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2008 Haru Basho
Post-basho Report | Pre-basho Report.
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Boob jobs these days are a dime a dozen, so anytime you see a chick now that is well endowed, you automatically think "those have to be fake". I mean you have girls walking around paper thin maybe weighing in at 45 kilos, yet it looks as if they're shoplifting melons in their bra. Of course, it's not as obvious with other girls, but how many times do you admire a nice rack only to walk away wondering if it was real or not? Er...uh...or so I hear. The point is why do we always come away from the Haru basho wondering how legitimate the whole thing was? On day 13 I was pretty adamant that the Asashoryu - Kotomitsuki bout was straight-up, but after seeing the rest of the basho unfold, I'm not so sure now. I said at the time that there were too many variables in place to have the Yokozuna throwing bouts as early as day 12, but now as I look back, there WERE a lot of variables in place like Chiyotaikai having to fight Toyonoshima and Baruto (he lost both), which means if there was gonna be any funny bidness, it'd have to be on day 12 and then made up later.
I don't have a clear-cut scenario in mind, and I can't explain the how and why, but having the active Ozeki all conveniently finish at 8-7 yet again is a little too over the top for me, especially when you had the Yokozuna go 1-3 over a stretch of two days. Two years ago, Asashoryu and Hakuho clearly threw their senshuraku bouts to give Kaio a kachi-koshi and keep him in the sport, and the most likely scenario that I can think of this year is that they did the same for Chiyotaikai, who was in the same kachi-koshi or retire situation as Kaio was two years ago. It wouldn't surprise me if after a rikishi reaches the Ozeki rank, he is informed that he has now reached an elite
echelon in the sport where he is obligated to help his peers when they need it, and in return, he will receive that same cooperation when he needs it. I've often talked about how hard it is to actually be demoted from the Ozeki rank as winning 8 bouts every two basho isn't too tall of an order, but then when you receive cooperation from the other rikishi, it's nearly impossible to lose your rank. This is all speculation, but that ending to Haru was not right. If you have the means to go back and watch it, just
watch Hakuho's right hand in his bout against Asashoryu. Asashoryu's belt is wide open on his left side, and Hakuho actually instinctively goes for the uwate grip several times only to draw his hand away. Furthermore, Asashoryu's lower body was in no position to set up a throw of Hakuho that could have sent him into the air parallel to the dohyo. After the bout, the fans in attendance were left thinking "that's it?", and the trio in the booth for NHK (Fujii
Announcer, Kitanofuji, Mainoumi) were struggling big time to come up with an explanation as they showed the replays of the bout.
If you watched sumo in the mid-nineties, you will remember classic bout after classic bout between Akebono and Takanohana. Those two never disappointed, and the reason why was because they weren't collaborating with each other. Contrast that to the Akebono - Musashimaru bouts...those dudes were always in it together. Whenever one needed the win more than the other at the end of the basho, he always got it. Every time. And that's what we're seeing from Asashoryu and Hakuho now. Let's review their bouts over the last year starting with Haru 2007:
Haru 2007 - This bout, which occurred on day 14 was very similar to the Haru 2008 version. Hakuho actually had morozashi from the tachi-ai yet he still lost via hiki-otoshi only to end up on his back. I blogged on the bout, so you can review this one in detail.
Natsu 2007 - With Hakuho having won the Haru basho, Asashoryu loses 4 out of 5 bouts heading into his senshuraku contest with Hakuho and gives up the easy outer grip at the tachi-ai and is carefully thrown down to the dirt in seconds.
Nagoya 2007 - Hakuho is out of the yusho race by senshuraku leaving Kotomitsuki and Asashoryu tied at 12-2 heading into the day. After a Kotomitsuki loss, Hakuho guarantees there will be no yusho playoff by allowing Asashoryu to back him out for the easy yorikiri win.
Hatsu 2008 - This is the first legitimate bout between these two in at least a year and it shows. So much determination and power is exhibited by both parties that you could have lit up the Kokugikan for a day using the energy these two generated. Hakuho wins the 48 second affair in easily the best bout in a decade.
Haru 2008 - Hakuho secures the left inside position from the tachi-ai and has Asashoryu backpedaling but refuses to grab the right outer grip and his thrown in the air parallel to the dirt by an Asashoryu kotenage that had no lower body behind it.
My point in all of this is not to discuss yaocho, or bout fixing because that implies that the Association is behind it and fixing the outcome of tournaments. They're not. The point is that rikishi
collaborate with one another when they have common interests. The Hawaiians did it in the mid to late
nineties as they constantly battled the Futagoyama trio of Takanohana, Wakanohana, and Takanonami, and the Mongolians are doing it now. I don't have a real problem with it because the yusho is not being compromised nor is anyone being handed a rank unworthily, but I do want to make it known that I'm having a tough time buying any of it. You can tell when Asashoryu and Hakuho are really battling each other, and they weren't in Osaka. Oh, and Chiyotaikai owes them drinks.
