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2016 Haru Pre-basho Report

Aside from these press conferences, Kotoshogiku was busy in between basho with his wedding reception, a parade in Matsudo City--the location of the Sadogatake-beya--that drew 55 thousand spectators, and then the usual demands from the media outlets. The press also had a collective stiffie for about a week when a foreign reporter dubbed Kotoshogiku's pre-bout backwards bow ritual the Koto-Bauer named after the figure skating move first performed by Ina Bauer.  According to his stable master, the Ozeki had exactly one day off in between basho, but reports have him looking good in the keiko ring...the same reports that we got in January.

As for promotion to Yokozuna, neither the YDC nor the Sumo Association has set a benchmark number in terms of wins. Rather, they're going with the "sumo no naiyou" standard, which means they'll judge him on the content of his sumo. And I don't blame them a bit for going with the content card. You don't want to say 13 wins or more and then have the Ozeki start out slow suffering three losses by the turn and ruin his momentum or the main storyline heading into the basho, so the question is...what's a logical prediction we can make regarding his performance?

I have to be honest and say that I have no idea what's going to happen. I always base my comments on precedent, but we've never seen an entire yusho orchestrated before, and so I have no insight as to whether or not they're now going to orchestrate a run to Yokozuna. Remember, Kotoshogiku does not have to yusho outright, so does 12 wins get it?

My take the last few years that this guy is only capable of winning 2 or 3 bouts on his own at this level of the banzuke still stands, and so anything beyond that is a gift...and expert analysis of the bouts always bears that out. My gut instinct is that too many stables are going to be afraid to shat on Kotoshogiku's parade, and so I see him being gifted a 7-1 start, and then when you get into week 2, it's in the hands of the other Ozeki and the Mongolians. As I've stated numerous times this past year, nothing that happens atop the dohyo surprises me anymore, and the drama yet again this basho is not: Can Kotoshogiku do it? Rather, it's will they give it to him again? Let's just let it all play out.

As if on cue, I'm seeing the headlines pop up again that Yokozuna Hakuho is having serious right elbow issues. The Higashi Spo media outlet went as far as to call the injury shinkoku, or very significant. They postulate that Hakuho's slow finishes the last few basho are due to the injury, but it's funny...the last two basho the issue of his elbow has never come up once during the broadcast. And I oughta know because I watch it in Japanese every day. This is the same kind of spin that we saw prior to the Hatsu basho where the Japanese Ozeki look great, and the Mongolians are all ailing. Wiz Hakulifa is still the King of Everything, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Who knows what he does this basho? It's sad that I can no longer make predictions in regards to win-losses at this level of the charts. I expect Hakuho to give us the same ole 12-3 performance that we've all been conditioned to accept.

With all of the buzz surrounding Kotoshogiku, there really hasn't been any room in the Japanese media to cover other guys, especially the other two Yokozuna: Harumafuji and Kakuryu. Harumafuji maintains the prestigious East Yokozuna slot for the second basho in a row, which is meaningless these days, and I haven't read a single report surrounding Kakuryu. Let me just state this when it comes to these two dudes: you do not reach the Yokozuna rank legitimately by being a dumbass with a major flaw to your sumo. Kakuryu does not have a pull habit, and Harumafuji doesn't exhibit those weak tachi-ai because he's a dumbass. No one save Hakuho and probably Terunofuji can defend HoeDo's choke hold tachi-ai, but we see it these days about twice a basho thanks to the dumbing down of the upper division. Look for these guys to finish collectively with 22-23 wins.

