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2009 Haru Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls.
It's unfortunate that the best performance of Hakuho's career has to be associated with the following negative aspects of the Haru basho: the jun-yusho rikishi finishing four bouts off the pace, an Ozeki failing to factor in the yusho race...again, an Ozeki finishing a worst ever 2-13, bad basho from the Sekiwake, a near choke-job from Tochiohzan, and last and certainly least, Harumafuji henka'ing Asashoryu when the two Yokozuna seemed destined to settle it all on senshuraku. You don't get a better crowd than Osaka, and you can't ask for a better banzuke, so it was sad to see so many elite rikishi underachieve once again leaving the final hope for an exciting basho to the Yokozuna battling on senshuraku for the yusho. When that didn't pan out, the result was frustrated fans, a frustrated Sumo Association, and a Yokozuna Deliberation Council whose biggest message after their post-basho meeting was how bad the Ozeki sucked and how reforms should be put in place to stop the circus that has become the Ozeki ranks. Finally, I agree with the YDC!

Before we get too negative here, however, let's start with the positive, which means Yokozuna Hakuho and his masterpiece of a basho. Hakuho wasn't in trouble once during the fortnight, and you look at his winning techniques and you see 12 wins by force out/down (yori), an uwate-nage of Kotooshu in the basho's best bout, an easy oshi-dashi win over Chiyotaikai, and a sukui-nage throw of the pesky Kakuryu. You couldn't ask for a more complete basho, and we haven't seen such a performance since Asashoryu was in the midst of his seven basho yusho streak. Besides the win over Kotooshu, another highlight was Hakuho calling his shot against Harumafuji telling the Ozeki in the press what he'd do at the tachi-ai and still going out and kicking the Ozeki's ass. Hakuho has learned that no one can blow him back from the initial charge, so he holds up at the tachi-ai leaving him virtually un-henka-able (note his bout against Kisenosato). It also forces the bout to yotsu-zumo, a position from which the Yokozuna times a perfect lunge from the inside of his opponent setting up the easy force-out win. Hakuho's signature move now is to get an arm on the inside, take a huge step, and use his torso perfectly to knock his opponent back and out. Yet, he's also proven that he can take on the biggest and strongest rikishi at the belt as witnessed by his wins over Baruto and Kotooshu. Hakuho has no weakness and actually reached 10 yusho three months faster than Asashoryu did in terms of age. with Hakuho's size advantage over Asashoryu, chances are good that he will surpass Asashoryu in total career yusho when it's all said and done. It's too bad that Hakuho doesn't have a bit more flash and charisma. Takanohana had zero charisma, but he was Japanese, so he received the proper hype. Hakuho doesn't...from the Japanese media that is.

Let's move on to Asashoryu who was a stellar 23-1 this year until Harumafuji worked his grease magic on day 10. The loss was devastating and completely took the life out of the Asashoryu. How many times have we seen Asashoryu give up at the edge in a loss? He did it twice at the hands of Kotomitsuki and then Kotooshu. I think it's a sign that Asashoryu is on his last leg, and he needs to save every bit of energy he can. My guess is that Asa is good for two more yusho, and then he'll hang it up. That would put him one past Kitanoumi and alone in third place all time before he rides off into the Mongolian sunset. If we examine Asashoryu's sumo, his increased win count by pull down stands out to me. He got off to a great start against Kyokutenho, Kakuryu, Hokutoriki, and Tochiohzan (not exactly great competition), but his next three out of four wins would come by pull down. Then there was the pull attempt against Kaio on day 13 that was innocuous as Kaio was in no position to counter. Asashoryu is still relatively young, but I think a lot of the life has been sucked out of him by the Japanese media and Sumo Association itself.

I know I constantly beat a dead horse on this one, but here's a question for even you die-hards: prior to the start of the basho, who knew that Hakuho returned home to Mongolia after the Hatsu basho? I scan the headlines everyday, and not a single mention was made of it. When Asashoryu goes home, however, he is cast in the most negative light possible (as being irresponsible and truant), and god forbid that he sneaks home without the media knowing about it beforehand so they can't send a guy that needs to be laid more to Narita Airport with a camera and mini-step ladder to get a photo of the Yokozuna. They're called file photos dudes. Use them and pretend like YOU knew he was going home while your peers didn't. Anyway, I think after you've been the man all these years, when someone else rises up and takes the spot, the desire fades quickly. Asashoryu is fine with turning over the reins to a fellow Mongolian, so I see him scraping out two more yusho and then hanging it up.