But enough of that...let's comment on the rikishi starting with the yusho winner, Yokozuna Asashoryu. Asashoryu set the tone early in this one by not only defeating his opponents with ease but devastating them with intentional extra shoves and even taking the yori-taoshi move a step further by body slamming his opponents to the floor below the dohyo. Aminishiki and Toyonoshima weren't the same after facing Asashoryu, and the Yokozuna had struck the fear of Clancy Kelly into his opponents during week 1. Asashoryu was as good as he's been until that fluke loss to Kotoshogiku on day 12. On day 13 my stance was that Asashoryu was caught off guard after his stroll the first 11 days, but after watching that senshuraku bout, I think something was going on there too. Regardless, Asashoryu looked as good as he ever has this basho and showed no signs of slowing down. I think he
collaborates with Kublai for the next three or four years to where you see those two split the yusho each year 3-3. I'd love to see somebody actually step up and have a say in that, but I don't see it happening in the short-term.
As for Yokozuna Hakuho, this basho reminded me a lot of his debut at the rank last year in Nagoya. Hakuho ended that basho 11-4, but he was never beaten straight up. Kotomitsuki shifted to his left at the tachi-ai on day 10 to grab the insurmountable uwate handing him his first loss, and then Kotooshu and Chiyotaikai both henka'd him out of the yusho race on days 13 and 14, so Kublai just deferred on senshuraku to Asashoryu ensuring that Kotomitsuki wouldn't get a sniff of the yusho. Hakuho's sumo was solid that basho just as it was this basho. Hakuho used an array of techniques in his 12 wins, and only his day 2 win was by hataki-komi, but when you consider Asasekiryu's style of coming in low looking for the frontal belt grip, Hakuho just reacted to the situation. When Asashoryu was absent those two basho, we saw a lot more hataki-komi out of Hakuho because he was lazier. He knew he didn't have to give it his all to yusho, so he didn't. Now that Asashoryu is back, however, Hakuho has become a noticeably stronger Yokozuna, and this basho was no different. I mean, look at his three losses...all while moving forward. The henka from Aminishiki was
inexcusable; the loss to Chiyotaikai was a fluke at best; and then Hakuho just gave that bout to Asashoryu on senshuraku (not to imply that Asashoryu couldn't have beaten straight up had they been serious). Asashoryu may have his 22nd career yusho, but I still think Hakuho is the one to beat these days. His sumo is more mistake-free than Asashoryu's at the tachi-ai, and that makes a huge difference.
At the end of the Hatsu basho, I called the yusho for Asashoryu in Haru, and while I think the Natsu basho is up for grabs, I'd bet my left nut that whoever wins in Natsu doesn't win in Nagoya. If that theory holds true, we will likely see one great basho followed by one boob job basho. While it does have it's merits, Osaka is not the last time we'll be left wondering.
Let's move onto the Ozeki since we're obligated. Kotooshu was embarrassing yet again. Okay, Kakuryu did henka him on day 4, but look at some of his other losses: Asasekiryu, Aminishiki, and Toyonoshima...all by oshi-dashi. Those are three of the smaller guys in the whole division, so how is he letting them beat him via oshi-dashi? The problem is Kotooshu's tachi-ai and confidence. He's lost faith in himself to demand the belt at the tachi-ai, and he will forever pay the price until he fixes it.
Ozeki Kotomitsuki fared slightly better than his stable mate, but he had some assistance
in getting his eight. The Ozeki got off to a horrible start suffering a bad loss to Kakuryu on day one before getting totally bitch-slapped by Kisenosato on day 2. After Kotooshu withdrew, Kotomitsuki showed a bit of life running off 5 straight wins capped by his defeat of Asashoryu, but scraping by with just 8 wins is not what we need from the best Ozeki on the board.
Ozeki Kaio looks pain free again, and it's actually fun to watch him pick off the younger guys using his veteran experience. The best part of his sumo is the way he's winning again. The Ozeki had his usual yori-kiri win and throws, but he won three bouts via oshi-dashi or tsuki-dashi, and one of the key stats for him was that he only had one kote-nage win (over Kisenosato). When Kaio wins by kote-nage, it's either counter move when he's in trouble or a cop-out for not demanding the belt, so the fact that he didn't need to resort to it as much is a good sign. I have no problem that he lost 7. Kaio is
still teaching some of these guys a lesson.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai got off to a good start on paper, but it was obvious early that he wasn't back. Sure, he started off 6-1, but after Ama and Tokitenku kicked his ass on successive days, the writing was on the wall considering his week two competition. Kaio gave him his seventh win on day 10, and then Hakuho likely gave him the win on day 12 to seal his kachi-koshi. The fact that Taikai had his ass handed to him again by Toyonoshima and Baruto shows that he was not 100%, but hey, at least he had a win to give to Kotomitsuki on senshuraku. Talk about a predictable bout. A year or two ago, I couldn't wait for the Ozeki ranks to be cleared out with some fresh blood, but now, whose gonna take their place? From Ozeki down to M4 or so, everyone's fighting at the same 8-7 level.
Including our Sekiwake who didn't impact the basho. Ama has gone from legitimate Ozeki candidate to mediocre sanyaku rikishi in just two basho. He needed 4 straight wins at the end of the basho to pick up his kachi-koshi, and luckily the last one was against Kyokutenho who already had his own kachi-koshi in the bag. For as average as he was, I was encouraged by the way in which Ama won. Not a single cheap tachi-ai, five oshi/tsuki wins, two throws, and one yori-kiri. His best wins came against Kisenosato and Chiyotaikai.
