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2016 Haru Post-basho Report

Back in 1981, Ozzy Osbourne was sitting in the board room of Columbia Records celebrating his signing as a solo artist when someone released a few doves in the office as a nice gesture. A lucky dove landed close to Ozzy, and so he grabbed the bird, bit off its head, and then spit it out right there on the round table. The act got Ozzy escorted from the building by security, but the headlines that followed the incident turned Ozzy into an instant star, especially with the heavy metal crowd. So while the act was heinous, in Ozzy's case there was no such thing as bad publicity.

I start with that example because I think what's important for sumo right now is that they have significant headlines, and the more the better. Due to a lack of quality sumo atop the dohyo, the only way to keep this momentum going for the sport is to generate headlines and maintain fan interest through any means possible, and so regardless how bizarre that ending to the Haru basho was, it's good for sumo's popularity because it creates the headlines. A little angst and perceived controversy never hurt anyone either, especially when it's good guys (JPN rikishi) against the bad guys (furries), and the good guys feel as if they were cheated.

On senshuraku in January, television viewership reached its highest mark (24%) since 2009, and we all know who was creating the headlines back then. And as much as people hated Asashoryu, he was so good for sumo because you want that guy who everyone loves to hate and who usually wins because it feels that much better when you do take him down. Once Asashoryu was forced into retirement, sumo's numbers declined rapidly, and with nothing to talk about atop the dohyo, it led people down other paths to explore like gambling in sumo and then yaocho. Sumo has largely recovered from that dark spell post-Asashoryu on paper, but it hasn't been due to the quality of the sumo.

You'd think that the biggest headline following the tournament would have been Hakuho's 36th career yusho and first championship in four basho, but easily dominating the post-basho headlines was Hakuho's choice of sumo against Harumafuji on senshuraku, a move that really incensed the fans in attendance drawing a chorus of boos and jeers from the oyaji hecklers in the audience. The Yokozuna was berated in the media after the move, and the Japanese fans really did think that they still had a chance to wrangle the yusho away from Hakuho had he given Harumafuji a fair fight. First, there was no way that Hakuho was going to lose twice on purpose to conclude the basho, and 2) what was so egregious about that henka in the first place? What is worse...a move that's allowed in sumo called the tachi-ai henka or straight up yaocho? I don't know how anybody in the media can sit there and criticize Hakuho for that henka when all of the Japanese Ozeki are padding their records with bout fixing. Even Kotoshogiku's 8-7 finish was the result of eight bouts thrown in his favor, so what's worse? A tachi-ai henka? Or straight up yaocho?

The double standard there is comical to me, and remember when I used to get irate when guys would henka? Now I'm like, "Hey, do whatever you want; just give me a bout that's real." As for that final bout of the tournament, Harumafuji had a bit of responsibility in it too because the way he ran off the dohyo altogether after a light love tap from his countryman was ridiculous. Hakuho feigned surprise at the crowd reaction and even shed tears afterwards in an act of contrition, but trust me, those tears were all for show. Hakuho knows that the Japanese fans take everything at face value, and so all should be forgiven in time. I did read where an unnamed oyakata was calling for Hakuho to be banned in the next tournament (a term called shutsujo teishi) due to the henka, but that's just a poor excuse to pile on the gaijin rikishi much as they did to Asashoryu. Look, if I want to read bad sumo takes, there are a couple of chat areas I can go visit on the web; I don't need to be hearing it from anonymous oyakata. In short, while an undesirable conclusion to that tournament, there was nothing wrong with Hakuho's tachi-ai henka. Gifting a win to Harumafuji and then laying down for the Japanese rikishi in the playoff would have been more despicable.

With no real fireworks atop the dohyo on senshuraku, Asashoryu more than made up for it when he took to twitter afterwards and basically started calling everyone out including Hakuho. He told Hakuho not to overdo it in relation to his tears, and then he said, "Don't make this a sad yusho." Regarding the outcry in the media over Hakuho's henka, Asashoryu responded with, "The way the press handles the rikishi these days is so light. Compared to how they treated me, they think Hakuho is adorable. Hakuho...you cry too much. Stop crying you dumbass!"

Regarding the fans who booed Hakuho and who actually threw things during the yusho interview, Asa tweeted out, "It pisses me off that fans are jeering him during the yusho interview. If you don't like it, don't come watch sumo. Don't you know it's the foreign rikishi who are preserving your national sport?! Stop ridiculing the world's Yokozuna!"

