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2012 Haru Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
After reporting nearly every day of the basho, I really have nothing new to add regarding the individual rikishi, so let me wrap up the tournament with a blog-type entry highlighting some recent news stories and the current events happening atop the dohyo. At the end of the whacky senshuraku that concluded with the playoff between Hakuho and Kakuryu, my mind was really racing because I didn't think that any of the key bouts during the day were fought straight up. As I was going over different scenarios in my head regarding the "why" (I can usually see the "what"...I just can't always explain the "why"), I was awaken from my trance by the image of Kitanoumi Rijicho handing the Emperor's Cup to Yokozuna Hakuho. Good ole Kitanoumi. I mentioned this in my pre-basho report, but the recent elections held at the end of January to seat the new members on the Sumo Association's board received little to no coverage from the media. In fact, I only saw one news outlet that even carried it, and that's where I actually learned that Kitanoumi along with Kokonoe and even Oguruma were reinstated to their former positions as directors with Kitanoumi being elected as the chief director, or commissioner as I like to call him.

Kitanoumi resigned after a long string of scandals that included a case of negligent homicide and drug usage among other improprieties, and when one of his own rikishi tested positive for reefer, the Ministry of Education had to do something since sumo is supplemented by tax-payer yen. Eventually, Kitanoumi and Kokonoe resigned from the board under pressure in order to take partial responsibility for the scandals, so the fact that they were quietly reinstated is a complete joke that only obedient sheep wouldn't notice.

Oguruma-oyakata is an interesting story as well. One of his guys, Wakakirin, was actually busted by police in the back of a seedy Tokyo CD shop with marijuana on his person, and so in order to take responsibility for the crime, Oguruma-oyakata was also released from his duties as on official in the organization and demoted a couple of levels...for a couple of years. Oguruma is actually my favorite elder next to Miyagino, so I'm happy to see him reinstated as a director on the board, but this quiet re-establishment of the old guard shows you that sumo is unrepentant and only went through the actions they did to appease the Ministry of Education for a season.

Well, I was reading about the new Juryo newcomers, and one of them (along with a returnee) will fight for the Kise-beya, which was suddenly re-established on April 1st. If you remember a couple of years ago, Kise-oyakata was guilty of providing prime seating around the dohyo to members of Japan's organized crime groups (yakuza), and once that story broke, Kise was stripped of his shisho status, demoted, and his rather successful stable was absorbed by the Kitanoumi-beya. One would think the re-establishment of the Kise-beya would garner some press, but the only way it was reported was as an insignificant line item at the end of an article that talked about the new Juryo guys. Hell, I read multiple articles devoted solely to the Oshima-beya merging with the Tomozuna-beya, but there was no direct mention of the Kise-beya coming back, a far more newsworthy occurrence.

There's a couple of points I want to make about all of this. First, it's not coincidence that all this has largely gone unreported. It's proof that the media is in bed with the Sumo Association, but you would have already known that if you had been reading Sumotalk the last half decade since we've always pointed out mutual, orchestrated cooperation between the two entities.

Second, if you think the sumo atop the dohyo is squeaky clean and that the sport in general is clean, how do you explain the casual reinstatement of these serious sinners? I have a difficult time believing that a product on display is completely clean when the people running it have shown they aren't. Homicide, gambling, association with organized crime, drug usage, and bout fixing are all serious sins, but the people in charge when all of this occurred are sitting once again around that table forming sumo's board of directors.

Well, only one guy has yet to be reinstated as far as I've read: Takasago-oyakata. Any idea why he would not be restored to his former glory? I don't know the answer for certain, but I suspect it has something to do with his being the stable master of Asashoryu. Asashoryu was constantly maligned by the media and even by members of the Sumo Association, and receiving nearly as much criticism was Takasago-oyakata for failing to keep his prodigy in check. I always defended Asashoryu because 1) he was vital to sumo's success and popularity, and 2) he was the second coming of Chiyonofuji so criticizing Asashoryu for things that Chiyonofuji was guilty of was an obvious double standard. I've already blogged at length on that second item, so I won't rehash it here, but Asashoryu was clearly a victim of racial prejudice.