Counterpart Kotoshogiku also finished 8-7, and despite and average basho from him, he too stuck to his guns winning all but one (oshi-taoshi) of his bouts by yori-kiri. Perhaps it's not as much as these guys have become mediocre as it is every one near this rank is fighting at the same level, a level so far below the Yokozuna.
Rounding out the sanyaku, Kisenosato was probably most aggressive of the Ozeki/sanyaku rikishi, and he had some statement wins including the day 3 victory over Chiyotaikai putting the Ozeki's real condition in perspective and then knocking out Kotooshu with a nice sukui-nage win on day 6. If there was one concern with the Kid it was his day 12 bout against Miyabiyama in a long drawn-out affair where Kisenosato got tired before Miyabiyama did.
Considering Miyabiyama's age and Hutt status, that was a minor red flag, but other than that, I think Kisenosato is the most exciting guy out there besides the two Yokozuna and perhaps Kokkai.
Counterpart Takekaze was abysmal in his sanyaku debut, but it was expected as he's not sanyaku material. Despite his 3-12 record, Takekaze did have two good wins over Kotomitsuki on day 6 and Aminishiki on day 13. As previously stated, Takekaze is more exciting playing the upset role from the M3 - M4 rank.
M1 Asasekiryu needed to henka Baruto on day 13 to keep his hopes alive for kachi-koshi, something he would get on senshuraku capping off a 3-0 finish, but I thought Seki fought well. Of his seven losses, only one was to a make-koshi rikishi (Miyabiyama) who was also coincidentally the only rikishi ranked lower than him that he lost to as well. He also pounded Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki two of the first three days to highlight a 4-1 start. I think there are a couple rikishi below him that deserve the Komusubi rank more than Asasekiryu does for Natsu, but hey, he came away with the same record as 3 Ozeki, 2 Sekiwake, and 1 Komusubi fighting the same competition.
Counterpart Kakuryu had a decent basho as well even though he finished 6-9. Like Asasekiryu, he beat Kotomitsuki and Kotooshu over the first few days (course, who didn't?), and he held his own among the jo'i. If Takekaze can be ranked as Komusubi, so can Kakuryu. A visit to the sanyaku this year wouldn't completely surprise me, but with Baruto and Kokkai making some noise, it'll be tough for the Kak to spurt.
There really isn't that one rikishi who I root against no matter what, but M2 Aminishiki may be the closest one to that
classification, especially after he starts henka'ing people. His dastardly act on day 4 changed the course of the yusho race (something that makes me livid), and while he did have wins over three Ozeki, that wasn't too hard this basho. I'm glad that Sneaky failed to kachi-koshi, which denied him an underserved Shukunsho award. Counterpart Miyabiyama did well to post his 7-8 record. I've already talked enough about how his age has caught up with him.
M3 Tokitenku's 7-8 finish among the jo'i this basho shows you that he's just out of sanyaku contention. My theory is that his fooling around with cheap sumo the last half year has taken him away from his game. There were no henkas from Tenku this basho, and he had that great win over Chiyotaikai on day 9, but 5 of his 7 wins were by pull down, which tells you that Tokitenku hasn't got the confidence in his attack right now to win moving forward. Counterpart Toyonoshima struggled mightily in Osaka, and you have to wonder if the circumstances surrounding his stable of late have finally caught up with him. The Tokitsukaze prodigy is normally a fireball among the jo'i, but his 1-8 start was painful to watch. Toyonoshima finished 5-1 to make his 6-9 record appear respectable, but he was off in Osaka. And to further illustrate how bad the Ozeki are these days, as down as Toyonoshima was, he still beat half of 'em.
M4 was a solid rank in Osaka and a surprising one as well...at least for me. I didn't expect Wakanoho to win more than five or so, but the kid pulled out a kachi-koshi. On one hand, I like his enthusiasm for the sport, but on the other hand, he's going a bit over the top in his butt wagging and pretend dame-oshi. Magaki-oyakata's got to rein in his prodigy a bit and teach him to show a bit more respect for his elders. It's one thing to have Asashoryu do whatever he wants--he's earned it, and it's even okay for Kisenosato to swagger a bit, but not Wakanoho. Not yet anyway. As for Wakanoho's sumo, I don't have a stiffie yet as I look at his kimarite and see that four of his seven wins were by pull down while his yori-kiri wins were over insignificant rikishi like Wakanosato, Hokutoriki, and a relaxed Tochinonada. The Ho has potential, but he also has a lot of work to do.
I honestly thought counterpart Kyokutenho would just lay down this basho and head for the security of the lower ranks, but the
Chauffeur looked great in Haru establishing a 9-6 performance where only one of those wins was by pulldown (over Wakanosato). Tenho put Takamisakari and Tochiohzan's fast starts into perspective with solid yotsu wins over them, and he did what few others can do ever, which was align chests with Baruto and beat him. I'd love to see this same effort from Tenho in Natsu. I doubt we'll get it, but it'd make the basho better.
