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2015 Hatsu Pre-basho Report (Page 2)

I really don't have any new takes on the other Yokozuna. Look for about 21 wins between the two, and let's see how Harumafuji chooses to fight against the Ozeki this time around. Before we move on, let's suppose Hakuho does retire soon for whatever reason. That doesn't help sumo at all because the result will be Harumafuji and Kakuryu picking up right where Hakuho left off dividing the spoils amongst the two. It's better to let a legitimate Yokozuna like Hakuho smash the career all-time record rather than have guys like Harumafuji and Kakuryu inflate their own yusho numbers. At six career yusho already, it would really bug me to see Harumafuji grab a few more and then be classified with some of the all time greats. For example, Akebono ended with 11 career yusho. If Hakuho were to retire soon, I don't think there's any question Harumafuji would reach 11 yusho, but it is so wrong to even compare a guy like Harumafuji to Akebono let alone watch Harumafuji surpass other greats like Tochinishiki, Wakanohana, and Kitanofuji, who all finished with 10 career yusho. I couldn't blame Harumafuji for taking what's given since this really has to do with the lack of substance among the Japanese rikishi, but it would still bother me.

Moving right along, I suppose I have nothing new to say regarding the Ozeki either. The trio should continue to receive gifts throughout the fortnight and finish with about 26 wins among the three. One of the most comical headlines I saw with the release of the banzuke was, "Ozeki Goeido will look to end his slump in Osaka." Slump? This ain't a slump; this is reality. Well, reality would actually be more like 4-5 wins per basho, but you know what I mean. Normally I'd say that since this is Osaka, watch for Goeido to have a breakout basho, but he has been receiving so much help of late just to get to eight wins, so I just don't see any more room to bump him up to 10. I'll give him one extra win since he's coming home, so look for Goeido to finish 9-6. I expect Kisenosato to hold steady at around 10-11 wins, and I think Kotoshogiku is the red-headed step child this basho receiving little help as he sputters his way to 6-7 wins.

Can you imagine the hype Sekiwake Terunofuji would be receiving if he was full-blooded Japanese? I think that's a bit of what Hakuho was referring to in his comments. The media hypes a guy like Endoh to no end, but a guy like Terunofuji who actually has game and a sweet sumo body receives little attention at all. Well, little attention from the JPN media; Sumotalk has been on this guy's bandwagon from the beginning. I mean, we all get why Endoh has to be hyped, but Hakuho is correct when he says, "The color of a person's skin shouldn't matter." As for Terunofuji's sumo, it's all going to depend on what he chooses to do against the three Ozeki. I actually see Fuji the Terrible protecting his perch and finishing with 8-9 wins.

Across the aisle to the West is Okinoumi, a useless rikishi in this slot at this point of his career. Okinoumi did nothing to deserve the rank, and the proof will be in the pudding as he gets his ass handed to him in Osaka. I expect about four wins.

Tamawashi makes his debut in the Komusubi rank...yes, that Tamawashi. Once again, supporting the Ozeki as the jo'i does results in a skewed sanyaku that will largely be worthless at the Haru basho. Like Okinoumi, Tamawashi is going to be rolled this basho to where you can count the number of his wins on the hand of one of the Simpsons. In the West Komusubi slot is Myogiryu, a former sanyaku rikishi who has already given the sport his best shot. Myogiryu exemplifies a guy with fighting spirit, but where the mind is strong, the body is just too weak. Well, weak isn't fair; it's more like small. The problem Myogiryu faces is that he's got so many towering foreigners around him, and then he'll likely feel obligated to give wins to the two Ozeki he'll face. I think the dude is going to fight hard and come close, but look for just 5 wins in the end.