While all of that was going on, there was always one thing that I couldn't really put a finger on, however. Why was Asashoryu getting dragged through the mud when Hakuho was treated extremely fair? Both were Mongolians, and both had the potential to surpass 32 career yusho, so why the unbalanced treatment? I reasoned that the difference in treatment was that Asashoryu came first, he had the abrasive personality, and he was guilty of multiple missteps away from the dohyo. Still, the obvious bias against Asashoryu and the treating of Hakuho as a choir boy couldn't be explained away so casually. I knew there had to be something else then, but I wasn't quite sure at the time.

Now, however, I think I understand what has happened. During the New Year's holiday at the end of 2010, the former Miyagino-oyakata was stripped of his shisho status, he was demoted, and the reins of his stable were rightly turned over to the man who had built the stable up in the first place, recruited Hakuho, and raised him into a Yokozuna. That person was the former Kumagatani-oyakata and now current Miyagino-oyakata. Like the newsworthy stories I mentioned in the beginning, this transfer of power received very little coverage, and the Sumo Association purposefully made the change during the country's busiest holiday when the fewest number of people were paying attention to anything besides alcohol and unfunny television. This change in leadership wasn't scandalous at all, but making such a change in the Yokozuna's stable would normally warrant a bit of coverage. The problem was...how do they have this switch in leadership covered by the media and not have anybody note on the side that, "the former Miyagino-oyakata was demoted for allowing himself to be recorded by a mistress proclaiming he paid Asashoryu for throwing a bout in Hakuho's favor." Getting busted for yaocho itself was one thing, but yaocho between a Yokozuna and an Ozeki (Hakuho's rank at the time) was the last thing the Sumo Association wanted rehashed a month before the yaocho scandal would break, an occurrence they knew would happen when it did. This newsworthy story was kept very quiet, worded with as much brevity as possible, and timed to fit sumo's agenda so the focus of the yaocho scandal could be centered on Maegashira scrubs and Juryo rikishi, not the high-ranking members of the sport.

I stated this previously in a report, but I believe Miyagino-oyakata was reinstated when he was because he needed to guide Hakuho through a time when sumo was desperately trying to restore its popularity. Prior to that reinstatement, Hakuho had just concluded a 63 bout winning streak, and he was making a total mockery out of the zensho yusho record. From the last half of 2008 through the end of 2010, Hakuho lost a total of 11 times in those two and a half years meaning his average win total per basho was 14.3 wins. Since that reinstatement, however, Hakuho has lost 14 times in the course of 7 basho, and his longest winning streak since sumo resumed after the yaocho scandal is just 16.

Another interesting stat is this. During that 2 1/2 year stretch prior to the switch in oyakata, 45% of Hakuho's losses occurred in week 1. Since the change was made? Zero. Furthermore, the number of rikishi Hakuho has lost to after the switch that currently do not hold the rank of Ozeki? Zero. It is my belief that the majority of Hakuho's losses are strategic as we've been pointing out in the daily comments the past year. In my opinion, Hakuho has been beaten legitimately twice in the last seven basho, both times by Baruto in Kyushu and Nagoya last year. Okay, maybe that henka at the hands of Harumafuji was unplanned, but still, the number of legitimate losses is right in line with Hakuho's performance prior to the switch in oyakata.

Hakuho did not suddenly trend down in his sumo. He went from 14.3 wins per tourney down to 13.0 wins per tourney in the blink of an eye, and lest you think that 1.3 wins per tourney is not a significant drop, look at it this way: Hakuho lost four times in the seven tournaments preceding the change; he lost 14 times the 7 tournaments after the change. Hakuho did not peak several years ago, and he is not in the declining years of his career. He's fighting in his prime and has shown no visual signs of slowing down; his dominance the first week of the basho suggests this, and the fact that he never loses to rikishi outside the top 7 and never gives up kin-boshi further manifests this. So, all of this data suggests to me that Hakuho is dropping bouts on purpose, but that's not even the point I'm trying to make. The point is this: we've seen a noticeable change in Hakuho's numbers since Hakuho's true mentor resumed the title of shisho at the very end of 2010.

