  Does that mean Asashoryu has come back to the pack?  This basho yes, but overall no.  We've seen bad basho from Yokozuna before (especially rookie Yokozuna) and we'll see them again.  I can remember last Nagoya basho when Musashimaru managed to lose his last four bouts.  It doesn't leave a good impression on the fans at the time, but we all know that these guys are special.  Musashimaru's comeback in May should greatly relieve Asashoryu's pressure of being the lone Yokozuna.  How nice would it be to have two Yokozuna again fighting at the top of their game?

Ozeki Kaio showed us no surprises this basho in his 10-5 outing.  It appeared to me that he was favoring his right arm a little early on, but he seemed to make it through without hurting himself.  Kaio's hopes at the yusho were dashed on senshuraku when Kotomitsuki showed us the worst tachi-ai I've ever seen, but give credit to Kaio for keeping himself in the hunt by easily dispatching of Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu.  It was vintage Kaio: impressive yotsu-zumo blemished by head-scratching losses.  Kaio is the ultimate Ozeki, however, and it's good to have him back.  I think Kaio will be one of the favorites to win in May.

Ozeki Musoyama hardly deserves mention.  His performance this basho was pathetic: 1-5 record over the first six days, suspect shoulder injury that forced his withdrawal, and terrible sumo all around.  Muso would have normally been able to sit the Natsu basho out in May with his injury, but the new kosho rules may force him to get back in the ring.  Things could get ugly.

The Sekiwake were uninspiring this basho.  Takanowaka was out from the get go, Wakanosato suffered some bonehead losses, and Kotomitsuki was awful again.  Normally I would say a Sekiwake going 9-6 is a good basho; however, Wakanosato had some terrible losses that really hurt his candidacy for Ozeki.  During a five-day stretch early on, Wakanosato lost four of five bouts...some to the likes of Wakanoyama and Kotonowaka.  How does he let that happen?  This was the kind of basho where a Sekiwake could rise up and steal the show not to mention the yusho with a solid performance, but Wakanosato blew it.  Coming off of an 11 win performance in January, this guy was primed to make a significant Ozeki run--especially with the rest of the field down, but he suffered too many bad losses.  Maybe I'm just bitter because he blew my Barometer theory to hell.  If I were to revise the theory, I'd have to say that it only applies in a basho where the yusho line is at 13 wins or higher.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki will finally drop down to Komusubi after an ugly 6-9 basho.  One of those wins was by default over Iwakiyama and a couple of other wins were cheap hiki-waza efforts.  He's lucky he didn't lose in double digits or he'd be demoted down to Maegashira, which is where I think he belongs right now.  Can you believe this guy actually has a yusho under his belt?

The two Komusubi turned in decent efforts both ending at 8-7.  Dejima ended the basho with three straight losses to tarnish his otherwise good basho.  With everyone else so down, Dejima was a shoe-in for a special prize until that losing streak.  Here's a guy who handily beats Asashoryu and Kaio and struggles mightily with the Maegashira.  I guess his quest for Ozeki starts over again next basho.  Tosanoumi turned in a typical performance: solid wins, slippery footing, and another 8-7 basho.  When was the last time this guy's record was something other than 8-7 or 7-8?  Will he be promoted up to Sekiwake for May?  It's a good question.  Those of you who participate in "guess the banzuke" games will have some thinking to do for the sanyaku, especially with the number of high-ranked Maegashira posting good records.

In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Takanonami was ho-hum as always going 7-8.  This guy lost five of his last six bouts to erase a pretty good start.  Why do I keep picking him for my fantasy stable??  Fellow M1 Kyokutenho posted a quiet 9-6 effort that was highlighted by a brilliant win over Yokozuna Asashoryu.  Kyokutenho was awarded the fighting spirit prize for his efforts.  That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me due to Kyoku's four bout losing streak, but the Kyokai REALLY had to dig this basho to find anyone worthy of something.  Kyokutenho is anything but flashy, but he gets the job done.  His height and yotsu-zumo skills make this guy dangerous.

How about our two M2 rikishi 9-6 Tochinonada and 8-7 Takamisakari?  Both performances surprised me, but I guess they shouldn't have considering both of these rikishi are solid.  Tochinonada has averaged double digit wins his last two basho and should be promoted to the sanyaku for his efforts come May.  This guy is deceivingly large, and you better finish him off early or he'll wear you out.  Takamisakari showed a brilliant display of sumo in week two coming out of nowhere to win the Ginosho.  The award was deserved considering his amazing display of yotsu-zumo in week two, but his senshuraku loss kind of dampened the excitement surrounding him.  The highlight of this basho for me was the photo shoot with the two sansho rikishi holding their trophies.  Kyokutenho and Takamisakari were posing for the cameras, and Takamisakari had the cheesiest grin on his face youíll ever see.  If you think his demeanor is awkward around the dohyo, you should see him try and smile for the camera.  For those who happened to catch that moment, it was priceless.  This was a break-through basho for Takamisakari because he finally proved himself fighting the best of the best.

M4 Tamanoshima was enjoying an awesome run this basho through the first nine days going 7-2 and handing Chiyotaikai his first loss; however, a five bout losing streak in week two took him back off the map.  He still managed to kachikoshi at 8-7, so he'll be among the Maegashira elite in May.  M5 Kaiho also managed an 8-7 mark by winning his last three bouts over the likes of Dejima and Tosanoumi.  This guy's lack of size overshadows his brilliant sumo.  Just think what he could do in Kotonowaka's body.

M7's Kasugao and Kyokushuzan both posted winning records.  Kasugao at 8-7 played the come back kid in week two.  After a horrendous 1-6 start where he looked completely lost, Kasugao stormed back with his tenacious brand of yotsu-zumo.  I really like his style, and it will be interesting to see him matched up with the jo'i next basho.  He can cause some problems if he can get to the belt because he is stubborn once there.  Kyokushuzan's ten wins may sound impressive, but they weren't.  I guarantee you that he will cause no problems among the jo'i next basho.

M9's Aminishiki and Miyabiyama both managed a majority of wins.  Aminishiki has to work hard for every win he gets.  Miyabiyama was actually in the yusho race until day 14, but his performance was deceiving as he beat up the Maegashira bottom-feeders to pad his nine-win record.  Paired against the jo'i over the last three days he went 0-3.  Miyabiyama will really have to prove himself in May as he should jump high enough in the ranks to be paired with most of the top guys.

M11's Hokutoriki and Tamarikido both secured promotion for May with 10-5 and 8-7 records respectively.  Hokutoriki's style is very similar to Chiyotaikai; however, he lacks Chiyo's bulk so his tsuppari don't have the same effect.  Nonetheless, he should work his way back up to the jo'i for another shot at the big boys.  He's been up there once before but failed to come away with any big wins.  Tamarikido posted 8-7 for the second basho in a row.  Not much to say about this guy, but at least he's winning.

M14's Gojoro and Jumonji both staved off demotion to Juryo with solid 9-6 marks.  Gojoro has far too many pull down wins for me to get excited about him; in fact, two-thirds of his wins this basho were by hataki-komi.  I'm all for oshi-zumo, but keep the hiki out of it.  Jumonji posted his best record ever in the Makuuchi ranks, but he severely injured his leg on senshuraku to cast a cloud over his basho.  I'd be surprised if he competes in May.  This guy is a well-rounded fighter who is barely good enough to stay in the lower Maegashira ranks, so a serious injury to him could be devastating.