That takes us to the Ozeki rank, and I'll start with Terunofuji...the one dude who has managed to grab a significant amount of headlines among all of the hullabaloo surrounding Kotoshogiku's yusho. It's weird because like two days after the basho, I read a headline from the Isegahama camp saying that Terunofuji was suddenly better and that he would fight at the upcoming Haru basho. It's strange because prior to the basho it was reported he had a strained ACL in one knee and a torn meniscus in the other. Yet, a few days after the tournament from which he withdrew in week 1, he's supposedly good to go again, and all reports of his keiko have backed that up. To me it doesn't add up, but I love watching a healthy Terunofuji fight, and so I'll take it. I'll even predict him to take the yusho in Osaka because I think we're going to see a trend this year where the Ozeki kind of take over the spotlight. I said after last basho that I wouldn't be surprised if Kisenosato gets his 1st yusho this year, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Terunofuji get his second here in Osaka. I just hope he really is 100%

As for the other two Ozeki, do you think Kotoshogiku has shared his secrets with them on how to win in this division? I say that in jest, of course, but if you go back and analyze their sumo, these two already employ the tactics that Kotoshogiku said helped him to win the Hatsu basho. Kisenosato likes to offer a hari at the tachi-ai, and like Kotoshogiku, it rarely connects, and both Kisenosato and Goeido love to use little pulls and tsuki to the side to get their opponents off balance. These moves only work well against each other of course, but hey, at least I was able to conjure up some actual analysis regarding these two. As for predictions, surely they won't let Goeido be demoted from the Ozeki rank in front of the hometown fans, so I'll predict eight wins for him, and then I think Kotoshogiku still gets quite a bit of deference here meaning Kisenosato could struggle to win even nine. Kotoshogiku did visit Kisenosato for de-geiko this week, and the Kid roughed up the reigning champ pretty good, but I don't know if that means they were fighting straight up or if they were just trying to generate favorable run for Kisenosato.

The Sekiwake ranks are pretty stale with Yoshikaze in the East and Toyonoshima to the West. Both of these dudes are far better than the JPN Ozeki, so we'll see how they choose to fight them. By the time these guys hit the JPN Ozeki and the Mongolians, we'll be a week into the tournament, so fast starts are key for both of them. As I scan the entire jo'i, the only guys who really pose any problems in week 1 are Tochinoshin and Aoiyama, but both Sekiwake match up well with Aoiyama. I like Yoshikaze to pick up eight, but Toyonoshima has been practicing with a big brace on his left knee, so eight wins for him would be an achievement.

Tochiohzan falls to the Komusubi rank, but the pay there is still the same as Sekiwake, so it's no biggie. I like Oh to win eight this time around although he's going to have a tough week 1. Let's see if Kotoshogiku has to pay him back for last basho. To the West is Takarafuji, a dude who should normally thrive at this rank because he's exempt from fighting Harumafuji, Terunofuji, and possibly Aminishiki, but I think the stable is going to have him go lame against the JPN Ozeki, so Takarafuji should also be down for the struggle to win his eight. He could do it, but I think there will be higher priorities surrounding other rikishi this tournament.

They kept Kotoyuki out of the sanyaku opting to position him in the top Maegashira slot, and I'm actually excited to see how he does. I do think stable politics will be in play where wins from Kotoyuki will be sacrificed in favor of wins for Kotoshogiku (I think Kotonowaka is a willer and diller as we say in Utah), but let's see how the kid does in bouts that are straight up. I actually think he's better than Yoshikaze in straight up fights, so let's see. He cannot kachi-koshi due to constraints beyond his control, so look for KotoLoogie to win four or so. Across the aisle is Takayasu, another solid rank and file rikishi who can do a bit of damage up this high if he fights all out. I don't see him quite winning eight, but I predict a few solid upsets.

M2 Okinoumi is a decent fella these days, but he'll easily get lost in the mix this basho. I think he gives up too much in order to capture eight wins. You all know that his pal to the West, Tochinoshin, is one of my favorite dudes right now on the banzuke. I think Tochinoshin produces the most watchable sumo of anyone these days, and while I expect him to bow to at least two of the Japanese Ozeki, I think he's just too good not to win eight.