It's a subject that Clancy and I have been discussing offline for some time now, but we believe it's the oyakata who are making the calls regarding what happens in the ring late each day, not the rikishi themselves nor their tsuke-bito. In essence, you have two types of bout fixing going on: bout fixing that occurs among lesser rikishi as a means to keep a hefty paycheck coming in (this was the type exposed in the huge yaocho scandal) and bout fixing that occurs among the elite rikishi to keep things balanced and the general public interested. Regarding the latter, I believe it's being organized at the oyakata level. And this is not to say that every bout every day is rigged because that is absolutely not the case. What I am suggesting, however, is that the board of directors and other sumo elite convene regularly to discuss what's best for the sport in terms of remaining a viable entity able to sustain itself with as little outside help as possible. Sumo is being subsidized by the Japanese government, and while we're talking of news that is barely reported in the press, the announcement in February regarding sumo's financial standing the previous fiscal year revealed numbers that were disastrous and showed that sumo is hemorrhaging money.

Sumo is in trouble and they know it, and the only way to start raising it's popularity and appeal is to have Japanese rikishi perform well on the dohyo. Back in the early nineties after Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, and Asahifuji's retirement, there was actually a time when there were no Ozeki nor Yokozuna on the banzuke. Akebono was the first to breakthrough and seize the Yokozuna rank, and then you had Konishiki and Musashimaru (two more Americans) who were threatening a virtual stranglehold on the sport. But putting a stop to that were two brothers, Takanohana and Wakanohana, who were the sons of a popular Ozeki in the 70's. The two brothers took the sport by storm and singlehandedly transformed sumo from a traditional sport enjoyed by older people into a national frenzy craved by everyone. It wasn't so much that the Hanada brothers were the sons of a popular Ozeki; rather, they were Japanese and they were taking the sport back from the threatening foreigners. They were literal saviors, and the Sumo Association reaped the benefits for a decade.

Nearly 20 years after Takahanada first beat Chiyonofuji at the 1992 Natsu basho signaling a change in the guard, sumo has experienced the high of all highs but now finds itself in the lowest of lows, and the only way they can reverse this trend is to place elite Japanese rikishi back on the dohyo who aren't only exciting but who can win. And by win, I mean overtake the pesky foreigners on the banzuke once and for all. With such a dominant Yokozuna in place, such a scenario is impossible without strict cooperation from the Yokozuna himself. I don't think anyone really questions that Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato's Ozeki runs were achieved without some assistance from Hakuho, and Hakuho showed us in Osaka that he can take the yusho any time he damn well pleases. But having a foreign-born Yokozuna make these decisions by himself is not an acceptable scenario for a Japanese institution. A foreigner just can't be trusted, and so it was imperative that Miyagino-oyakata be put back in place as Hakuho's stable master so Miyagino could sit in council with the sumo elders and then recommend to his prodigy the best course of action to take that would benefit the Association as a whole.

Which brings me to a point I talked about early on in this report...why was Takasago-oyakata never reinstated to his former position as a director on the board? My theory is that Takasago received the same instruction that Miyagino is receiving now, but he failed to get his prodigy (Asashoryu) to cooperate in full with the agenda established by the Association. As a result, Asashoryu was reviled to no end by members of the media and by sumo officials who wanted him out for the good of sumo...not because he was hurting the sport's popularity or ratings (look what's happened since he left), but because he was an obstacle in allowing Japanese rikishi to yusho and to achieve the Yokozuna rank. And not only was Asashoryu's character assassinated relentlessly in the media, but Takasago-oyakata was blamed as well for not keeping his guy in line. Why else would Takasago not be reinstated to the board the same as his other peers?

I do believe that Asashoryu purposefully threw bouts to assist the three Japanese Ozeki at the time (Tochiazuma, Chiyotaikai, and especially Kaio) in order to help them maintain their ranks--standard protocol for any Ozeki and Yokozuna, but my opinion is that he refused to take it a step further and cooperate fully with the Sumo Association's agenda and make himself appear weaker and vulnerable than he really was in order to let a Japanese rikishi reach the rank of Yokozuna or yusho with any regularity. I don't think he had a problem if any of the Japanese rikishi took the yusho or achieved the sport's top rank, but he wanted them to earn it just as he did. I believe that like Chiyonofuji, he had that mindset that he was going to kick your ass no questions asked, and ultimately, this mindset coupled with pride in his abilities and his race led to his eventual downfall. I could be wrong in all of this, but then why take it out on Takasago as well?