I've covered the winners, so onto the losers.  The biggest disappointment this basho was rookie M10 Asasekiryu who went 6-9.  Seki comes from the same stable as Asashoryu, which means he gets to practice with the best of the best.  Seki more than held his own fighting the likes of Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio before the tournament, which greatly contributed to the hype surrounding this guy.  He was also coming off an outstanding 11-4 mark last tournament, which vaulted him all the way up to M10 from the Juryo ranks.  But, he just never looked comfortable in the ring.  He was constantly putting himself in awkward positions, and the Makuuchi guys are just too good to let you get away with that.  He didn't put together two wins in a row until the final two days, but by then who cared?  It will be very interesting to see how he does next basho when the pressure of demotion is greater than ever.

M12 Akinoshima scrapped together six big wins to keep his hopes of fighting one more basho alive.  He is dangerously teetering on the demotion fence, but in looking at the probable division changes for next basho, there are three Makuuchi rikishi who are sure to be demoted (Tochinohana, Kasuganishiki, and Kinkaiyama) and three Juryo rikishi who are sure to be promoted (Yotsukasa, Otsukasa, and Aogiyama).  Akinoshima is on the border of demotion from Makuuchi, and Asanowaka is on the border of promotion to Makuuchi, so if you have to make the choice between Akinoshima or Asanowaka for the Makuuchi division it's a no-brainer.  Sorry Asanowaka.

M13 Takekaze was 1-2 before he was forced to withdraw due to a leg injury.  His absolute refusal to sit in the wheelchair they brought ringside for him showed me that he wants to fight.  I'm anxious to see him put in a full 15 days in May.  Kotoryu managed a nice 10-bout losing streak to end his basho putting him at 5-10.  Thatís got to be the most pathetic performance of anyone this basho.

Just a heads up for everyone who likes to follow the Juryo ranks: keep your eyes on Uchida, who will undoubtedly be promoted to Juryo next basho.  He's likely to change his shikona (fighting name) so we'll let you know here if he does, but this guy brings the whole package.  He's got a great sumo body, he's strong, and he's fast.  He entered the sport from college, so he's only been in professional sumo for two basho, but he should be the real deal.

Finally, if we've said it once, we've said it again, but when are we going to see a basho with everyone healthy?  We'll have Musashimaru, Tochiazuma, and Takanowaka back.  Musoyama is a maybe, but I bet he competes.  The Maegashira jo'i will be absolutely stacked with the best that rank has to offer, so let's hope for a repeat of last year's Aki basho come May.  Thanks to everyone who participated in our fantasy sumo tournament, and thanks for all the emails.  We respond to all of them, so let us know what's on your mind.

Day 13 Comments

I'll stop short of saying things are heating up because the sumo displayed so far this basho has been below average.  Afterall, it's likely that the yusho rikishi will have 4 losses.  However, we've still got four solid rikishi in the thick of things in Asashoryu, Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Miyabiyama, and they should provide for an exciting finish.

In the most significant bout of the day, 10-2 Ozeki Chiyotaikai and 8-4 Ozeki Kaio butted heads.  It was a must win situation for Kaio if he wanted to stay in the yusho hunt; and while Chiyotaikai didn't have as much on the line, he needed this victory to officially knock Kaio out of the race and keep himself one ahead of Asashoryu in the loss column.  Chiyotaikai thoroughly dominated the tachi-ai charging hard and knocking the usually stout Kaio back a few steps.  However, the initial impact was too strong as it left Chiyotaikai separated from his opponent.  As Chiyo came hard for his second charge, Kaio was ready and used his right arm to uppercut Chiyo's left triceps area knocking Chiyotaikai off balance.  Chiyo's forward momentum took care of the rest as he tumbled to the dohyo floor while Kaio stepped to his right pushing his fellow Ozeki down.  With the loss Chiyo falls to 10-3 while Kaio jumps up to 9-4.

Asashoryu, who had just witnessed Chiyo's demise sitting ringside, made short order of Kotomitsuki to pull even with Chiyotaikai at 10-3.  This would normally be a marquee matchup between emerging rivals, but Kotomitsuki has looked less than sharp this basho.  Asa sensed the kill from the beginning as he immediately gained the moro-zashi hold where he had both arms wrapped around Kotomitsuki's body and locked on the back of Koto's belt. He easily forced Kotomitsuki out of the ring without much of a struggle.  Kotomitsuki finally suffered that elusive eighth loss, which will send him back down to Komusubi in May.  He hasn't put together a solid effort since September.

The other remaining player this basho is Miyabiyama, who stumbled today against Takamisakari to drop to 9-4, but who is still in the hunt.  Miyabi came out with some fierce tsuppari to Takami's face, but so what?  Takami gives himself plenty of shots to the face before he fights.  Seemingly unphased, Takamisakari withstood his opponents blows until he could secure his patented migi-sashi position where he gets his right arm deep under his opponent's left arm pit.  Once the bout changed from pushing to yotsu-zumo, Takamisakari used his surprising strength to force Miyabi out of the ring to the crowd's delight.  Takami at 7-6 hopped up the hanamichi as fans left their seats to pat him on the back.  Miyabiyama will face Chiyotaiki on day 14 and he'll probably get Kaio on senshuraku now that Kotomitsuki's fate has been sealed.

In other bouts, Wakanosato secured his majority of wins by easily forcing out Takanonami.  Waka is just too strong for Nami's meat-hooks-over-the-top hold to be effective.  Tochinonada guaranteed promotion next basho securing his eighth win with a default victory over Tokitsuumi, who was forced to withdrawal with a left thigh injury.  Fortuantely, Tokitsuumi leaves with an 8-5 record, so he's guaranteed to move up in May as well.  Kaiho refused to makekoshi by absorbing Dejima's tachi-ai (how many lightweight rikishi can do that?) and firmly grabbing the back of Dejima's belt.  Both rikishi danced around the ring a few times with Dejima desparately trying to trip Kaiho, but Kaiho's grip prevailed as he finally pushed Dejima out from behind.  Kaiho moves up to 6-7 while Dejima falls to 8-5.  The loss hurts Dejima's chances for the shukunsho, but in my opinion NOBODY deserves a special prize this basho.

Tosanoumi, who usually looks as if he's slipping on banana peels in the ring, kept his balance long enough to push out Tamanoshima.  Both rikishi stand at a respectable 7-6.  Kotoryu deserves the nigiri-pe award for managing to lose eight bouts in a row after winning the first five.  This guy must run out of gas after the jobansen.  He was easily slapped down by Kyokutenho, who at 7-6 inched closer to that coveted eight-win mark.

Other rikishi securing their eighth wins today were Gojoro, Kyokushuzan, and Jumonji.

So what lies ahead?  I expect Chiyotaikai to beat Miyabiyama on day 14 to maintain at least a share of the lead with three losses.  Miyabiyama hasn't been dazzling this basho; he's just padded his record by beating up on lower-ranked Maegashira opponents.  In the day 14 finale between Asashoryu and Kaio, my gut feeling leans toward Kaio.  Why?  Asashoryu has yet to face the calibur of rikishi like Chiyotaikai and Kaio in the final days of a tournament.  Asa also isn't fighting at the top of his game this basho although he's been nails the last few days.  Kaio's style matches up well with Asashoryu, and I just think the veteran Kaio will find a way to win.