Let's drop down the Osucki ranks starting off with Kotooshu, who actually had a decent basho, but he just can't continue to start out 2-2, especially when he loses to the likes of Tochiohzan and Kyokutenho. His loss to Tokitenku on day 8 was below average as well, which sums up the current crop of Ozeki and their biggest problem: consistently losing to rikishi whom they have no business losing to more than once a year. Kotooshu had a fantastic final week barely losing to Goeido (no shame) and then putting up a fine effort against Hakuho. He pasted Asashoryu, which should help his confidence for future battles between these two, and he managed double-digit wins. Good stuff from Kotooshu, but not great. When an Ozeki finishes a basho with the same record as Kakuryu fighting the same competition...there are issues.

Across the aisle (wearing the bridal gown) is Chiyotaikai who managed to contribute the worst ever record for an Ozeki at 2-13. How does he not withdrawal? There is nothing noble about finishing a basho even if you are injured when you're ranked as an Ozeki. It's embarrassing. It kills me how people will belittle Takasago-oyakata and label him as inept as an oyakata (because they're jealous that he raised a dai-Yokozuna), but where is the same commentary on Kokonoe-oyakata after the Haru basho? How do you let your guy go 2-13 in a basho? Not even Musoyama managed to pull off that feat. The problem is the Ozeki have soiled the rank the last three years now and have taken it to embarrassing lows. Having an oyakata fail to understand the negative impact of an Ozeki going 2-13 and yank him from the basho is unconscionable to me. The Pup can't retire fast enough. Things are getting so bad regarding the yaocho business and the Ozeki that even Kenji is commenting on it.

Big surprise...Ozeki Kaio finished 8-7. And who were his last two wins? Chiyotaikai (yaocho) and Tochiohzan (obvious yaocho that even Kenji commented on). To Kaio's credit, he did get out to a fast start and beat the rikishi who he was supposed to beat unlike Kotooshu, but what's the purpose of having him at the rank if he needs yaocho every damn basho to kachi-koshi? Thanks for nothing Tomozuna-oyakata. Yank him now for the good of sumo. Kaio was a fantastic Ozeki who was one mistake away from clinching the Yokozuna rank (bad pull attempt against Miyabiyama in Kyushu 'o4 on day 13), but he is contributing nothing to sumo these days and only adds to the current notion that the Ozeki ranks are a joke. When the YDC comments on it, you know it's getting bad.

Harumafuji is doing his part as well in terms of watering down the rank. Let's face it, most of the great runs in sumo that result in Ozeki and Yokozuna promotion occur because someone is injured for a length of time. Akebono is probably the last Yokozuna to be promoted that didn't benefit from another Yokozuna's kyujo and that's going back 16 years now. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that either as long as you can sustain your momentum after promotion. Harumafuji obviously hasn't been able to cut it since receiving the sweet Ozeki mullah, and it's not just that he has been struggling with his sumo...it's the way in which he's sneaking out his wins. Four of his 10 came by either pulldown or okuri-dashi (henka kimari-te for the most part), and you already know my feeling on his henka of Asashoryu on day 10. Harumafuji has done nothing but detract from the rank since his promotion.

Kotomitsuki rounds out the mediocrity, and surprise, surprise...he managed to get his eight wins but only that with two of those coming against Kaio and Chiyotaikai. To Kotomitsuki's credit, every one of his wins was with forward-moving sumo, and ring rust could have been a factor here. Still...my expectation for Ozeki is that at least once a year the re-qualify for their rank meaning they need to win 33 bouts over three consecutive basho. None of 'em can do it now. The Japanese Ozeki are too old, and the foreign Ozeki have become too complacent. You'll find about as much fire in the Ozeki ranks right now as you will around a boy scout campfire where they're forbidden to use matches to light it.