If M3 Aoiyama wasn't quite so top-heavy (urp), he'd be in the same vein as Tochinoshin, but I think his physique makes him just a bit vulnerable to sneaky dudes, so I think he'd just be along for the ride cleaning up on the scrubs and then deferring to the guys who need wins. Aoiyama is the 16th highest rikishi ranked on the banzuke, which means that marks the bottom of the jo'i. However, with a lot of stablemates in the top 16 (from Sadogatake, Tashinoura, and of course Isegahama), they're going to have to dig down a bit deeper for opponents, which means M3 Aminishiki, M4 Ikioi, and M4 Sokokurai will be featured in some prominent bouts. It makes political sense to have Ikioi score some upsets and establish a run, but I don't see any of these guys scoring kachi-koshi...certainly not on their own.

Let's hop down to my favorite perch from the rank and file each basho: M6. This month we get Myogiryu to the East and Shodai to the West. I really like Myogiryu in this spot, and let's see if his body has recovered from the beating he took from consecutive basho among the jo'i. I like him to have a solid basho here in Osaka and sneak back up near the sanyaku for May. As for Shodai, I think some of his opponents were handling him with kids gloves in his debut, and now that he's no longer the rookie, I think it's open season on him. I would love to see him stand his ground and win kachi-koshi here, but I don't think it's going to happen. There are just too many crafty, veteran rikishi around him, so look for the newcomer to struggle a bit winning six in the end.

There's no reason why M7 Kaisei shouldn't flourish down at this level. Nobody cares politically about the mid-Maegashira, especially with Endoh outta here, so I like Kaisei to flirt with double digits.

You have to go clear down to M11 to find Ichinojo, and this would actually be yusho territory for this dude if he was healthy and fought all out. Let's see how he does way down here among the scrubs with no obligation to defer any bouts. I'd be surprised if he didn't win at least 11.

Let's finish up comments on the rikishi with our two rookies this basho, M14 Daishomaru and M16 Akiseyama. Daishomaru is a short, squatty guy similar to Takekaze whose bread and butter is oshi-zumo. Hopefully unlike Takekaze, he doesn't resort to henka in an attempt to set up the cheap wins. I've never seen this guy fight, so allow me to comment on him in more depth after I've seen him for a few days.

As for M16 Akiseyama, he's one of those dudes that breaks into the division flirting with the all time record for "slowest" climb for this or that. In this dude's case, he entered professional sumo out of college, but it took him eight years to finally reach the division. Those 48 basho rank him as the fourth slowest of all time when it comes to former college graduates reaching the division. He made it to Juryo in decent time but was hampered by a hernia injury that set him back. Without going into too much detail, the dudes is 30 years old now, and no one associated with a "slow" record has even amounted to shat in the division. It's harsh, I know, but the truly good rikishi are Ozeki or Yokozuna candidates just about at the same age as these kids are when they graduate from college. I don't expect either of the two rookies to make a splash.

Well, that wraps it up in terms of storylines and the breakdown of prominent rikishi. I have to reiterate that I have no idea what to expect from the Haru basho. In all my years of sumo, I've never seen a yusho orchestrated for a dude who could normally win about three bouts from the jo'i under his own power, so I don't know what to expect the basho after. I always, hope, of course that the sumo will be mostly straight up, but something tells me that Japan has enjoyed this Kotoshogiku hype too much in order to go 10 more years before the next party.

In closing, as I read that editorial from Suzuki-san that I opened with in this report, I went back to 2009 just to see what the sumo was like the last time the sport posted a 24% rating on television, and I found myself spending up to an hour YouTube'ing clips from the good old days when this dude defined the term "dohyo fulfillment" and then some. Click this link to see what a real yusho run looks like.

As for basho predictions, this has become a useless section of my pre-basho reports, but here you go anyway:

Yusho: Terunofuji (14-1)
Kantosho: Myogiryu
Ginosho: Ichinojo
Shukunsho: None

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