I also think Asashoryu will topple Chiyotaikai on senshuraku to setup a playoff between the top three rikishi remaining whose records will stand at 11-4.  Yes, Chiyo's 10-3 record looks good on paper, but who has he beaten straight up this basho?  Only the Maegashira rikishi.  In a three man playoff, the nod autmatically goes to Asashoryu because Chiyotaikai and Kaio both lost to Wakanosato, which means neither is fighting well enough to yusho.

Day 11 Comments

The overall sumo displayed today was the best by far this tournament.  Kenji would have a tough time singling out a picture-perfect bout today because there were a lot of them.  I don't know where to begin, so I'll choose the most gratifying moment of the day.  Most people probably missed this match because it was just the second Makuuchi bout of the day, >>>but it involved the grizzly veteran Akinoshima fighting to stay alive in Makuuchi, and the how-in-the-hell-is-this-guy-still-a-sekitori Asanowaka.  Fighting Asanowaka is like playing the rock-scissors-paper game.  You KNOW he's going to resort to the tachi-ai henka, you just don't know if he'll jump to the right, to the left, or back.  Well, Asanowaka chose to jump to the left, but Akinoshima has been around too long to be fooled by this guy's shenanigans, and he just shoved the J3 Asasnowaka off the dohyo.  You gotta love it baby.  Akinoshima is now 4-7 and needs only two more wins to stay in the division.

The most significant bout of the day and another barnburner was the penultimate match between Wakanosato and Chiyotaikai. The two hooked up strong from the tachi-ai with Wakanosato taking the advantage simply because the bout turned into yotsu-zumo and not a shoving match.  Wakanosato used his body to force Chiyo to the edge of the ring several times, but Chiyo fought back like a cornered animal.  The two rikishi struggled back and forth in the ring; however, Wakanosato never relinquished his grip on Chiyo's belt and ended up forcing the Ozeki out after a somewhat lengthy struggle.  It was a costly loss for Chiyo (9-2) because it brings him right back to the pack with only four days left.  While Chiyotaikai still leads the basho by one in the loss column, he still must face the likes of Kaio and Asashoryu.  Wakanosato now stands at 7-4 and a long shot to yusho.  Will the Barometer theory hold true again this basho?  Remember, Chiyotaikai has technically been eliminated from the yusho race by losing to Wakanosato (see glossary: Barometer if you have no idea what I'm talking about here).

In the final bout of the day, Yokozuna Asashoryu and M5 Kaiho put on a sensational match.  It was clear from the get-go that Asa was out to avenge his loss to Kaiho last basho coming out with some furious tsuppari to Kaiho's head.  The two rikishi eventually locked up with Asashoryu hooking his right arm up and over Kaiho's left shoulder securing an arm-lock hold.  After a brief struggle, Asa threw Kaiho to the ring floor with the kotenage technique.  Kaiho gave a sensational effort today and came up just short to fall to 5-6.  Asashoryu is right back in the yusho hunt with an 8-3 record.

Ozeki Kaio easily disbanded the struggling Kotoryu with a shitatenage throw to move to 7-4.  Kaio is not out of this yet, but he has to beat both Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu. Kaio matches up well with these two, however, especially if he can force the bouts into yotsu-zumo where he holds the advantage.  Kotoryu, who peaked at five straight wins, has now lost 6 in a row to stand at 5-6.

Kotomitsuki won by default over Iwakiyama, who withdrew due to a sprained lower back.  Apparently, Iwakiyama came into the tournament with a sore lower back and it got the best of him after six good wins.  Look for this guy to be a force next basho.  Kotomitsuki, now at 4-7, lucked out today by avoiding Iwakiyama.  He is dangerously teetering on the seven-loss edge, but somehow he is finding ways to win.  For several basho now Kotomitsuki has looked terrible, but refused to give up that eighth loss.  Let's hope he doesn't resort to the tachi-ai henka in the next few days as he's prone to do when his back is against the wall.

Waiting to take over Kotomitsuki's Sekiwake rank is Komusubi Dejima, who easily defeated the slumping Kyokutenho to move to 7-4.  Dejima still has an outside shot at the yusho, but he needs some help from Kaio.  Kyokutenho, who fell to 5-6, showed little resistance as Dejima threw him to the ring floor with the shitate-nage technique after a brief yotsu-zumo display.  Wow, two days in a row now where Dejima hasn't pushed his opponent out the ring by diving into him.

In another well-fought bout today, the up-and-coming Takamisakari forced out Tosanoumi in an entertaining match.  Takami never did quite grab the migi-shitate (right hand inner grip) that almost insures his victory, but his right arm was locked deep enough under Tosanoumi's armpit to give him the momentum.  Both rikishi now stand at 5-6.

Hokutoriki stayed in the yusho hunt at 8-3 with a disappointing win over Tamanoshima.  Hokutoriki's sumo was a blemish in an otherwise fine day of competition as he jumped back at the tachi-ai easily slapping down the larger Tamanoshima.  Tama drops to 7-4 and is all but eliminated from the yusho, but he has had an excellent showing thus far.

Hokutoriki is matched against M9 Miyabiyama tomorrow, who also ran his record to 8-3 by surviving a scare from M15 Tochinohana.  Tochinohana kept moving laterally around the ring in hopes that Miyabiyama would lose his balance; however, it was not be as Tochinohana all but secured his demotion to the Juryo division with his eight loss to only three wins.  The winner of the Hokutoriki/Miyabiyama bout tomorrow will still have a decent shot at the yusho.

Another rikishi holding on at 8-3 is Tokitsuumi who made short order of Kyokukshuzan.  Other Kyokushuzan opponents should take note of Tokitsuumi's performance today: keep head up at the tachi-ai to prevent Kyokushuzan's pull down move, wait until Kyokushuzan has both arms extended pressed against your chin (a given), then uppercut Kyoku's arms to knock him off balance and force him out from there.  Kyokushuzan fell to 7-4 with the loss.

In other Maegashira bouts, sideburn fans around the world finally got the match up they were waiting for when identical twins M6 Toki and M8 Takanotsuru hooked up for the first time.  Takanotsuru's lambchops prevailed as he easily disbanded Toki once he got a grip of his belt.  Both rikishi now stand at 4-7.  M7 Kasugao was also impressive in his win over M12 Kinkaiyama.  Kinkaiyama had the outer grip (uwate) and momentum throughout the long bout, but Kasugao showed us that refuse-to-lose determination he displayed in January.  After using the tawara numerous times to fend off his opponent's charge, Kasugao pushed his opponent to ring's edge and finally picked Kinkaiyama up and set him out with the tsuridashi technique.  Kinkaiyama suffered his eighth loss to go to 3-8, and after a terrible 0-6 start, Kasugao is now 5-6.

With Chiyotaikai's loss today, an astounding 13 rikishi still have a shot at the yusho.  Chiyo leads at 9-2 with Asashoryu, Tokitsuumi, Miyabiyama, and Hokutoriki hot on his heels at 8-3.  7-4 rikishi worth mentioning are Kaio, Wakanosato, and Dejima.  Hold on to your hats everybody; the sumo hasn't been outstanding up until now, but I think we're in for a mad dash for the yusho.  I think a yusho kettei-sen (play off) on senshuraku with 2 - 3 rikishi is very realistic.