Let's move down to the Sekiwake ranks where the news doesn't get much better. Baruto scraped out a kachi-koshi on senshuraku after hustling against Ozeki Kotomitsuki, but the Estonian was off big-time in Osaka. Here's the difference between Sekiwake and Ozeki: Sekiwake beat the Maegashira but don't clean house against the guys above them. Promotion to Ozeki means you do both on a consistent basis. If you look at Bart's results, it falls right in line with all of his losses to kachi-koshi rikishi and six of his eight wins against make-koshi rikishi. I like the fact that Baruto seemed more proactive at the tachi-ai by using the tsuppari. If he can learn to blow his opponents off of the starting lines as the Hawaiians used to do, he is Yokozuna material. Still, Baruto did what he needed to do, and that was win at least eight.

Too bad we can't say the same thing for Kisenosato who could never get into a groove during the fortnight. The Kid was dealt a tough hand with the three best Ozeki the first three days, and just when he had righted the ship at 3-2 after five days, he was dealt Goeido and Asashoryu (two losses). So no wonder when he lost to Chiyotaikai of all rikishi on day 8, his basho was finished. Kisenosato never had the schedule in his favor to where he could go on a roll, but the truly great rikishi can overcome that. I love Kisenosato, but it was easy to see with this banzuke why Goeido is the future for Japan and not Kisenosato.

Speaking of the Komusubi, Goeido was nails again in his hometown. When a Komusubi finishes with four wins after the first eight days, you know he's doing well, and Goeido's 5-2 finish down the stretch was icing on the cake. I'm also trying to think of a rikishi in the division who has a better tachi-ai than this kid. The only thing that is holding Goeido back right now (besides Genghis and Kublai) is his penchant for the pull-down as seen in his loss to Kakuryu. I'm sure what has happened is all through his schooling and amateur career that he was able to knock his opponents off balance frequently at the tachi-ai setting up the easy pull-down win, but the tactic is less successful in the Makuuchi division, especially when you're fighting the jo'i rikishi. Still, take away another loss thanks to a henka from Kotoshogiku on day 14, and Goeido is now posting double-digit wins from the sanyaku. The kid reminds me a bit of Tochiazuma only Goeido is a much better belt fighter. He is the first to rise when some of the current Ozeki start retiring. Goeido is everything good about sumo.

Rounding out the sanyaku, Komusubi Kyokutenho was decent this basho finishing 6-9. He managed to beat Kotooshu on day 4, but an 0-6 stretch after that rendered him a goner shortly after the turn. Still, I thought Kyokutenho gave decent effort and kept his opponents honest. That's all you can ask from a veteran who doesn't really care about his rank.

Let's move to the Maegashira division where Hokutoriki leads the way with a stellar 2-13 performance. I don't know what's worse, being Hokutoriki or the two guys that actually lost to him (Tokitenku and Kokkai). Facta the matter is Hokutoriki is still a decent tsuppari guy, but he just gives up at this level on the banzuke and rolls over. He ain't worth anymore bandwidth than that.

Across the way, look at Kakuryu! 10-5 from the M1 rank and most of those wins were legitimate. I don't know what I derived more pleasure from this basho...thinking up jokes about Yamamotoyama's crack or watching Martin squirm day after day as Kakuryu finished the basho 8-0 clinching a sanyaku berth in the process. Yes, Kakuryu did henka Chiyotaikai, but you cannot overlook his oshi-dashi win of Kaio on day 1 and 8-0 finished that included 5 yori-kiri wins over the likes of Goeido, Baruto, and Kisenosato. His win over Homasho on senshuraku also sent a message that the Kak is alive and well if not slippery at times. Kakuryu has become what Asasekiryu was a few years ago. The dude cannot impact a basho, but he deserves to fight among the jo'i. It's amazing how these undersized Mongolians ALWAYS find a way to win.

There's nothing new to say about M2 Kotoshogiku who should change his middle to 6-9. He can look great as he did against Harumafuji on day 1 and then suck the rest of the way defeating only one kachi-koshi rikishi after that using a henka against Goeido. Dude's peaked.