It's questions such as these that make sumo such a fascinating sport to me, and I suppose it's the reason why I comment on sumo the way that I do. I cannot watch Kakuryu display brilliant sumo for 14 straight days and then watch him exhibit such a senseless tachi-ai on senshuraku against a very predictable Goeido with the yusho on the line and not question why that happened. It is my opinion that the majority of foreign fans treat sumo as a completely objective sport and never question the outcome of bouts and tournaments. It's a completely acceptable stance to take, and it rewards you at face value since you have exciting bouts, upsets, promotions, disappointments, and yusho races that sometimes come down to an exciting playoff. But I believe that Sumotalk works because it makes English-speaking fans at least think about issues that they would normally not have considered.

For the first time ever in March, Sumotalk topped 14,000 unique readers for the first time. It's a number that we were flirting with back when Asashoryu was still around, but after his retirement and the string of continuous scandals ending with the cancellation of last year's Haru basho, our monthly unique readership dropped down to the 10.5k - 11K range per month as more and more fans became disenchanted with sumo. That this number began to steadily climb starting last May culminating in our best month ever for the 2012 Osaka basho tells me that more and more sumo fans are questioning some of the things occurring in the dohyo, and even if they don't want to believe it in their hearts, they at least want confirmation in their minds that they might have seen something.

News has been extremely slow since the announcement of Kakuryu's promotion to Ozeki, so don't expect much until April 30th when the next banzuke is released and we start this nonsense all over again.

2012 Haru Basho Pre-basho Report
The last time we found ourselves in this situation was just 8 months ago after Harumafuji took the surprise yusho at the 2011 Nagoya basho. The obligatory promotion to Yokozuna talk surfaced immediately after senshuraku, but it was quite clear to everyone that Harumafuji hardly had a prayer of repeating his 14-1 performance in September. The reason was that the Ozeki hadn't been exactly lighting the dohyo ablaze with his sumo heading into the tournament. In fact, at the three basho preceding the Nagoya basho, Harumafuji won a total of zero, eight, and 10 bouts respectively. It took all of five days and a 2-3 start at the Aki basho to forget HowDo was even up for promotion (he finished 8-7).

With Ozeki Baruto, however, it's different. First, the guy is built like a Yokozuna. Second, he has established himself the last six months as the obvious number two guy in the sport with 38 wins over three basho. And third, I'm betting you could go back 50 years and still count on one hand the number of rikishi who aren't necessarily in trouble when their opponent has moro-zashi. The point is that unlike the Aki basho last year, we have a legitimate Yokozuna run on our hands.

Regarding the likelihood of Baruto achieving the promotion, that still depends on the Sumo Association's agenda. At the conclusion of the Hatsu basho, members of the YDC were on record as saying we'll consider promotion with 12 wins and a jun-yusho...a pretty low standard considering the banzuke. However, just this week Kagamiyama-oyakata stated to reporters that Baruto must win consecutive yusho in order to receive promotion. As I've pointed out before, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council is a useless body that really has no bearing whatsoever on a rikishi receiving promotion. They will make a recommendation to the Sumo Association, but the promotion is actually determined at a meeting of the Sumo Association's board of directors and a handful of other sumo officials.

The pulse prior to the Haru basho has been rather quiet in regards to numbers Baruto must achieve in order to secure promotion. We know that Baruto has been quite busy and in demand for matters unrelated to the dohyo, but from the reports I've been reading in the press, a concrete measuring stick has yet to be announced. So, that only leaves us with the option to speculate how Baruto will fare in Osaka without providing a strong prediction as to whether or not he will secure promotion.

First, let's discuss the Ozeki's pre-basho keiko. The majority of reports I've read regarding Baruto have had him beating up on stable mate and relative newcomer, Tenkaiho. And in every report I've read, Tenkaiho has yet to win a single bout. I'm guessing that with Baruto being in demand for this event or that, it's been hard for him to schedule any quality de-geiko, and so he's sticking to sanban-geiko with Tenkaiho. While I like Tenkaiho and think he's a worthy Makuuchi rikishi, the last word that pops into my head when evaluating him is "speed." The whole purpose of de-geiko is to get out of your comfort zone and practice with a variety of rikishi. Sure, if your stable mate is Hakuho then by all means stay at home and practice solely with the Yokozuna, but in Bart's case, he's not doing himself any favors by fighting the same opponent every day, especially when that opponent doesn't mirror the actual competition Baruto will dance with at the prom. Now, Baruto is a rarity and can likely compensate, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone gets him early, someone who is quick and who has game. If you get into this repetitive habit pre-basho fighting the same guy over and over, I wonder if muscle memory and habit take over even when fighting totally different rikishi who require different tactics.