The M1 rank belongs in between the Yokozuna and Ozeki with Tochiohzan leading the way in the East and Ichinojo shoring up the West. Watch for Tochiohzan and his insistence on fighting from the moro-zashi position. It's not the easiest position to secure, and I think it will result in a lot of close losses for Oh Snap yet again. I do see him winning eight, but to be frank, I think Tochiohzan peaked a year or so ago. To the West is Ichinojo, who hasn't received the kind of attention and coverage he's used to pre-basho thanks to the negative focus on Hakuho. Ichinojo was forced to sit out a few meaningless events in February due to an ailing knee, but this guy can still stand around like a bump on a log and win eight. My guess is that Ichinojo will not be 100% in Osaka, and so he'll somehow work his way to eight wins, but he won't just wreak havoc.

I love me some M2 Sadanoumi, but he's a bit too high on the banzuke for his own good. Aside from Tamawashi and Okinoumi, the real slop on the banzuke starts at about the M4 rank, but the problem for Sadanoumi is that he's not going to dip down below M3. The lower half and mid-Maegashira ranks--especially with this weak banzuke--cannot prepare a rikishi sufficiently for the jo'i, and so I see Sadanoumi struggling mightily to the tune of 4 wins or so. I think he'll resemble a lot of Endoh's bouts where he's in the thing for a second or two but just can't keep up with his opponent physically. Across the way, Takarafuji should have the opposite effect. This dude's become a real bruiser of late, and I stand by my statement that he is the second best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke next to Tochiohzan. With all the craziness expected in Osaka, I see Takarafuji sneaking through with eight wins.

The M3 rank is solid with Takayasu and Aoiyama, two dudes who could easily work their way back up to the sanyaku for May. I like both of their chances to win eight although Aoiyama has to be one of the favorites to retake a sanyaku slot. If the Bulgarian can focus on more straightforward sumo and less pull, I think he can easily win 9.

The jo'i ends there, so let's only focus on rikishi of interest the rest of the way. M4 Tochinoshin is the dark horse this basho. Just outside of the jo'i, he's got the body and the drive after recovering from his injuries that actually sent him down to the Makushita ranks. I like NoShine to erase that moniker and work his way towards 10 wins, maybe leven as my mom would say.

M5 Endoh finds himself safely out of the jo'i, and with a lack of heavy hitters directly beneath him, this is a great opportunity for him to win eight or nine. I don't think he's capable of reaching those numbers on his own, but I think he does flirt with kachi-koshi thanks to two or three gifts.

I always like to focus on the M6 rank because that's where so many guys make their sanyaku push, and this basho we have Aminishiki and Kaisei on the rolls. Either of these two is capable of nine wins where Aminishiki would sneak is way to them while Kaisei would use brute force. I favor both of these guys to win eight at least.

M7 Homarefuji's sitting this high in the ranks is a direct result of a weak banzuke. He first made an appearance in the division back in 2013 where he went 5-10 from the M15 rank. Now, two years later...and two years older, he's 2-0 in terms of kachi-koshi and finds himself at the M7 rank.

While there are some compelling rikishi in between like M11 Osunaarashi, let's move all the way down to M13 where Ikioi checks in. From Osaka, Ikioi has usually performed well in his hometown, but the last few basho, this dude has just lost it...whatever IT is. If Ikioi can't find any ikioi down at this level and flirt with 10 wins, he will become the latest in a growing number of bywords in the division.

There really isn't anything else noteworthy on the banzuke, at least from my perspective. Once again, we have no newcomers to the division, and the last time we had a Japanese rikishi make his debut in Makuuchi was clear back in May 2014 with Sadanoumi. Looking ahead, there's a dude at J2 named Kagayaki who has steadily risen up the Juryo ranks, and assuming the best case scenario for him (at least eight wins), he may make his debut in May, but that will still be a full year in between Japanese rikishi joining the division, the first time in history that has occurred. It may be just me, but I think there's quite a few more issues in sumo right now than badgering Yokozuna Hakuho for mistakenly speaking the truth in his yusho press conference interview last basho.

Here are my predictions in what I think will indeed be an unorthodox basho:

Yusho: Hakuho (13-2)
Kantosho: Tochinoshin
Ginosho: Ichinojo
Shukunsho: Takarafuji

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