Tochiohzan was a compelling figure the entire basho thanks to his fantastic 7-3 start, especially when you consider his opponents, but in true fashion, he almost blew it going 0-4 and needing a win over Kisenosato on senshuraku to finish 8-7. Still...that kachi-koshi is huge psychologically, and with the extra attention he should get from pal Asashoryu, Tochiohzan is a legitimate sanyaku candidate. I'm glad we can say that now too because this kid can add some excitement to a basho. Confidence is the key here as Tochiohzan has the physical tools.

No surprise to see M3 Miyabiyama finish 4-11. The banzuke was too damn tough for him to succeed. Prolly the same can be said for Tokitenku who managed a slightly better finish at 5-10. You don't wallow low in the ranks for a year and then come up to this level against this competition and make an impact. Tokitenku did catch Kotooshu off guard on day 8 but made little noise otherwise.

M4 Takekaze actually managed a kachi-koshi at this level, but with two active Yokozuna and a new Ozeki, the line guaranteeing that you will get all of the tough customers is the M2 rank. The highlight of course was Takekaze's ass-kicking of Kotomitsuki on day 14. Why is it that the big wins from these scrubs are always against the Sadogatake-beya Ozeki? Stablemate Yoshikaze turned in a 7-8 finish that consisted of zero bouts against a rikishi ranked M2 or higher, so as far as I'm concerned, he may as well have been fighting in the lower half of the division.

I'll skip over M5 Wakanosato who withdrew at 6-6 as I have nothing relevant to say, but let's touch briefly on counterpart Aminishiki who checked in at 9-6. Good record? Yes. Big wins? No. Course, Aminishiki's knee was obviously bothering him throughout, and you could really see him gripping the last few days, but cupcakes Kakizoe and Shotenro on the two final days ensured his kachi-koshi. I'd really like to see Ami heal up and start fighting among the jo'i again. Never hurts to have a few pests keep the big boys honest.

At M6 we have Tamanoshima and Toyonoshima, both finishing at 8-7. That doesn't say a lot about Toyonoshima. I expected more from this former sanyaku rikishi, but he could still be smarting from his elbow injury that caused him to withdraw in January. Like Aminishiki, we really need a healthy Toyonoshima back up among the jo'i.

You gotta love M7 Homasho turning in an 11-4 performance. Do that math and that puts him squarely at M1 for Natsu unless he somehow trumps Tochiohzan for that final Komusubi spot. With guys like Kisenosato, Homasho, Aminishiki, Tochiohzan, and Toyonoshima up at the top of the Maegashira ranks in May, Natsu will be fantastic. As for Homasho's sumo, 10 of his 11 wins were by forward-moving sumo with an even blend of oshi wins and yori wins. This guys hustles, he's gritty, and he respects the sport. A healthy Homasho is great for sumo.

As for Takamisakari, he did well to finish 6-9 from these parts. The Robocop is still good enough to kachi-koshi from the M10 range, and like Homasho, having him around is a good thing.

It's the same old for the Tochinonada who barely kachi-koshi's no matter where he's at in the ranks. 8-7 for the Gentle Giant as usual. Counterpart Kokkai managed to turn a 5-2 start into a nifty 0-8 finish...and it wasn't as if the competition got any better. Apparently the two Georgian's had a bet this basho to see who could suck worse. Way to underachieve fellas.

Like Tochinonada, there's no use commenting on M9 Dejima who finished 6-9. Across the way, Futenoh floundered the entire basho failing to put together two wins in a row until he got a freebie after Wakanosato withdrew. Futenoh's stilettos were plenty dull in Osaka.

Everybody loves to see M10 Iwakiyama do well so props to his 8-7. Shame on counterpart Tochinoshin for finishing 6-9. He and countryman Kokkai should both find themselves at M13 come May. There's no room to suck at that level.

No comment on M11 Asasekiryu who finished 9-6. I really want to see counterpart Aran move up into the jo'i. I think he'd give the Ozeki trouble with his strength and unorthodox sumo. 10-5 will put him close, and the competition next basho at the M5 range shouldn't be anything he hasn't seen before, so let's hope he does well in May.