Day 9 Comments

Unbelievable!  Asashoryu suffered his third loss in nine days today at the hands of Kotonowaka.  This is a rikishi whom he should never lose to, especially with Kotonowaka dinged up.  This was the second day in a row where Asashoryu had to fight defensively, and this time it came back to haunt him.  Who would have thought that after nine days in, Asashoryu would NOT be among the top four rikishi in the yusho hunt.  I'm speechless.

At the beginning of Asa's bout today, I thought we were seeing the Asashoryu of old when he came out with some fierce tsuppari, but his pushing had little effect on the mammoth Kotonowaka.  I don't know if Asa panicked at this point, but he then decided to hook up with Kotonowaka belly-to-belly.  The only problem is Kotonowaka out bellies him 5-to-1, and though Asashoryu had a deep grip on Kotonowaka's belt, Koto was able to wrap both arms over the top and under Asa's armpits (the same hold Takanonami is always shooting for) and lean his weight right on top of the Yokozuna.  Asa struggled with a few throw attempts and some trips, but even Asashoryu couldn't defy the laws of physics as the veteran Kotonowaka used his girth to force the Yokozuna to the dohyo with a kote-nage (arm-lock) throw.  Kotonowaka now stands at 4-5 with a kinboshi to boot.

Is Asashoryu finally succumbing to pressure?  He's been facing it for four basho in a row now, and performing as a newly-promoted Yokozuna invites more pressure than anything.  I think the mental pressure of everything he has faced the last little while is catching up to him.  He's getting by on sheer talent and a knack for the sport to stand at 6-3, but if I could use one word to describe his performance this basho it would be "reckless."  Asashoryu needs to settle down and not feel as if he has to finish off his opponent in under three seconds.  It's getting him into too many compromising situations.  Despite all this, he is still in arm's reach of the yusho.  In a press conference today, the Director of the Sumo Association said that he thinks the yusho line will be three losses, so in that case, Asashoryu cannot lose again.

Current leader Chiyotaikai fought the perfect fight today to secure that ever-important eighth win.  Having just suffered his first loss the day before, Chiyo was in a tough position matched up against Kotoryu.  If Kotoryu grabs Chiyo's belt, it's over, so the temptation to pull Kotoryu down off the tachi-ai had to be great.  But I give major props to Chiyo today for sticking to his strength, which is the deadliest tsuppari in the game.  Chiyo easily pushed Kotoryu out of the ring dropping the once red-hot maegashira to 5-4.  I think Chiyotaikai learned his lesson in his loss to Tamanoshima on Sunday, and it wouldn't surprise me if his stable-master gave him a toungue-lashing as well.  We've been very critical of Chiyotaikai this basho, but I have no problem giving this guy major props when he fights like he did today.  Job well done Chiyo.

Snapping at Chiyotaikai's heels is Tamanoshima who outclassed Iwakiyama to raise his record to 7-2.  Is Tamanoshima for real?  We'll find out Tuesday as he is matched up against Asashoryu.  Tamanoshima is one of those rikishi who has been hanging around the top of the Maegashira ranks for several basho now, and he looks ready to make the jump to sanyaku.  This guy has a great sumo body, he's relatively young, and he can fight you with the same effectiveness whether at the belt or in a shoving match.  He'll be someone to keep your eye on this year.  Also keeping pace in the yusho race at 7-2 is M8 Tokitsuumi and M11 Hokutoriki.  Both rikishi are better than their ranks and if they keep this up, they'll find themselves paired against the jo'i in the next few days.

Ozeki Kaio put two wins in a row for the first time since day 4 in an impressive bout against Shimotori.  It was vintage Kaio all the way as he forced his opponent back from the tachi-ai keeping on the pressure with his oshi-tsuke until he could grap that lethal uwate.  Once he obtained the outer grip he was in perfect position to throw his opponent, which he wasted no time in doing to move to 6-3. Shiimotori falls to 3-6.  Also keeping pace at 6-3 is Dejima who beat fellow Komusubi Tosanoumi by forcing him out of the ring (yorikiri).  Who would have guessed that this bout would be anyting but a fierce shoving match?  But I guess we're in Osaka, so yotsu-zumo between these two can be expected.  Tosanoumi fell to 4-5 in the loss.

Takanonami has put together a mini run with four wins in a row now to also keep pace at 6-3.  He easily beat the animated Takamisakari to drop the crowd favorite to 3-6.  I won't describe the bout because if you've seen one Takanonami win you've seen them all, but keep your eye on this guy from here on out.  He's already faced all the Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Komusubi, so he's only got the struggling sekiwake to deal with in week two.  Also at 6-3 are M9 Miyabiyama and M10 Buyuzan fighting out of the Musashigawa-beya.  Miyabiyama is far better than that M10 rank, so don't be surprised if they match him up with some heavyweights in the next few days.  Kyokushuzan is also unimpressing his way to a 6-3 mark.  Enough of the bad sumo already.  Jumonji is also at 6-3, but after a 5-0 start, he's on his way down.

Some of the feature bouts tomorrow are Asashoryu vs. Tamanoshima and Kaio vs. Wakanosato.  It will be interesting to see how Asashoryu approches his bout tomorrow.  He can't necessarily overpower his opponent at the belt, so he'll need to hit hard at the tachi-ai and keep Tamanoshima on the move.  Kaio and Wakanosato should give us a perfect yotsu-zumo exhibition.

Day 7 Comments

On the heels of Musoyama's withdrawal meaning 4 of the top 7 rikishi are gone from this tournament, I was about to write this day off as a boring day of sumo.  That is until Komusubi Dejima stepped into the dohyo and completely manhandled Yokozuna Asashoryu in the final bout of the today.  The win doesn't surprise me, however, as I predicted Dejima >>>would win the shukunsho, or outstanding performance prize, meaning he would have to topple at least one Yokozuna and a few Ozeki this tournament.  Dejima has been on a roll this year, and with Asashoryu's sumo not quite being in the top gear, this is not an upset.  It does, however, sway this basho heavily in the favor of Chiyotaikai.  Asashoryu cannot lose again if he still has his sights set on the yusho.  It's not that Chiyo is just dazzling us with his sumo this basho, it's the fact that no one besides Asashoryu seems poised enough to step up and challenge the Ozeki.

In the final bout of the day, Asashoryu actually had the advantage from the tachi-ai completely stopping Dejima's momentum and grabbing Dejima's belt in the outer grip.  However, in an instant Dejima twisted his body to shed Asa's grip and completely thrust Asa from the dohyo with incredible force.  Both rikishi now stand at 5-2...close enough to catch Chiyotaikai but needing help from someone else.