No comment on M5 Wakanosato who finished an expected 5-10 other than guys like Tokitenku, Roho, and Aminishiki learned that you cannot let this veteran get a solid inside position. Counterpart Kokkai was the highlight of the basho for me. Dude finished 12-3 with those losses including a quick pulldown at the tachi-ai from Wakanoho, an expected loss to Baruto, and a head-scratcher to Roho. The difference between yusho rikishi and guys who can come close are the yusho rikishi don't give up bone-headed losses. And other than that loss to Roho, Kokkai was fighting at the caliber of a yusho rikishi. I'm not saying that he's a threat to yusho next basho because his competition at M5 was weaker than what he'll face next basho, but I think this guy can win in double digits. Like Asashoryu who was a ferocious tsuppari rikishi up until he reached Ozeki where he mastered belt fighting to take that next step, Kokkai has abandoned his tsuppari attack in favor of yotsu-zumo, and he's using his size and strength advantage brilliantly to
succeed at it. I'm stoked to see him fight among the jo'i in May because he'll give the Ozeki and
sanyaku rikishi fits.
M6 Roho just can't cut it even at this level in the ranks anymore as he's compromised his sound sumo ability for tentative sumo that relies too much on the henka and pull maneuvers. Thing is, he had some good wins over Dejima, Kyokutenho, and Kokkai, but his inconsistency and indecisiveness is killing him. He doesn't trust his sumo anymore, and that's how he only managed 6 wins from the rank. No comment on counterpart Dejima who also finished 6-9.
I was glad to see M7 Baruto get the message last basho and realize that he just couldn't show up at this spot in the ranks and devastate his opponents. That day 1 loss to Hokutoriki also served as a reminder to him because the Estonian went on a tear after that going 12-2 the rest of the way that included a loss to an Asasekiryu henka, a rikishi whom he would have handled with ease this basho straight up. Despite his success at this level, Baruto still has to prove himself among the jo'i...something he has yet to do. Another thing working against him is the fact that the rikishi don't fear him as much as they used to. Still, the Biomass can thrive among the jo'i if he works hard in between the basho and prepares his body physically for the speed he must deal with in May. And Martin, how can you crown a guy the third best in the sport when he's been in the division for over two years and hasn't even reached the sanyaku let alone kachi-koshi from a rank higher than the M6 or so? Being the third most likely rikishi to take the yusho is
completely different from being the third best guy on the banzuke...if that makes sense. Make no mistake, Baruto has the potential to be number three, but he hasn't proven jack yet.
Counterpart Hokutoriki has a great basho strutting his stuff to a kachi-koshi by day 11, but his letdown after that coupled with the higher quality of opponents resulted in his 0-4 finish. It's good for him though. No sense having this guy among the jo'i to get worked like a Japanese OL.
M8 Goeido had his most disappointing basho in the division, and hopefully it was the result of a pre-basho injury to his right calf that probably slowed him down a bit and certainly took away some time in the keiko ring prior to the tournament. Goeido was all over the board with his sumo, and he even went for two tachi-ai henka. Fortunately, he lost both of those bouts, and
Sakaigawa-oyakata has got to do whatever it takes to ensure he doesn't henka again. Sometimes, you need that bamboo sword in sumo. Goeido was gifted a kachi-koshi on senshuraku after wasting a decent 7-4 start, but he was disappointing in front of the hometown faithful. The problem with Goeido's sumo in Osaka was his tachi-ai. He just had no push from the starting lines and had to finesse his wins instead of grabbing his opponent's belt like a bulldog and muscling them out. Let's hope it was due to his injury; we'll find out soon enough in May.
Counterpart Tochinonada was somewhat compelling after starting 0-6 and then reeling off 8 straight wins to kachi-koshi, but there's nothing worth commenting on here beyond that.
M9 Iwakiyama did extremely well to finish 7-8 from this rank, especially when you consider he fought guys like Baruto, Tochiohzan, and Dejima. You look at the guys he beat...names like Ryuo, OldTsukasa, Kaiho, and Wakakirin, and you can see that Iwakiyama needs a weak banzuke around him to kachi-koshi. He should get it in May. Counterpart Kasugao is probably the biggest under-achieving guy in the Maegashira ranks. With his strength and yotsu-zumo skills, he's gotta do better than 8-7 from this rank.
M10 Futenoh managed a 10-5 record, but when you're a former Komusubi with a legitimate win over Asashoryu in his prime, then nobody cares what goes on this low. Fruitenoh totally benefited from a weak banzuke in Osaka, and will likely get his ass kicked in May. No comment on counterpart Tamakasuga who will keep himself in the division yet again after a 6-9 performance. Long live the King.
M11 Toyohibiki's Makuuchi woes continued after a stunning 5-10 outing from the bottom third of the banzuke. His 0-7 start included losses to 6 eventual kachi-koshi rikishi, but that's the point: he seems only able to handle the scrubs anymore...well, if you can call Yoshikaze, OldTsukasa, and Ryuo scrubs. The problem with the Hutt is his footwork, and until he solves it, he'll remain at these low levels. Counterpart Takamisakari jumped out to a swell 8-1 start, but you look at the majority of rikishi he faced and they
were...well, scrubs. Once paired with the beef in week two, the Cop cooled off to the tune of a 2-4 finish, but his fast start was good for sumo. Osaka sold out the arena everyday from day 7 on, and I think part of that was due to the excitement generated by guys like Takamisakari early on in the basho. Takamisakari's got his work cut out for him next basho, but at least he stays in the division for another year likely.