No comments as usual on M12 Kakizoe who did finished 7-8 but still keeps himself in the division. Same goes for Shotenro, our lone rookie who also finished 7-8. Shotenro had a good debut I thought, and he can stick in this division. Sitting at 7-4 after day 12, dude drew a helluva final three days when he got Takamisakari, Homasho, and Aminishiki. Shotenro did just fine shaking off a 1-5 start to go on a swell 6-0 run. He'll have the jitters out of the way in May, so what do you say about a kachi-koshi?

M13 Chiyohakuho was solid this basho finishing 10-5. May as well have replaced the Pup in the Ozeki ranks. He coulda done better than 2-13 up there. I like Chuck's game, and I'm happy to see him do this well. Counterpart Yamamotoyama is the division's next Takamisakari. No, he's not going to be shuttled to and from the venue in a yellow mini-bus, but let's face it, we like watching him for al of the wrong reasons. Yamamotoyama moves fairly well too for his size, in fact I like his game better than the former sekitori Susanoumi (a fatty fat fat in his own right) and yes, I think he's even better than Konishiki was after the Hawaiian got too fat to sustain even a sanyaku rank. At 8-7, Yamamotoyama guarantees more entertainment for May. Now all we need is a bearded lady to round out the trifecta.

M14 Tamawashi's first ever kachi-koshi in the division was not a surprise. You could just see things coming to him the last two basho, so props on his solid oshi attack that propelled him to eight of his nine wins. I like this kid.

Let's move down to the M15 rank and skip over Tosanoumi, who is back down to Juryo after a 4-1 showing. Counterpart Kimurayama got off to a solid start in terms of wins beginning 4-1, but it didn't take long for his peers to remember his tachi-ai. A 1-5 stretch in week 2 meant that Kimurayama would fail to pick up his first ever Makuuchi kachi-koshi in three tries now. He's on the brink in terms of demotion to Juryo, and I hope he falls too. Just can't root for a guy whose bread and butter is the tachi-ai henka.

Last but not least...okay, last and certainly least, M16 Toyozakura wilted in his return to the division managing only a 5-10 record. Dude is sweet with a ladle in his hands, but during the dohyo-iri they raise their arms in the air for a reason.

That's a wrap on the Haru basho. I've procrastinated this report for so long that we're only about two weeks away from the next banzuke. We'll see you all then.

2009 Haru Basho Pre-basho Report
You could hardly ask for a more solid banzuke than what we have for the Haru basho. Sure, I'd rather have Toyonoshima in the other Komusubi slot replacing Kyokutenho, but if you have all of the top guys packed into the jo'i, somebody's got to lose and drop out. Regardless, the ten best rikishi in sumo are ranked in the top ten slots of the banzuke, a circumstance that we rarely see. With the upper Maegashira rather weak, this means the elite 10 will steal the show in Osaka, and it also gives all ten of 'em a decent chance of reaching kachi-koshi thanks to fast starts setting up another sweet banzuke in May. Course, you'd never know the potential we've got in Osaka if all you did was follow the headlines in the Japanese media. I've already blogged on my frustrations there due to the lack of keiko reports we've received the last two weeks, and when you think about it, I've only read keiko reports that featured three rikishi: Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Kotomitsuki. I don't see how the yusho doesn't come from the Yokozuna rank, so let's start there as we analyze the banzuke.

Yokozuna Asashoryu is definitely in his element in Osaka. He loves the city, and the Osaka faithful love him. Asashoryu knows which buttons to push and what words to say, and this may be the basho where he's most comfortable. The positive aspect of having the media stalk Asashoryu's every move is that at least we get the scoop on his keiko. Asashoryu has focused solely on young rikishi in the division, namely Goeido, Tochiohzan, and Tochinoshin in that order. Asashoryu stated that he liked battling the young guys due to their energy, but he's also fulfilling the role of a Yokozuna, which is to tutor the young rikishi with potential. Goeido is Asashoryu's obvious choice for the next great one, and he's doing Japan a great favor by teaching the kid the ropes. Goeido has one of the best tachi-ai in the business, and he's a great yotsu-zumo fighter, a combination that gives Asashoryu a great sparring partner prior to the basho. I was a bit surprised that he didn't choose to battle Harumafuji at least once, but perhaps the Yokozuna doesn't want to give anything away or give any of the Ozeki a hint of his condition. Regarding his condition, I don't think it could be better, but that's not saying he's the one to beat. That title goes to Hakuho, but Asashoryu has everything going in his favor not the least of which are two cupcakes on the first two days. I see the Yokozuna hovering around the 13-14 win-line, but he falls one win short of the yusho.