Chiyotaikai was thoroughly dominant today against the bigger, slower Kotonowaka to keep his record untarnished at 7-0.  Kotonowaka is just too big of a target for Chiyotaikai to miss, and he's too slow to evade the hard-charging Chiyotaikai.  Chiyo was awesome today, but then he was up against an inferior opponent.  After one week of sumo, Chiyotaikai has beaten all of his Maegashira opponents by either pushing them or forcing them out of the ring.  On the contrary, he's beaten his two sanyaku opponents using the cheap "hiki-waza," or pull-down methods--bouts that lasted a mere second.  I know Kenji and I have really been harping on this guy of late, but his recent tactics in the ring are just bush.  Until he stands toe-to-toe with the likes of Dejima and Tosanoumi, his 7-0 record is tainted in my opinion.  I guess I have this sour taste in my mouth because I just watched Dejima shine today against the Yokozuna, and I wanted to see him get a fair shake with Chiyotaikai.

As for the rest of the joi, Kaio, the remaining Ozeki besides Chiyotaikai, looked lethargic today as Takanonami easily forced him out.  I've noticed that Kaio's hands have frequently been slipping off of his opponent's belts this basho.  Kaio's bread and butter is a defensive tachi-ai that usually allows him to get a solid grip on his opponent's belt.  Today, however, he was unable to grab Takanonamiís off of the tachi-ai, which resulted in an easy victory for the ex-Ozeki.  Both rikishi stand at 4-3.

That odor in the air you can smell are the two Sekiwake stinking it up this basho.  Both Kotomitsuki and Wakanosato lost for the second consecutive day today.  Granted, they went up against worthy opponents on day 7 in Kyokutenho at 5-2 and Tosanoumi at 4-3 respectively, but Kotomitsuki sitting at 2-5 and Wakanosato at 3-4 are extremely disappointing this basho.  With so many upper echelon rikishi sitting out, we need the Sekiwake to step up and contribute to the excitement of the basho.  Thumbs down to both of them so far.

In the Maegashira ranks, Kotoryu and Jumonji are both doing their best to screw up their amazing 5-0 starts.  Two days ago they shared the lead for the yusho with Chiyotaikai; today, after two consecutive losses apiece they are now just struggling to reach 8 wins in my opinion.  Standing alongside of them at 5-2 are Tamanoshima, Tokitsuumi, Miyabiyama, and Buyuzan who all won today.  But who's the hottest rikishi right now in Maegashira?  None other than Hokutoriki at 6-1.  Hokutoriki is quietly putting together an excellent basho, and it seems he is gaining back that swagger that he once used to push his way up to the top of the Maegashira ranks.

Oh, and lest I forget, Tochinohana actually won today!  Tochi at 1-6 proudly stands alongside Kasugao who looked lost again today against Aminishiki (4-3).  Would someone please tell me what happened to the real Kasugao who competed in January?

Also at 1-6 is Akinoshima, but here is a veteran who has earned too much respect to criticize.  As we have seen in the past, he is just the latest former great rikishi to fight to the end trying to stay in the Makuuchi division.  Akinoshima's demotion to Juryo looks inevitable for next basho, so I think we'll see him retire here in Osaka.  He was just too good in his prime to be floundering in the Juryo division next tournament.

Day 5 Comments

The Jobansen, or first 5 days, are in the books, which means we have a pretty clear picture of how this basho is going to turn out. I'm already positive that the yusho race has been narrowed down to just two rikishi: Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai. MAYBE Kotoryu can be considered a dark horse since we're in Osaka, and he is still undefeated, but given his performance in week two of last basho, don't count on it.

Starting at the top, Asashoryu turned in his best performance in Osaka so far with a win over Tochinonada. The match was greatly hyped because Tochinonada beat Asa in their last meeting, and these two have had a history of putting on some pretty exciting bouts. Neither disappointed today in an exhibition of power vs. power. Asashoryu's superior technique was the deciding factor over Tochinonada's superior size and strength. Both rikishi met hard at the tachi-ai with Asashoryu gaining a firm outer grip with the right hand. He attempted several uwatenage throws; however, Tochinonada is too big and strong to be thrown down so easily. Asa continued on the offensive throughout and finally toppled Tochi with an outer leg trip set up by the outer grip held throughout the bout. This was by far Asashoryu's most impressive performance as a Yokozuna moving him to 4-1. As for the 2-3 Tochinonada, I wish he would give the same kind of effort every bout that he gave today because he's big enough to become a joi mainstay.

Atop the leaderboard at 5-0 stands Ozeki Chiyotaikai who easily bullied the much taller Takanonami out of the ring with some stiff pushing. As usual, Takanonami tried to wrap his meat hooks over the top of his opponent, but he is just too large of a target for Chiyotaikai's signature tsuppari. This bout wasn't even close. Musoyama tallied his first win over the struggling Shimotori today, but it wasn't a dominating performance. What happened to Musoyama's tsuppari that made him so famous as a newcomer? It seems that Musoyama's sole focus is grabbing the mae-mawashi (frontal belt) from the tachi-ai, but this usually gives his opponent a free pass to the rear of Musoyama's belt resulting in an uphill struggle to pull out a win. Fortunately, Musoyama kept Shimotori at bay today and was able to push him out after a brief struggle. I excpect Musoyama to win 8 again this basho, but he's got his work cut out for him. Ozeki Kaio was embarrasing today in his loss to Komusubi Dejima; both rikishi stand at 3-2. Kaio stood his ground pretty well at the tachi-ai considering his opponent's bowling ball style; however, he immediately went to the dreaded hiki-waza (pull down move) and Dejima just plowed him out of the ring. In true Dejima fashion, he dove into his opponent at the edge of the ring dangerously coming close to hitting the dirt before his opponent was out making the outcome appear closer than it needed to be. It's pretty safe to say Dejima is the only rikishi who frequently wins even though his feet are on a higher plane than the rest of his body at the end of the bout. Poor sumo from both rikishi today, and in my opinion, Kaio just took himself out of the yusho race.

Both Sekiwake struggled today coming up with losses. Kotomitsuki never did get on track against the hard-charging Komusubi Tosanoumi being pulled down to the dirt without much of an effort. Kotomitsuki is now 2-3. Wakanosato was manhandled today by the surprising Wakanoyama. Wakanoyama executed the perfect tachi-ai today ramming his shoulder square into Wakanosato's upper body driving him back to ring's edge where he quickly pushed him out. Wakanosato never did get any momentum today, and while he shouldn't lose to a rikishi of Wakanoyama's status, you have to applaud Wakanoyama for putting together the perfect bout. Wakanoyama will have bouts like this 4 or 5 times a basho, but he can look equally awful on other days. He is a respectable 2-3 at the M4 rank.

Shining at 5-0 in the Maegashira ranks is M5 Kotoryu who was nails again in slapping down Tokitsuumi. Kotoryu's definitely on a roll, but we'll see how far he can get once he's inevitably matched up with the joi. Perhaps a bigger surprise from the Maegashira rikishi is Jumonji, who's also 5-0. Jumonji was solid again today in dispatching Kinkaiyama. Jumonji is lucky he is even in the Makuuchi division after a dismal 5-10 record last basho, but props to him for his effort so far. Hokutoriki is another low-ranked rikishi lost in the rank-and-file mix, but at 4-1 he is looking as genki as ever. Hokutoriki has duked it out with the big boys, so we know he's capable of this type of performance. I would give him the nod for a kantosho at this point, but he's got to keep this pace up. Tamanoshima is also holding is own at 4-1 including wins over both sekiwake. Tamanoshima's size is a key asset in his staying close to the joi. M1 Kyokutenho was beaten by Kaiho today with ironically the same technique Kyoku used to beat Asashoryu. Kyokutenho is still 3-2, but he's got to secure 8 wins if he wants the shukunsho.