M12 Tochiohzan should finish 11-4 from this rank every time, but it was so encouraging to see him get off to such a solid start. We learned during the basho that he had been suffering from lower back pain for the last few tournaments, which explains why he was so dismal at the end of 2007, but Tochiohzan is not back; he's just injury free again. After padding his record against the scrubs at this level, he was beaten pretty handily by the Maegashira players this basho (Baruto, Kokkai, Kyokutenho). Tochiohzan needs to have confidence in himself when fighting the quality rikishi in the division. To me he appears intimidated, but perhaps Asashoryu can work on it with him.
Like Tochiohzan, M13 Homasho sorta made a comeback this basho jumping out to an 8-1 start, but he would only win one more bout the rest of the way after being paired with rikishi maintaining similar records. We learned that Homasho dropped 10 kilos or so due to medication he was taking for high cholesterol at the end of 2007, but like Tochiohzan, Homie is not back. He had just two wins over kachi-koshi rikishi, but sit down folks, those two were Kakizoe and Hokutoriki. Homasho is back on the right path, but he has to learn how to beat the quality rikishi again.
We'll see a major housecleaning among the dregs for May as Ichihara (0-15), Kaiho (4-11), Sakaizawa (3-12), Otsukasa (5-10), and Ryuo (5-10) will leave to make room for
been-there-done-that's Tosanoumi, Hakurozan, and Tamanoshima, but if we're lucky we'll get some new blood in the division in the likes of dare I say it...two MORE foreigners in Hakuba and Tochinoshin.
That does it for me. See ya'll in four weeks with the release of the Natsu basho banzuke where the most compelling rank will be Komusubi. Does Kisenosato get promoted to Sekiwake to make room for guys like Kokkai, Baruto, and Asasekiryu who are all deserving? Two extra sanyaku guys (3 Sekiwake and 3 Komusubi) would shave a full rank off at the bottom of Maegashira where it'll be tough to justify promotions from Juryo for five to six riksihi, but like a trophy rack, who knows?
2008 Haru Basho
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We can only hope that the Haru basho picks up right where the Hatsu basho left off with the focus where it should be, on the dohyo. Thankfully, the Sumo Association squashed the attempt by the media to make something out of Asashoryu's journey home from Hawaii, and with the Tokitsukaze-beya mess on hold until the trials begin, we're ready to watch the two Khan rework their magic. The climax of sumo is two Yokozuna fighting each other, and when that happens on senshuraku with the yusho on the line, you can ask for nothing more. I suspect the two will enter senshuraku tied again this basho, so when you factor in the other storylines such as Chiyotaikai's elbow, Kisenosato's return to the sanyaku, and Goeido's return home to Osaka it's all good. Let's get right to the meat of the order.
Hakuho's performance in January was huge. Prior to the Hatsu basho, not only was Asashoryu demanding the limelight due to his return to the sport, but after punishing Hakuho 5-2 at the Soken general keiko session, it seemed as if Asashoryu was the shoe-in for the yusho. So to see Hakuho take the yusho race into the final day and then best Asashoryu in the biggest bout we've seen in at least a decade spoke volumes
in terms of Hakuho's confidence. Prior to this basho, I've read it a few times in his comments and those of Kumagatani-oyakata's, and the word from the Hakuho camp is they don't care what Asashoryu is doing. It's a statement that Hakuho thinks that he's the man now, and you can't argue with him. Hakuho is gunning for his fourth consecutive yusho, and when you scan the record books, there's only five other in the history of sumo who have done it: Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, Takanohana, and Asashoryu. All are dai-Yokozuna and the same names that have been popping up in the same sentence as Hakuho since the kid broke into the division. Think of it. Those of us following sumo now are privileged to watch two of the top six rikishi all time (assuming Hakuho stays the course) in their primes. Coming back down to earth a bit, While I like what Hakuho has going for him mentally, I think he could have chosen a few better sparring partners prior to the basho other then Futenoh, Kasugao, and Masatsukasa. While he did become Futenoh's
danna prior to the basho, none of those rikishi are going to prepare him for the solid jo'i this tournament, and as such, I think it prevents Hakuho from starting out 14-0. Still, as he's shown the last three basho, when he loses he has the ability to dig in and manufacture the necessary wins to take the yusho. I see Hakuho entering senshuraku at 13-1 where he will yet again face Asashoryu, who I also think enters the day at 13-1.
I blogged several days ago on why the press keeps using "go-kigen" when describing Asashoryu's mood the last week. The phrase is still popping up whether it's coverage of Asashoryu performing a dohyo-iri at a shrine or after de-geiko when he provides the fan service to those who've gathered to watch morning keiko. I think the Association's backing him has lifted a huge burden from his shoulders, and I think he'll ride that momentum to the yusho. I don't see Asa running the table simply because the caliber of rikishi we have now high in the ranks is so much better than three years ago when dudes like Toki, Iwakiyama, and Takamisakari were taking turns in the sanyaku. As such, someone will pick Genghis off once, but I see him entering senshuraku tied again with Hakuho. This time, however,
Asashoryu isn't going to let Hakuho get that easy yotsu position and outer grip. After a loss, Hakuho never changes things up. He'll come with that same tachi-ai because he knows he's good enough to beat you even if you know what's coming. Asashoryu, however, is hungry enough and good enough to counter Hakuho this basho and not make the same mistake of thinking he can win the bout if he aligns chests with Kublai. I don't see the epic bout this basho as Asashoryu should stick and move as he uses his speed and determination to take his first yusho since last Nagoya. The Yokozuna has resorted to his practice regime of old where he takes about every other day off, which is a sign that Asashoryu is
comfortable again and ready to do what he does best. 14-1 and his 22nd career yusho.