Then there's the mental side of things. Baruto doesn't strike me as a mentally focused rikishi. If he was strong mentally, dude woulda been a Yokozuna years ago. But he's not a Yokozuna now and hasn't really been an impressive Ozeki. This will be the first time he's faced the pressure of a Yokozuna run, and in my opinion, the odds are stacked way against him mentally. It will take just one early loss to have him second guessing himself and feeling as if he needs to make adjustments. If Baruto has a game plan, he needs to stick to it and capitalize on his size advantage as he goes. Thing is, I just don't see him doing it in Osaka. He's got a chance to win 13 or 14 on size alone and a weak jo'i, but I see him falling short of those marks with about 12 wins.

The rikishi who probably has more influence on Baruto's performance than Baruto himself is Yokozuna Hakuho, who showed just that in January. Hakuho is so far ahead of Baruto and the rest of the pack that to think he could lose three of four bouts is unconscionable. I know people will email and post statements online to the effect that "anything can happen" or "someone could have a bad couple of days" or "the Yokozuna could have an injury he's not telling us," and yes, while all of that is possible, it wasn't the case in January. Nor was it the case in Nagoya when Hakuho was handing out wins to the current Japanese Ozeki during their faux runs. Nor has it ever been the case in the two decades I've been studying sumo. It's fine to disagree with me on this point if it makes you feel better, but I'm only pointing out what I observe on the dohyo. If what I type bothers you, it does so for a reason.

So getting back to Hakuho, I frankly don't know what to expect in Osaka. It's my opinion that if Hakuho tried to win every bout at every basho, he would finish the year at no worse than 87-3...he's that dominant. So, like I do every basho, I'll predict a Hakuho yusho with 14 or 15 wins, but let's wait to see how this all unfolds. If Hakuho is going to have a say in Baruto's quest for Yokozuna, Baruto will have to take care of plenty of bidness by himself the first 10 days or so. Let's see if he can get that far, but nothing would surprise me at this point.

Our number two Ozeki this basho is Harumafuji, a rikishi who seems to have a knack of handing guys up for promotion costly losses. I sense that the Ozeki's pride will kick in a bit this basho where Harumafuji will be thinking, "If I couldn't do it in September, I don't want to see Bart do it in March." For that reason, I expect Harumafuji to be sharp in Osaka and put together a solid basho. 11-12 wins.

I don't really have anything new to say about Ozeki Kotooshu, but now would be a good time to reiterate that with Kakuryu having a bum right shoulder and an otherwise weak sanyaku, there's no excuse why all of the Ozeki can't win 11 bouts or so. I think Kotooshu wins at least 10, but then that takes us to Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku. An Ozeki should not struggle with this banzuke, but betcha anything the two Japanese Ozeki do. At least during Kotoshogiku's run, he was winning quite a few bouts impressively. Now, his 8-7 last basho with at least one charitable win is a red flag to me suggesting that it's possible he wasn't able to win 33 on his own, but regarding Kisenosato, he hasn't looked dominant for a long time. He keeps picking up wins, but they're just not those "damn, that was impressive!" type of wins. I see the two JPN Ozeki working hard for their 10 wins, but I'd be (pleasantly) surprised if either of these two just went out and kicked ass.

In the Sekiwake ranks, I read where Kakuryu turned down an opportunity to spar with Hakuho citing a right shoulder injury. Normally, the Kak wouldn't wuss out like that, so that tells me the injury is not just a nagging ache but something that could hamper him in Osaka. The kid is crafty enough to eke out a kachi-koshi, especially since there are no major threats directly below him, but don't expect a huge dose of the Kak in March. Across the aisle is Aminishiki who returns to the Sekiwake rank in something like 10 basho. He's really here by default, but damned if he isn't the perfect kind of rikishi to sneak up and hand Baruto a loss. In fact, I think Aminishiki can upset any of the Ozeki and probably will best two of them. I look at the Komusubi and the upper Maegashira, and there really isn't anyone who knows how to win better than Aminishiki does. You gotta love upstarts Myogiryu and Tochinowaka, but Aminishiki's experience in the division all these years gives him an advantage. Call me crazy, but Shneaky flirts with kachi-koshi and likely gets it.