In the stink-it-up category Kasugao is reigning supreme at 0-5. I'm seeing a completely different rikishi this basho than I saw in January. Gone is the meanstreak and the knack of fighting at the belt. This guy looks clueless in the dohyo right now. He better get it together and pull out at least 4 wins or he's back in Juryo. And as long as we're piling on here, Tochinohana at 0-5 can't be demoted soon enough. This guy really made an impact his first couple of basho in Makuuchi several years ago, but something has happened to take the life out of him.

Day 3 Comments

Day 3 brought our first major shake-up this basho with Kyokutenho shocking fellow-countryman Asashoryu.  The stunning defeat for the Yokozuna stops his string of winning at least the first 8 bouts of a basho at 4.  That being said, it's still not a crucial loss by any means because Asashoryu still controls his own destiny, and while this loss has come early >>> in the basho, we've still seen this before...Asashoryu loses to one of the Maegashira rikishi and wins the other 14.  If anything, I think it's going to light a fire under this guy's butt and make him work that much harder to show everyone who's boss.  Big news yes; uncharted territory for Asashoryu no.  I would be surprised, however, if he can go unscathed the rest of the way.

Kyokutenho, who picked up his second kinboshi with the win, was brilliant today.  Both rikishi met head on at the tachi-ai and quickly grabbed each otherís belts in the migi-yotsu position (right hand inner grip, left hand outer grip).  Asashoryu briefly pushed Kyokutenho backwards, but Kyokutenho used his much taller frame to brace himself and
slightly lift Asashoryu off the dohyo.  I think this was the critical point of the match because Kyokutenho realized he could use his larger body as leverage to get his opponent off his feet.  Asashoryu took the initiative again driving Kyoku back to the edge of the ring; however, Kyokutenho put his right foot on the tawara and used his left leg to lift Asashoryu up while throwing him with a belt grip.  It was perfect execution of the kake-nage throw, and Kyokutenho baited the Yokozuna into it beautifully.  Kyokutenho shows little flash in his victories, but he's tall, he's strong, and like most of the other Mongolians, he's dynamite at the belt.  If Kyokutenho can secure 8 wins now, he's a likely candidate for the shukunsho already with one win apiece over a Yokozuna and an Ozeki.

Ozeki Kaio upped his record to 2-1 with an easy win over Tosanoumi.  Tosanoumi came in hard as he always does, but as is usually the case his head was down too low allowing Kaio to easily slap him down.  The good news for Kaio is he hardly used any energy in the victory.  Fellow Ozeki Chiyotaikai easily pushed M2 Tochinonada out of the ring in their bout to take the lead in the basho at 3-0.  This bout was a matter of whose style was going to prevail.  If it goes to the belt, Tochi probably wins; but Chiyo never let his opponent get close.  This was a good win for Chiyotaikai after a cheap and disappointing win yesterday.  Speaking of disappointing, where's Musoyama?  He suffered his third defeat in a row today at the hands of Takamisakari.  Musoyama let Takamisakari get the easy outer grip from the tachi-ai, and Robocop never let it go finally throwing the Ozeki out of the ring.  The Musashigawa stable may be in scramble mode thinking up an injury excuse Musoyama can use to withdraw if this continues.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Wakanosato suffered a terrible loss to Tamanoshima to fall to 2-1.  Wakanosato had the advantage from the start with a firm grip on Tamanoshima's belt, but he couldn't push the bigger Tamanoshima out.  Wakanosato let the Maegashira hang around too long and looked worn out when Tama finally just slapped Waka down by the back of the head.  Both rikishi stand at 2-1.  Kotomitsuki is also at 2-1 after easily disbanding Wakanoyama.

Komusubi Dejima easily pushed out the taller Takanonami to move to 2-1.  Dejima looks to be keeping up the furious pace he established last basho.  In the Maegashira ranks, Kotoryu was impressive yet again throwing down Kasugao to tie for the lead at 3-0.  Is this dťjĀEvu or what?  Last basho Kotoryu shot out to an 8-1 start only to lose his last 6.  Kotoryu is as tough and as strong as they come; his sumo reminds me a lot of the now retired Kotonishiki.  Don't let Kotoryu get a hold of your belt or you're in trouble.  Also impressing at 3-0 is M14 Jumonji.  Jumonji disposed of Kobo from the Juryo ranks to increase his chances of staying in the Makuuchi division for next basho.

Capturing that ever important first win were the two newcomers Asasekiryu and Takakaze.  Asasekiryu looked to be headed for his third loss when the long arms of Kasuganishiki pushed him back to the edge, but Seki managed to get inside to the belt, and it was a complete turnaround in momentum.  Seki needs to be patient, as he was today, and work himself inside and grab his opponent's belt.  Takekaze also notched his first win, but it was costly.  He had little trouble pulling the listless Tochinohana to the ring floor; however, Tochinohana landed on top of Takakaze's leg causing Take to roll his ankle.  Takekaze refused to be taken away in a wheelchair, but he was in obvious pain.  X-rays on the ankle were negative, which is good, but Takekaze will have to sleep on it and see how it feels tomorrow.  Even if he can't go tomorrow, it wouldn't surprise me if he came back after a few days rest.

Day 1 Comments

Sumo is in the air!  As soon as I hit the fast-forward button during Kotonowaka's long bout, laughed at Takamisakari's pre-bout pummeling (of himself), and heard Tosanoumi's grunt at the tachi-ai, I knew that sumo was back.  No real surprises today, but most of all I was glad to see the "sold-out" banners hanging from the arena. >>> Let's hope that continues.

I'll start with Asashoryu.  On the surface, it looked like business as usual for the Yokozuna today despite a slight slip of the foot, but Asa absorbed one heckuva tachi-ai from Tosanoumi today and still neutralized it with ease.  I had no doubt that Tosanoumi would bring it today...and he did, but Asashoryu was too good again.  So much for pressure in his first bout as Yokozuna.  Asa has picked up right where he left off in January.  It's still far too early to tell if anyone will challenge him for the yusho yet, but Asashoryu was nails as usual.  Asa pulled Tosanoumi down after the two traded tsuppari in the middle of the ring.

Chiyotaikai salvaged a bad day for the Ozeki ranks.  Chiyo looked his old self driving Kyokutenho to the edge of the ring in two seconds then keeping the pressure on until Kyokutenho had nowhere to go but back.  Chiyo has no taping on his arm, which tells me he's 100% healthy.  This was a big first win for him because it helps him get back his "sumo-no-kan."  Kaio and Musoyama both lost today to Tochinonada and Takanonami respectively, but the jury is still out on these two.  Tochinonada upped his win streak to 12 today by thoroughly dominating Kaio.  Tochi came hard at the tachi-ai and was held up by Kaio for an instant; however, Kaio's hand slipped off of Tochinonada's belt and it was over.  All pre-basho reports had Kaio performing very well, so I think today's loss was more a matter of his opponent's being on a roll.  Perhaps the same can be said of Takanonami.  He never gave Musoyama a chance and finished the Ozeki off under five seconds.  I'm not so sure if Musoyama is his usual 8-7 self, or if Takanonami is going to bring it this basho.  It looks as if Takanonami will face the entire sanyaku, Ozeki, and Yokozuna the first week, so it's important that he get off to a good start.