That's because Hakuho is due. This Yokozuna's size and youth are what give him the advantage over everyone else. Hakuho had a solid if not quiet pre-basho keiko routine that included bouts against Kotooshu and a refreshed Kotomitsuki. The problem for the rest of the field is that Hakuho has no weakness. The only thing that he needs to figure out now is how to solve Harumafuji. Where Hakuho is stronger than Asashoryu, the older Yokozuna can keep pace because of the Ozeki. If Hakuho beats Harumafuji, he takes the yusho without question. If he falls to Harumafuji, he still holds his destiny in his own hands. We could very well see a playoff again for the yusho between both Yokozuna, but I think Hakuho will be on a mission in Haru. He doesn't lose more than once as he picks up career number 10. Perhaps a zensho yusho, but let's be safe and say 14-1.

Finally Kotooshu leads the way in the Ozeki ranks. The only keiko reports I've read concerning this Ozeki had the focus centered on someone else, namely Hakuho and Kotomitsuki. Kotooshu's results weren't good against those two, but that doesn't concern me too much as Hakuho and Kotomitsuki have more on the line. Expect a repeat of what Kotooshu did in Hatsu, but the key for him will be the Sekiwake. Those two will be the difference in an 8-7 kachi-koshi and double-digit wins.

With no keiko reports from Chiyotaikai and Kaio, and I can only say what I always do...they will find a way to pull out eight wins apiece and help each other along the way.

Harumafuji enjoyed a fantastic run during his quest for Ozeki, but we saw a major meltdown in Hatsu. Yes, Harumafuji battled back to achieve kachi-koshi, but he's got a helluva banzuke to face here in week two. Another slow start will be devastating, and while I don't expect a 2-5 start again, I don't see Harumafuji winning more than 10. He'll hover around 9-10 wins and needs to find something to inspire him again.

Rounding out the Ozeki is Kotomitsuki, who finds himself kadoban for the first time in his career. Ankle shmankle...Kotomitsuki dropped out of Hatsu due to too much alcohol consumption prior to the basho. He's undoubtedly repented of his ways in Osaka and will breeze to a kachi-koshi thanks to the upper Maegashira. There's some concern that he tired out quickly in seemingly every keiko session, but that's due to age. I don't see Hit and Miss threatening for the yusho, but he should come in third place (discarding any fluke Maegashira run). Give Kotomitsuki 10-11 wins.

You gotta love the Sekiwake ranks with Baruto and Kisenosato. Like everyone else above them, they should feast off of the softies the first week setting up a dynamite week 2. We'll see if Baruto has worked on any new tactics since Hatsu. I doubt it, so it will be more passive sumo, which isn't a bad thing at all for the Estonian. I'd like to see him take the initiative more at the tachi-ai and don't see how he reaches Ozeki without making such an adjustment, but he's the last guy anyone up here wants to face. Give him nine wins.

Kisenosato should be fine in his Sekiwake debut. The key of course will be getting off to a fast start against the upper Maegashira scrubs, but he still beats at least two Ozeki and can be a thorn in the side of both Yokozuna. Kisenosato seemingly struggled in Hatsu, but that was due more to his rank and the first time he was back in the sanyaku after being hospitalized in September. I expect the Kid to equal his Estonian counterpart's output and win nine.

Let's stop right here and say that if any of the aforementioned rikishi don't get out to fast starts in week 1 (at least 5-3 at the turn), they are in major trouble the second week. Momentum is key in sumo as we saw last basho with Asashoryu, so grab it early fellas while the table is set like this.