The Ozeki will play their usual insignificant role this basho because by the time they get their shots at the two Yokozuna, they'll likely already be out of it. I haven't read a single report on Ozeki Kotooshu, but it doesn't matter if he's completely healthy now. He's become too soft and too timid in his sumo to impact a basho. It's too bad that a 10-win basho is an accomplishment for him these days. He may get his ten but no more.
Kotomitsuki has reportedly looked good prior to Haru, and with no reported injuries to hamper him in Osaka, he should establish himself as the number three guy this basho from the jo'i. The problem is the dude turns 32 in April and can no longer put himself into a position where he can take the yusho despite losing a bout to a Yokozuna. I see 10-11 wins from Mitsuki, but as I hinted in the previous paragraph, it will be too little too late.
Kaio checks in as our third Ozeki, and I haven't read a single keiko report touching on him. I'm going to take that as a negative. Kaio has long since indicated that he wants to fight as an active rikishi for 20 years. Well, it was 20 years ago this basho when he first set foot atop the dohyo as a professional (in the same class as Akebono, Takanohana, and Wakanohana no less), so something tells me he'll relax a bit mentally knowing that he's reached his goal. I see the Ozeki struggling to win his eight, but he should get it.
Chiyotaikai on the other hand is in trouble. I finally read a keiko report where he was battling Toyonoshima, a formidable foe. The problem was he was fighting in the yotsu style. I don't care if the Pup went 7-2, he's not a yotsu guy, and Toyonoshima is going to defer to the veteran
Ozeki in the keiko ring. Wasn't it last basho where Chiyotaikai abandoned his tsuppari attack and tried yotsu sumo? Look where that got him. He says his elbow is about 80% at best, but unless he's sandbagging here, he's in dire straits. If he's telling the truth, and his arm is still injured, he can't win eight unless he dons the skirt. Admirably, he refused the cheap attacks last basho, but he must resort to them in Haru if he wants to survive. Question is, does he still want to fight? I say it's 60-40 that Chiyotaikai is gone at the end of the basho.
Let's move down to the more compelling ranks...more compelling in that these guys will determine the course of the basho as they will challenge the Yokozuna first. Ama checks in as the East Sekiwake, a position that he rightly deserves in the sport now. He's fought with Asashoryu prior to the basho, and wherever he goes, Aminishiki is in tow, so no one gets more practice than this guy, and it's shown the last year and a half. The question, however, is the same one we've been talking about for awhile now, which is when will Ama stop losing to the guys ranked lower than him? It's gonna take a bit of luck, but it will also demand that Ama return to that nodowa tachi-ai and quick force-out attack. He abandoned it in Hatsu early and ended up with a weak 9-6. Ama needs a good start, so if he jumps out to 5-0, he'll flirt with 12 wins and likely take down a Yokozuna, but I really see him struggling to even win in double-digits.
I like counterpart Kotoshogiku in the West Sekiwake slot, but you know how the Geeku looks good for about four basho and then royally sucks for a basho? He's due in Haru to take a dive, but I think he can feed off of his excellent start in Hatsu and regain the confidence to wield the beating stick again in Osaka. The key will be the same as for Ama...beat the guys ranked below you early. I see Geeku staving off that horrible basho and seriously challenging Ama for the East slot come May if his injured knee is no longer giving him problems. I'll give him nine wins if healthy; but if he proves to be a lame duck, give him four.
Komusubi Kisenosato is such a wildcard. He's not as polished as our two Sekiwake, but it doesn't mean he isn't as good. In a lot of ways, the Kid is better. I loved his reaction to the imminent practice session with Asashoryu prior to Haru, and from all reports, Kisenosato didn't let himself get pushed around. Sure, he only won about three bouts out of 14, but Kisenosato is getting that swagger back where he disrespects his elders with those crass looks after his wins and his butt wagging at the starting lines. I see Kisenosato roughing his way to 8 or 9 wins this basho.
Komusubi Takekaze finds himself ranked in the sanyaku for the first time in his career, but just like any guy that finally reaches a milestone and is one of the slowest in history to do it, dude's gonna get worked like those students from poor Asian countries who come to Japan on work visas thinking they're gonna learn a trade only to find themselves performing slave labor. Still, at worst he'll forever be known as "former Komusubi", a title that few rikishi can achieve. I really like Takekaze and like how he doesn't back down from anyone, but school will be in session starting from day 1. It's one thing to be ranked around M4 and M5, get off to a decent start, and then pull off the upset against a Sadogatake Ozeki around day 8; but it's completely another thing to be demoralized with the kind of week one schedule he's gonna face. I say he's lucky to win five with four of those coming in the second week for sure.