Sekiwakes Kotomitsuki and Wakanosato were dominating in their defeats of Takamisakari and Shimotori respectively.  Takamisakari briefly shined before the bout began giving the fans their money's worth by beating himself silly, but Kotomitsuki came in hard and low from the tachi-ai and never game Takami a chance.  Wakanosato also made it look easy pushing out Shimotori, who is no slouch.  I hope both Sekiwake can keep this up and make things interesting in week two.  Komusubi Dejima beat Kotonowaka today, but the pace definitely belonged to Kotonowaka.  Dejima came out with both arms under the taller Kotonowaka's armpits; however, he didn't push Kotonowaka far as that's akin to moving a mountain.  After fast-forwarding through the middle part of the bout, Dejima used the soto-gake (outside leg trip) to topple Kotonowaka at the edge of the ring.  Kotonowaka had actually driven Dejima to the edge, but Dejima braced himself on the tawara with one leg and used his other leg to swipe at Kotonowaka's knee.  Kotonowaka got up slowly after severely stubbing his right big toe trying to break his fall.  Coupled with the heavy taping on his left knee, Kotonowaka's wheels may keep him from going the distance.

In the Maegashira ranks, Tamanoshima and Kotoryu each picked up a win on the first day.  Kotoryu was his bulldog self against Kaiho grabbing Kaiho's belt and never letting go.  Iwakiyama shoved the one-dimensional Toki--lamb chops and all--off the entire dohyo after a shoving match.  Kasugao was burned by Kyokushuzan today as Kyokushuzan backed up at the tachi-ai and easily slapped down the South Korean.  Kasugao will lose a few like this, but once the sophomore Maegashira gains some experience, he'll deliver some payback. 

Lightweights Tokitsuumi and Aminishiki both defeated much large opponents today in Takanotsuru and Miyabiyama respectively.  Tokitsuumi came in low and secured the inner belt grip limiting Takanotsuru's options.  After a brief yotsu-zumo struggle in the ring, Tokitsuumi threw down his opponent.  A big question mark coming in was the health of Miyabiyama, who didn't look good in his loss to Aminishiki.  Aminishiki does have as wide a variety of technique as anyone, but it was clear that Miyabiyama didn't have his de-ashi today.  Miyabi is coming off a serious ankle injury in January.  I'm afraid he's going to have tread water this basho, and then come back with a roar in May.

In a much-anticipated bout, the highly touted Asasekiryu was defeated by Buyuzan.  Seki had the clear advantage from the tachi-ai; however, Buyuzan seemed to read the Mongolian's mind, and as soon as Seki changed his position to attempt a throw, Buyuzan was right on top of him and easily forced him out.  Asasekiryu was shocked after the loss because he had such good position, but he's going to lose a few like this while he gets his bearings in the big leagues.  Seki's fellow rookie Takekaze also was easily defeated by the much taller Kasuganishiki.  Kasuganishiki, fighting to stay in the Makuuchi division, used his long arms from the tachi-ai to push Takekaze out of the ring without much of a struggle.  It's interesting to note that out of the four newcomers to the division this basho (Asasekiryu, Buyuzan, Kinkaiyama, and Takekaze), the two rikishi who have been here before--Buyuzan and Kinkaiyama--both pulled out victories while the rookies struggled.

We're off to a good start, and you never know what's going to happen in Osaka, so stay tuned.

Haru Basho Pre-Basho Report

February 24, 2003--I had been looking forward to this upcoming Haru basho as early as the Kyushu basho last year because I thought this would be the basho when all of the top-ranked rikishi would be healthy again.  And while we do have the two Ozeki Kaio and Chiyotaikai back in the mix, Ozeki Tochiazuma is a confirmed no-show, Yokozuna Musashimaru is probably going to sit this one out, and Takanohana has retired.  Despite all this, I think we should have a competitive basho even if Maru does sit out.

As has been the case the last two basho, all eyes will be on newly promoted Yokozuna Asashoryu.  I expect nothing less from Asashoryu than what he's shown us the past two basho.  His promotion to Yokozuna was no fluke, and I see him steamrolling the field again to pick up his third yusho in as many tries.  I think the only one capable of challenging Asa this time around is fellow Yokozuna Musashimaru, but as long as Maru is a big "if" I see nothing stopping Asashoryu.  Here's an interesting trivia question that I'll answer in the next sentence:  In Asashoryu's epic run of winning two tournaments in a row, how many total bouts vs. Yokozuna and Ozeki did he win along the way?  In each of those two tournaments, he should have faced two Yokozuna and four Ozeki making it a total of 12 bouts; however, due to injuries to the big boys he won only three total bouts against Yokozuna and fellow Ozeki.  He faced Musoyama twice and Tochiazuma once.  Asashoryu can't be blamed for his lack of competition along the way, but it would have been nice to see him challenged by the upper tier of rikishi.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Yokozuna Musashimaru will probably not compete this tournament.  Maru had surgery on his left wrist last November and the recovery process has been slower than expected.  No surprise there.  Somehow I can't picture Musashimaru working up a sweat everyday in order to rehab that wrist.  See you in May Maru, and hurry back because I'm dying to see a Yokozuna-taiketsu between you and Asashoryu.

The performance from the three healthy Ozeki--Musoyama, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio--this basho cannot get any worse than the last few tournaments.  I'll give props to Musoyama for fighting the whole time, but he didn't look very good last basho barely posting 8 wins.  I still vividly remember three years ago when Musoyama looked invincible coming off of his first yusho.  I can remember Akebono shaking his head and laughing in disbelief after being thrown down by Musoyama with the sukuinage technique after Akebono had a firm outer grip on Musoyama's belt.  Since that brief run, Musoyama hasn't even come close to the yusho.  I'm still waiting for him to break out again because now that Takanohana has retired, I don't think anyone's sumo is more complete than Musoyama's; he just can't mentally execute it on a consistent basis. As always, he's a question mark this basho, but I see him pulling out 10 wins 

Chiyotaikai should be more than ready to go.  He entertained thoughts of actually competing in January after tearing his triceps muscle in Kyushu, but demotion from Ozeki was on the line if he did, so he took the safe course by sitting out the entire basho.  An Ozeki gets demoted if he fails to win a majority of bouts two basho in a row; however, if he is injured in the ring during an actual hon-basho bout, he can take the next basho off without penalty .

Chiyotaikai is kadoban, however, which means if he loses a majority of bouts this tournament, he'll be demoted to Sekiwake for May.  All that aside, Chiyo's biggest worry will be his ring rust, or lack of sumo-no-kan.  Yes, he's well rested, and yes, he's at full strength, but taking several months off from actual competition in the dohyo takes more of a toll than one might think.  It seems that a rikishi who has sat out for a while loses some mental sharpness that results in some costly losses.  We've seen this with Tochiazuma and Takanohana over the last few basho.  I expect Chiyo to start strong, but struggle with the sanyaku.  Nine wins for the Ozeki seems reasonable.