Komusubi Goeido has a lot going for him. This isn't his sanyaku debut; he has a personal tutor who happens to be the fourth best rikishi ever at worst; and he's back home in Osaka. Goeido will have a tough schedule the first week, but all he needs to do is beat two Ozeki and one other rikishi ranked above him. We'd of course like to see him do more than that, and he's already capable of doing it physically. I just get this nagging feeling that he doesn't feel as if he should be beating his senpai yet out of respect for them, and so he's not. This basho is as good as any for this youngster's breakout, and while I don't sense it will happen yet, he's due to erupt within the year. We know that Asashoryu is the main draw at the gate. Second place is so far away that it's hardly worth speculation, but Goeido is definitely the number two draw in Osaka, and within the year he'll be the number two draw period. I think Goeido feeds off of his pre-basho keiko and secures kachi-koshi without too much trouble.

Kyokutenho in the West Komusubi slot is not bad IF the Chauffeur gives the same effort the did last basho. Could happen as his tall frame and superior yotsu-zumo skills will give the Ozeki fits. I have this sneaky suspicion that Tenho will not just roll over, but I still see him coming up short with seven wins due to the top-heavy banzuke.

Let's move to the Maegashira ranks where none other than Hokutoriki leads the way. Hokutoriki's a badass when he wants to be, but not against his week one schedule. Don't be surprised to see a make-koshi in the first nine days, and while I hope Hokutoriki doesn't just give up, I'm afraid he'll be too worn out by week two to give a damn and make his record respectable. 3-4 wins. Counterpart Kakuryu used to be able to hold his own near this level, but he has never faced a quality jo'i like he'll get in Osaka. The Kak may dupe a few older Ozeki, but he's little better than Jokutoriki finishing with five wins.

M2 Kotoshogiku will likely get battered in week 1 as well, but he's a veteran at these ranks and should do well in week 2. A kachi-koshi is remotely possible, but yet another slow start disallows the Geeku from winning more than six. Counterpart Tochiohzan is interesting at this rank, the highest in his career. Of course the only problem is that Tochiohzan has folded like the global economy any time he's been close to the jo'i, so will anything be different this time around? Tochiohzan has battled Asashoryu extensively prior to the basho, but I think once the hon-basho starts, his confidence goes the way of Star Wars geek's chances of ever touching a girl. I wish I was wrong here, but I don't see how Tochiohzan doesn't get crushed the first week leading to another frustrating five-win basho.

M3 Miyabiyama is a stalwart who unfortunately doesn't have enough gas in the tank to make a serious threat, but don't forget the passion he brought against Asashoryu last basho. Miyabi's gotta finish off his opponents early or he has no chance of winning more than six. Counterpart Tokitenku could be in trouble depending on who the Association decides to pair him against. He's right on that line where he may not get all of the heavy-hitters, but you don't suffer make-koshi six basho in a row, finally secure kachi-koshi from M10, and then hope to succeed at M3 with this banzuke. Six wins is doable, but no kachi-koshi.

Stablemates Takekaze and Yoshikaze fill out the M4 slots, and these two yay-hoos should be out of harm's way cept for the Sadogatake-beya Ozeki. Still, they have veterans all around them and frankly better rikishi, so neither will attain kachi-koshi. In fact, I don't see either rikishi besting his performance in January. I obviously thought both over-achieved big time at Hatsu. Give neither more than six wins.

I love Wakanosato at M5 as it's a rank that he can kachi-koshi from. Yeah, he's slow and getting old, but he's got better technique than almost everyone around him. Give the Barometer our first kachi-koshi from the Maegashira ranks this basho. Counterpart Aminishiki should breeze to his as well, and don't be surprised if he wins at least 10. He's just too far away from the big guys and can already sniff the payout that comes from a sansho. If completely healthy, sneaky will have his way with his opponents to the tune of 10-11 wins.