This basho and every basho the remainder of the year will be a two-man race barring an injury to one of the Yokozuna, but it still doesn't discount the importance of the upper Maegashira ranks. I love Asasekiryu in the M1 slot and was pleased to read that Asashoryu has been taking him along to de-geiko sessions. That's huge, and the Yokozuna is damn smart to utilize Seki to his advantage. Asasekiryu is a veteran rikishi now who simply knows how to win. Expect him to slow things way down and to fight low with his butt way back. It's boring, I know, but it's a style Sexy can use to post a nifty record from this rank. I say he gets a kachi-koshi and returns to the sanyaku for May. And I'm just about as excited to see Kakuryu in the M1 slot. Dude has gone through the fire the last six months and is now ready to become a jo'i mainstay. It's fine for a rikishi to get his ass kicked in his first trip to the jo'i as long as he goes back down
to the mid ranks and does some ass kicking of his own. The Kak did just that with an outstanding 11-4 performance in January. I'm not saying that he gets a kachi-koshi, but he ain't the pushover that he once was. I see him winning seven.
I also like Aminishiki in the M2 slot and think it's a rank more telling of his actual ability than Sekiwake, the rank he has held for multiple basho recently. Like Ama, this guy gets a ton of keiko prior to each basho. He's also tall enough to stand up to Kotooshu and Hakuho yet deft enough to move around the ring to secure the wins. I see Ami sneaking his way to eight wins. Counterpart Miyabiyama is just too old now. That brilliant run nearly two years ago used up the gas in the tank, so the Sheriff is largely running on fumes now. There's just too much youth and speed around him on this banzuke for him to kachi-koshi. As he always does, he'll come oh so close in a lot of his bouts, but fall just short in the end. 5-6 wins.
M3 Tokitenku is solid in that M3 slot. I was pleased that Tenku laid off the cheap sumo for the most part in January and see no reason for him to resort to it again in Osaka. Still, I think while he's monkeyed around with pull sumo and various shenanigans, the other guys around him like the Kid, the Geeku, Ama, and the Kak have surpassed him making Tokitenku an underdog at this rank despite his size and ability. I see 6-7 wins in the cards. Counterpart Toyonoshima had a rough basho in January. Not that he wasn't fighting well--because he was--it's just that the upper part of the banzuke has become so top-heavy that Toyonoshima has to be nearly perfect to win. Expect the usual upsets, but the law of averages should win out again this basho meaning Toyonoshima will have to scrap for his seven wins.
Draw the line right there in terms of quality rikishi because there is a huge dropoff once we hit the M4 ranks. Wakanoho finds himself just out of the jo'i, but he's still in a tough position. He'll get the Sadogatake boys; he'll get Asashoryu; and if Chiyotaikai or Kaio withdraws, Wakanoho's the replacement. The young Russian can go 50-50 against the guys ranked below him, but the ratio will be more like 10-90 for the guys above him. We'll see how the
Association decides to pair the Ho, but I expect a rough basho with no more than 5 wins. Normally, you'd be geeked to see Kyokutenho at this rank because he is a solid rikishi, but he has become so lazy when ranked higher than M6 that I expect him to just
bend over and grab his ankles as usual. It'll be another wham, bam, thank you Tenho basho where the
chauffeur will pick up about five wins.
M5 Wakanosato has firmly entrenched himself in the upper third of the Maegashira ranks, and while he's nowhere good enough to reach the sanyaku again, he is good enough to handle the guys around him with that patented moro-zashi attack that should work wonders against the crop of Russian rikishi around him. I say the barometer (if you remember that moniker, you are old school) flirts with 8. Counterpart Kokkai had best hope that he's largely paired with the rikishi below him. While the guys above him are getting beat up during
week one by the heavy-hitters, it's imperative that Kokkai jump out to a fast start. I'm actually enjoying watching the Georgian cut his teeth with yotsu-zumo of late and think he's a solid kachi-koshi candidate but don't expect more than 8 wins.
Roho checks in at M6, but the surrounding cast is largely the same rikishi he's seen the last few basho. Roho has gotten far enough away from sound sumo that he will pull off his fair share of cheap wins while exhibiting enough laziness to get pounded in others. I hardly care anymore although judging by the quality rikishi in the upper half a kachi-koshi for Roho is unlikely. Give him seven. Counterpart Dejima will likely have a rough go of things. Not that he's in over head at this rank but that I don't think very many rikishi are gonna give him a fair tachi-ai. Of the last five rikishi I've named, only Wakanosato is above the tachi-ai henka. Then you have guys like Hokutoriki and Kasugao below who never met a henka they didn't like. I think it's gonna be another frustrating basho for Dejima who manages about six wins.
I was excited to see Baruto at the M6 rank last basho, but what a disappointment. The Estonian falls to just M7 for Haru, and I think last tournament was a necessary wake-up call for him. If Baruto is healthy, and if he is in shape for this tournament, he wins at least 10. I think his recent sloppy conditioning keeps him from legitimate yusho
contender status, but I see him re-establishing himself this basho as that guy that most rikishi fear.