Gagamaru makes his return to the jo'i slotted in the Komusubi rank. Last time Lord Gaga was in these parts, he got his ass kicked this way to Tuesday. I think, though, that this basho he's got more confidence. If anyone could...no should...take advantage of the weaker than normal jo'i, it's Gagamaru. I don't expect the Georgian to kachi-koshi, but I think he stands his ground well and turns in a respectable performance to the tune of 6 or maybe 7 wins. Counterpart Tochiohzan returns to the sanyaku after a lengthy drought, but as he's worked his way back up to this point, there's been no flash to his sumo. It's like, "Oh, Oh's back. Hmm." Tochiohzan prolly keeps a few guys above him honest and may even pick up an upset or two, but his sumo is on the downhill path, so I see him mustering only 6 wins.

Too bad we don't have official mancrush music because now would be the time to fire up the band as we examine our M1's Myogiryu and Tochinowaka. Myogiryu has ascended to this rank in half the time it has taken Tochinowaka since they entered Makuuchi (neither has been in the division for a year yet), but I'm pretty sure Tochinowaka will be ranked higher come May. First, Tochinowaka has already fought the Ozeki and Yokozuna...and looked good in the process. These contests came when he was a few notches down the ranks, so after beating up on rank and filers, he was given the upper echelon guys towards the end of the basho. In Myogiryu's case, he's yet to taste the jo'i at all, and from day 1 the kitchen sink is comin' his way. For that reason, I see Myogiryu struggling this basho, but I still expect him to put up a helluva fight. Tochinowaka, who is blessed with a great sumo body and nearly equal skills, would to well to put up a helluva fight himself. His approach has been so nonchalant the last few basho that he's been squeaking by with okay numbers, but too bad you can't combine Myogiryu's fighting spirit with Tochinowaka's body. Anyway, these two guys are the future of Japanese sumo, so it will be fun to see them challenge the jo'i from the start. I see Myogiryu winning 5-6 while Tochinowaka will end with 7-8 wins...again.

Forgive me if I use less bandwidth on the M2's, Tokitenku and Yoshikaze. Tokitenku can't survive at this level with sound sumo, but I'd much rather see him struggle mightily fighting straight up than 6-7 wins with gimmick sumo. He probably wins 5 in Osaka. Yoshikaze will finish about the same, but Baruto must not overlook this cat on day 2.

Two very similar guys occupy the M3 rank in Kyokutenho and Tochinoshin. Both are tall, yotsu guys with little fighting spirit. Neither can scare Hakuho or Baruto, but they should give fits to everyone else. Don't be surprised if one of these guys is a Komusubi in may, but I expect them both to finish around 6-7 wins.

It's critical for M4 Toyonoshima to re-establish himself at this rank. He's just out of range from all the top rikishi, so he's got to come out sharp and put together a double-digit basho. If he doesn't, I believe it signals that the dude has peeked and will slowly start inching down hill. Counterpart Aran is a wildcard as usual. Safe from all of the top brass, expect his usual mixture of straight-forward power sumo and wussy pull sumo, which combined will give him a kachi-koshi. This will be a bitch of a rank to deal with for the other guys.

Like Toyonoshima, M5 Wakakoyu has something to prove this basho as well if he wants to show he can be a frequent sanyaku visitor. I fully expect the Wookie to recover and find his groove again catching his opponents unawares with his stiff tachi-ai and quick counter pull. I like Wakakoyu to kachi-koshi with relative ease. Counterpart Homasho should struggle again to win his eight. We saw that brief resurgence along with Okinoumi last year, but the division is getting too young these days for Homasho to hang on.

For some reason, I'm always infatuated by the M6 rank, and then when you have Oscar's gal, Shohozan, and my serious mancrush for Goeido, you know things are going to get catty at the hotel when these two fight. Shohozan is deep enough in the ranks that he can still keep the momentum going that he's enjoyed since entering the division. I like him to win eight while Goeido has already had too many chances to prove himself yet again only to fail miserably (sigh), so I'll just categorize him as someone who will easily kachi-koshi but underachieve yet again.