Kaio, who is also coming off a tear to his biceps muscle and also sat out the January tournament, is in the same boat as Chiyotaikai--kadoban and fighting off the ring rust.  Kaio may be the biggest thorn in Asashoryu's side this basho.  Kaio is a veteran who prefers to sit back at the tachi-ai and make his opponent "come and get him."  In the process, Kaio can usually get a lethal grip on his opponent's belt and muscle him out of the ring or use his supreme strength to execute a winning throw.  Now that the two highest ranks in the sport are occupied by foreigners, Kaio gives the host nation it's biggest hope of restoring national pride by bringing home the yusho and possibly becoming the sport's next Yokozun a.

We'll have three Sekiwake in the ranks again for the first time in several basho.  Takanowaka maintains the highest East slot after winning nine bouts in January.  Talk is beginning to surface about Takanowaka being a candidate for Ozeki, but he'll have to win this basho with at least 13 wins to even be considered.  For the time being, Takanowaka belongs right where he is: at Sekiwake.  He's a solid sanyaku rikishi, but he's still going to slip up this year and fall to Komusubi at least once.

Kotomitsuki has somehow managed to stay at the Sekiwake rank after two mediocre basho in a row, but we are definitely not seeing him at his best right now.  I'll give him credit for the right hook to the jaw that knocked out Takanowaka on senshuraku in January, but his overall sumo lacks any substance right now.  There's not much to say about Kotomitsuki at present.  He does have a yusho under his belt, but he hasn't displayed any memorable sumo lately.

Wakanosato regained his Sekiwake rank with an impressive 11-4 mark in January and fighting spirit prize competing as Komusubi.  In my opinion, Wakanosato is the best sanyaku rikishi right now, but he's still just a step away from serious Ozeki consideration.  He's still the ultimate "Barometer" for the sanyaku ranks: if you can't beat him, you're not fighting well enough to yusho.

Dejima makes the jump from M3 to Komusubi after a fine performance in January.  The former Ozeki could be making a run to regain the prestigious rank again.  He's got the strength and the size, but he's been a little bit reckless lately with his opponents at the edge of the ring.  That cost him three straight losses in January and a shot at the yusho.  Dejima needs to continue to push his opponents all the way out of the ring and not leave his feet as he gives the final push because once you've lost your footing, you're at your opponent's mercy.  I see Dejima's bowling ball style successful again this basho as he dethrones Kotomitsuki and takes over his Sekiwake rank.

Tosanoumi comes in as the other Komusubi after being passed over for promotion the basho before.  What can you say about Tosanoumi?  He's the ultimate blue-collar guy who gives it everything he has every bout.  His sumo isn't sharp enough to be a serious sanyaku mainstay, but his tachi-ai and work ethic are fierce enough to beat anybody.  Ever notice how this guy beats everyone ranked higher than him and then turns around and loses to the rank and file?  Tosanoumi has a successful basho if he can win eight, but regardless of his record, he will give you a good show everyday.

Takanonami sits in the M1 East slot after falling from the Komusubi ranks.  Takanonami looked disinterested in January barely posing a threat to anyone he faced.  His size and experience helped him win 7, but this guy is seriously underachieving.  Newly promoted Japanese citizen Kyokutenho takes over the M1 West slot. Kyokutenho has the well-rounded sumo typical of the Mongolians, but he lacks that fierceness of say Asashoryu or Takanowaka.  Expect him to go about business as usual and hover around the 8-win mark.

M2 Tochinonada makes a huge jump up the banzuke after a wacky 11-4 showing in January.  Tochi lost his first four bouts but stormed back to win 11 in a row; rarely will you ever see someone win 11 straight.  The Sumo Kyokai didn't think Tochi's efforts were good enough to garner a special prize, but they did put him back up with the big boys.  Tochinonada is a flat out bull with a low center of gravity that makes him impossible to push around.  He joins Kaiho as the only rikishi to have toppled Asashoryu during his Yokozuna run.  Fellow M2 Takamisakari jumps back up to the big time after an impressive 10-5 showing in January.  This guy's antics will sell more tickets this basho than anything else.  I think Takamisakari lacks valuable experience in facing the big boys; therefore, he'll struggle a bit this basho laboring to even win eight, but he should stick around and be a sanyaku player in the future.  Sumo cannot afford to have this guy get injured and fall out of the Makuuchi ranks again 

Shimotori comes in at M3 after a nice 9-6 showing last basho.  He's good enough to stay at the top of Maegashira and may even sneak into the Komusubi ranks.  Shimotori's built well and is a solid fighter at the belt, but he lacks any real pizzazz to make a huge impact.  This guy can be likened to Kyokutenho--not very memorable, but gets the job done.  Skipping down to M7, Makuuchi Sophomore Kasugao is poised to have another good basho.  Kasugao is fresh off of a 10-5 Makuuchi debut, which earned him a fighting spirit prize.  M7 should keep him just out of arms reach of the sanyaku and above, so look for him to do well again.  This guy has really risen through the ranks quickly, and he should be around for a while.  He's feisty at the belt and his lower body is really stable.  He's a promising rikishi and will definitely be the talk of the town when Sumo heads across the Japan Sea to Korea for an exhibition tournament in June.

Fellow Sophomore Takanotsuru comes in at M8 after posting a 9-6 record in January.  Takanotsuru's upside are those bushy sideburns that are impeccable before the bout and extremely mangy afterwards.  The downside is a genetic foot problem in his right foot that unfortunately hinders this guy from becoming great.  This guy has overcome so much and is easy to root for.  His sumo is good enough to keep him hanging around the mid-Maegashira ranks for a while.  A big question mark at M9 is former Ozeki Miyabiyama.  This guy was impressive in his two whole bouts before injuring his ankle last January.  He looked good in November as well, so he may be on the comeback trail.  If his ankle isn't giving him any problems, he should wreak havoc in the rank and file this basho; but he did go down hard in January, so we'll see how he does.

Now for the newcomers.  Four rikishi made the jump from Juryo this basho: Asasekiryu, Takekaze, Buyuzan, and Kinkaiyama.  Buyuzan and Kinkaiyama have been in Makuuchi before and seem to be stuck in that revolving door between the Makuuchi and Juryo divisions.  Asasekiryu and Takekaze are first-timers, however, and they should both add a buzz to this basho.  Asasekiryu is the newest Mongolian, and like his "blue" counterpart Asashoryu, he has shot up the ranks.  Seki is barely three years into the sport, and he's already in Makuuchi.  He put a stamp on the Juryo ranks in January taking the yusho with an 11-4 mark that included numerous thumpings of Makuuchi rikishi.  This guy comes from the same mold as Asashoryu.  Give his body more time to fill out and add strength, and he could become a major player shortly.  He should tear up the bottom feeders in Makuuchi.

Takekaze also joins the Makuuchi division for the first time, and you'll recognize him because of his short stature...and I do mean short.  He will be the shortest rikishi in the division, but that doesn't mean he lacks a fighting spirit.  His style is similar to Hokutoriki in that he relies heavily on pushing and thrusting his opponent, but don't let him get inside at your belt because he can trip you up as well.  He should be fun to watch and an immediate crowd favorite.  Takekaze has only been in professional sumo for five tournaments as he made the jump from college.

My predictions for this basho:

Dejima proves he belongs back in the Ozeki ranks by toppling most of the heavy-hitters on his way to the Shukunsho

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