Let's move down to the M8 ranks where we find none other than Goeido. I remember last year in Osaka reading about this newcomer to the Juryo ranks and how he refused to
visit his home (he's from Osaka) until he reached the Makuuchi division because he wanted no distractions. The dude went 11-4 from the J9 rank and was in the yusho hunt the whole basho, but he still refused to go see mom and dad afterwards. I still remember thinking "just go home ya big boob...you had a great basho", but I
didn't know who the kid really was at the time. It just goes to show how much this kid lives and breathes sumo and just how intense he is. I fully expected Goeido to clean up this basho until I read that he suffered a calf injury about a week ago. Goeido will participate no doubt, but who knows what kind of shape he'll be in? If he overcomes that calf injury, I expect him to ride the hometown momentum to double-digit wins, but if the wheel is bothering
him from day 1, he's gonna struggle to win even eight. I'm hoping for a healthy Goeido of course, but at worst, the competition he'll face this time around compared to what he faced last basho will be a downgrade to the tune of ejecting the Velvet Revolver CD in favor of George Michael. Counterpart Tochinonada should be solid enough with his veteran yotsu-zumo attack to win 9 or 10 and vault himself back up to the jo'i.
Iwakiyama checks in at M9, but I'm afraid he's too high in the ranks for his own good. Like Miyabiyama, he's gonna be too old and too slow to
handle his competition. 5 wins at best. Counterpart Kasugao is in a decent position to flirt with kachi-koshi, and I think he'll execute just soundly enough to get it.
M10 Futenoh comes in with the luxury of having five straight days of keiko against Yokozuna Hakuho. At least I think it was keiko. From some of the reports I've been reading, I'm not sure that these two aren't dating. Regardless, the quality practice should lift Futenoh close to double-digit wins. I'll give him nine to be precise.
M11 Toyohibiki will be compelling at this rank simply because he's been so disappointing ever since that fantastic debut last July. Change up that tachi-ai for godsakes!! It's making you lose more, and it's putting me in Arbo's doghouse. The tachi-ai hasn't helped him at all the last three basho, so what could it hurt to start from those white lines painted on the sand called coincidentally the "starting lines"? We'll have to save comment for the Nikibi until after the basho starts, but surely he can win 8 this time can't he? Counterpart Takamisakari barely got his 8 last basho, but the competition han't got any easier. Look for another struggle, but I think he wins his eight again.
Tochiohzan rises to M12 after finally eeking out his second kachi-koshi in the division in January. I'm optimistic that the recent keiko sessions between him and Asashoryu have helped his confidence. Both come from the Meitoku High School in Nagoya, so Asashoryu has always acknowledged Oh and made sure he feels welcome. Tochiohzan has got the tools and a nice sumo body, but it's a mental game for him right now. I'm gonna say he feeds off of the keiko with Asashoryu and posts nine wins as he begins to wake back up in the division.
M13 will be a rank to watch on the low-end of the banzuke. Homasho sits in the East slot, and like the recent world markets, Homie has taken a nosedive the last few basho. It's almost painful watching his bouts anymore. When Homasho first entered the division, he rose to the jo'i on heart alone. He'd put his head down and the tachi-ai and just go for broke. He scored some
fantastic wins over Ozeki and really captured the hearts of a lot of fans, but the last three basho, something has happened to where that tenacity is missing. I don't know what if anything changes it, so I'm expecting the same frustrating Homasho in Haru. I do think he has enough experience now to take advantage of some of the guys nearby him to kachi-koshi, but I think the struggle continues. 8-9 wins. In the West slot is Ichihara, who looked good for about 6 days in January and then just fizzled out. The good news for Ichihara is that he has a lot of small, lightweight rikishi near him who he can handle. The bad news is even if he is successful low in the ranks, as I stated last basho, I fear his size will hamper him when he faces the tougher competition. I see Ichihara scoring a kachi-koshi, but I'll classify him with Toyohibiki at the moment as far as a Hutt who will likely continue to struggle in the division.
No comment on M14's Kaiho and Kakizoe or on M15 Wakakirin other than those guys will be the reason Ichihara can kachi-koshi. Across the aisle from
Wakakirin is our only newcomer this basho in Sakaizawa. I've hardly seen Sakaizawa fight, so it's hard for me to comment on him, but this is what worries me about him. Last basho when he made his those two
appearances in the Makuuchi division, a listless Sakaizawa got his ass kicked at the hands of Yoshikaze...by yori-kiri. I can understand the loss to Tochiohzan, but I don't remember the kid putting up much of a fight in that one either. Sakaizawa also lost his last two bouts of the tournament, so he's not exactly on a roll heading into Haru. With the bad news out of way though, the dude has two things going for him. 1) He has a perfect sumo body, and 2) he's got the tools. You could say the same thing about Kotonowaka too, but that's what worries me. Is Sakaizawa going to become the next Kotonowaka who can keep himself in the division on his body and skills alone yet not give a
rat's ass about going all the way? Or is he going to show us some tenacity and try and make it to the sanyaku as quickly as possible? I dunno. We'll have to see how this all pans out, but I do expect him to reach 9-10 wins this basho.
And finally, we have two former Makuuchi guys making their returns to the division in Otsukasa and Ryuo. Just shoot me now.
Here are my predictions for the Haru basho:
Yusho: Asashoryu 14-1
Shukunsho: Ama (as safe a bet as any)