M7 Takayasu looked as if he was out to a surprise start from the jo'i last basho, but for some reason the matchmakers only gave him softies that first week. Things evened out in the end as Takayasu finished 6-9, but that was still a great basho for him in his jo'i debut. I've hinted that this is an important basho for Toyonoshima and Wakakoyu, and in the same light, this is important for Takayasu as well. You don't want to be branded as a jo'i one-hit wonder...if you can call 6-9 a wonder. I do expect Takayasu to kachi-koshi as the competition is lowered for him in March.

Let's skip down to M8 and Chiyonokuni who enjoys a decent promotion even after withdrawing during the middle of week two in January. This guy was extremely impressive in his debut, but if there's on thing I'm worried about him it's a lack of girth. Guys like Myogiryu and Shohozan were also impressive at first, but those guys are quite beefy. Chiyonokuni has technique on par with anyone whose entered the division in the last two years, but does he have the body to back it up? This basho: yes. But among the jo'i, it will be tough going for him. But, at M8 he still has another basho to impress the chicks, and unless that injury has carried over into this tournament, he should wow them to the tune of nine wins.

I'm gonna skip over guys like M7 Toyohibiki, M8 Takekaze, M9 Okinoumi, and M9 Miyabiyama since there's nothing new to say. So that brings us to two dudes who entered the division last year in Sadanofuji and Aoiyama. Sadanofuji is one of those guys who just can't get on a roll. He won a majority of bouts his first two tournaments, but both were 8-7 finishes. Just when you think he's going to break out and put a nice win streak together, he loses these uncanny bouts that has resulted in a good but not great start. I appreciate, though, that he is a straight-forward fighter and hard-worker, and I expect that combination to deliver him another eight wins in Osaka. One day I think this guy can reach Komusubi, but I doubt he can ever stick. Counterpart Aoiyama is an interesting story in light of his former stable master's sudden death a few weeks ago. The result was his joining the Kasugano-beya, a stable rich in sekitori. It may take some getting used to this basho, but over time that will help Aoiyama become a much better rikishi. If we go back and look at his two tournaments so far, we see a great start at the Aki basho thanks to weak competition, over confidence at the start of Kyushu that led to a big losing streak against better competition, and then a nice adjustment the latter half of Kyushu to get back on track. I like the direction he's going again, and while the shake up in between these two basho may hurt him here, in the long run he's got sanyaku potential. I think he works hard in Osaka and feels as if he's got to prove himself to the new stable mates, so expect good things from Aoiyama. 10 wins.

No comment on M11 Asasekiryu, but let's touch briefly on counterpart Tenkaiho. As I mentioned in my intro regarding Baruto, this guy's been on the wrong end of at least 60 bouts of keiko against Baruto. And by wrong end I mean strictly in terms of wins and losses. In terms of quality keiko, who has enjoyed more than Tenkaiho? Hopefully the dude can realize the huge benefit it is to have a guy like Baruto in his stable and capitalize on it. I like the Hutt to perform at a kachi-koshi level again in Osaka. 8 wins.

Let's drop down to M14 where we have our lone rookie in Ikioi. In the useless trivia department, "ikioi" in Japanese means "momentum," and you could say this kid has enjoyed a bit of that since he fought the Aki basho as a Makushita rikishi. We've seen a growing trend where guys are reaching the top division after just two basho in Juryo. That's a result of the yaocho scandal where 17 sekitori where eliminated in one fell swoop a year ago. A bunch of unworthy guys were then promoted to sekitori creating this weak bubble throughout Juryo and the bottom ranks of Makuuchi. So when guys like Ikioi come along with a bit of game, they just skate through Juryo with little resistance. As for Ikioi's sumo, I've never seen him fight, but when you look around him in the ranks and see guys like Takanoyama, Takarafuji, Hochiyama, and Shotenro, I don't see how he fails to shine in his debut. The closest guy with serious game on the banzuke is prolly Aoiyama three ranks above him, so watch for Ikioi to enjoy a bit of ikioi (ba-da-boom!). 9 - 10 wins.

The four guys below the rookie include Tamawashi, Hochiyama, Shotenro, and Takanoyama in that order. Need I say more?

Didn't think so. Here are my predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
Kantosho: Ikioi (10-5)
Ginosho: Toyonoshima
Shukunsho: none






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