Tamanoshima is way over-ranked at M6 and should get crushed. Four wins maybe? And watch out for counterpart Toyonoshima who will battle Aminishiki neck and neck for the Kantosho award. Toyonoshima is another dude who withdrew last basho due to a fluke injury, but I expect him to be at full strength again, which means a kachi-koshi is imminent. Toyonoshima is the 11th best rikishi on the banzuke in my opinion, so I expect him to rake in Osaka. Like Aminishiki, he gets double-digit wins.

Homasho is compelling at M7, and the competition surrounding him is not that much different from what he's faced the last few basho. Homie is on the comeback trail after dual wrist surgery in September, and I think he secures kachi-koshi. I'd love to see him in the upper Maegashira for Natsu. Counterpart Takamisakari is over-ranked by about three slots here, which means a kachi-koshi interview is about as likely as a straight dude who listens to the Jonas Brothers.

No real comments on the Tochinonada who checks in at M8. The Gentle Giant seems to figure out a way to win seven or eight regardless of where he's ranked. I'd love to see counterpart Kokkai make a nice run from these parts and plant himself back in the jo'i for May. Forward-moving sumo throughout gives him 9 - 10 wins while pull sumo causes him to struggle to even get kachi-koshi.

M9 Dejima is like Tochinonada. Dunt matter where you put him; he'll find a way to lose seven at least...which is fine as long as he doesn't pout. Futenoh seems to have a little bit more kick these days to him. He's completely outclassed among the jo'i, but from M5 down or so he's one of the best rikishi right now. I think Futenoh flirts with 10 wins and has a stellar basho.

M10 Iwakiyama is a bit over-ranked here, but he'll keep his opponents honest. Six wins. Tochinoshin is a sleeper at these parts. We know he's a great yotsu-zumo guy, and although he has some confidence issues, he's practiced a lot with Asashoryu prior to the basho. That'll give a guy more confidence than anything, so I'm expecting a great push from NoShine and another go among the jo'i for May. 10 wins.

M11 Asasekiryu has gotten to the point where he can no longer maintain a rank in the upper half of the division. Looks like more secretary work for him as he struggles to win his eight. I like Aran to post a good record this low because he is quick enough to evade and powerful enough to win the hataki-komi game against the competition, but I wish he'd establish a consistent forward-moving attack. Give the Russian nine, but it won't be pretty.

As usual, no comment on M12 Kakizoe who is managing to survive but isn't picking up kachi-koshi with the ease that he usetacould at these parts. Across the aisle is our Makuuchi rookie, Shotenro. Shotenro took eight years or so to make it to the division, but a knee injury in Makushita hampered him for about half of that time. Still, he took the Juryo yusho the last two basho and is quick enough to survive this low in the division with all the promising rikishi well above him. I like his chances to win nine, and a fast start will be the key.

M13 Chiyohakuho has fallen to "just there" status failing to make any more noise after his debut in Nagoya last year. He's still young enough to win eight without too much trouble, but this is the last time you'll ever read the phrase, "Japan's new hope, Chiyohakuho." Counterpart Yamamotoyama is sorta in the same boat, but since this dude is so fat, he is becoming a novelty that you just can't take your eyes off of. Both rikishi will prolly win 8.

M14 Tamawashi has yet to kachi-koshi in the division, but he's improved each basho and is ready to finally take the plunge. He'll have the confidence to get out to a decent start and then ride the wave to nine wins. Shimotori makes his return to the division, and this guy will surprise the competition with his solid yotsu-zumo skills. It won't be flashy, but I think Shimotori is a shoe-in for eight wins.

You can't help not to root for M15 Tosanoumi, but I have no further comments. My favorite rikishi from the naughty list, Kimurayama, is back. Henka to the left fellas. Henka to the left. Don't blame me if you lose to him.

And finally, M16 Toyozakura is back in the division. Toyozakura is the rikishi who promptly took the survey from the Reoccurrence Prevention Committee and even received them for a morning keiko visit before promptly showing his respect for their "cause" by kicking a young rikishi's ass with a soup ladle. Can't help but root for this guy although I wonder why he's never drawn a word of criticism from Mitsuru Yaku?

With the pleasantries out of the way, let's get to my basho predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
Kantosho: Aminishiki
Ginosho: Toyonoshima
Shukunsho: none






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