On a roll, Asashoryu even called out Mainoumi, who criticized Hakuho's choice of sumo on senshuraku. Regarding Mainoumi he tweeted, "Mainoumi stop giving us such useless analysis. Who is he anyway? He's got the body of an insect. Who are you to run your mouth like that?" Asashoryu actually deleted his tweet regarding Mainoumi later, but you can see from his body of work through social media just how fired up everyone was after senshuraku, and that's the point I'm trying to make: there's no such thing as bad headlines. This emotion will surely carry into the Natsu basho, and coupled with the suspense of a possible Kisenosato yusho, the tickets are going to sell like hotcakes yet again.

With that said, let's break down the prominent rikishi from the basho starting with the yusho rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho. First and foremost, Hakuho demonstrated once again that he is invincible when he chooses to be. That day 1 loss to Takarafuji was a joke, and you only need to look at Hakuho's tachi-ai in that bout. He may be a dumbass for crying too much, but he's not so obtuse that he's going to execute a weak sidestep against a Komusubi for no reason. Everything with Hakuho is planned down to the tachi-ai, and if his intention is to win the bout, he'll go for the right inside and outer left no exceptions. There isn't a rikishi on the banzuke who can defend it, and so if you have such a weapon in your arsenal, why wouldn't you use it every time in the heat of battle? The only reason you wouldn't use it is to make yourself appear vulnerable and more like the peers surrounding you in the ranks, but we've beaten that dead horse a time or twenty. The bottom line is that Hakuho is the greatest rikishi ever, and it's his choice every basho end of story. Asashoryu's view of how to react in the face of diversity obviously differs from Hakuho, but what the former Yokozuna was really trying to say to the world in those tweets is exactly what Kanye penned back in 2007 when Hakuho's rise to greatness was unavoidable:

Damn, they don't make 'em like this anymore
I ask 'cause I'm not sure
Do anybody make real shit anymore?
Bow in the presence of greatness
'cause right now thou hast forsaken us
You should be honored by my lateness
That I would even show up to this fake shit
So go ahead go nuts go ape shit
Especially in my pastel on my bape shit
Act like you can't tell who made this
New gospel homie, take six, and take this, haters

In regards to Asashoryu's saying that it's the foreign rikishi who are preserving the national sport, talk about an understatement. Hakuho continues to drive that bus, and I can just hear the radio blasting: Na-na-na that that don't kill me...

It's not fair to always lump Yokozuna Harumafuji and Yokozuna Kakuryu into the same paragraph, but since they relegated themselves to role players this basho, I'll talk about them both at the same time. As I look back at all of their losses, I can't find a single one where they were legitimately beaten by anybody save Hakuho. It was really telling on day 3 when Harumafuji rolled over for Kotoyuki and then Kakuryu came out on day 4 with the intention of winning, and he made Kotoyuki look like a 40 year-old rikishi from Juryo. That sequence right there tells you all you need to know about these two. They intentionally lose big when they defer to Japanese rikishi, and when they want to win, they dominate. Here's another interesting fact about these two...and you can include Hakuho in the mix as well when he doesn't yusho: Why is it that the three Yokozuna are never upset by foreign rikishi? I mean, just look at the list of guys that beat the three Yokozuna (not counting their head to head) at the Haru basho:

Toyonoshima x 2
Goeido x 2
Kisenosato x 2

That loss to Terunofuji was suffered by Kakuryu on day 12, and the Kak rolled over for Fuji the Terrible to give him his eight win so Terunofuji could then finish out his basho losing to the following rikishi:


Notice how you don't see any foreign rikishi on that upset list...ever. I mean, I could sit here all day and expose this sport for what it is at the moment, but let's move onto the (gulp) Japanese Ozeki.

Kotoshogiku was the top dog heading into the Haru basho, so we'll start there. In my pre-basho report, I posted a few quotes from the Ozeki he made in between the two tournaments as he tried to explain to the media the change in his sumo tactics that led to his surprise yusho. He basically said he was patterning his sumo more after the Mongolians using hari-te, subtle moves laterally, and quick pulls. I pointed out how he did nothing of the sort in January save that hari-te against Tochiohzan on day 14, and so I was curious to see if the Ozeki would continue mimicking the Mongolians in March. He of course didn't employ a single move that he said he learned from the Yokozuna, and you can basically sum up his basho as charging moving toward his opponent at the tachi-ai completely at his opponents' mercy.

Someone whose sumo takes I really respect said of the Ozeki prior to the basho, "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."


Thankfully the other Ozeki and Mongolians were not going to give this guy a pass because propelling him to the Yokozuna rank would have been the crime of the century. In fact, Kotoshogiku was so pitiful down the stretch, they had to talk Aminishiki into giving him his eighth win on day 12 just to save face. That was about the worst 8-7 performance I've ever seen, and in week two when the big boys and even the not so big boys were roughing this guy up like a practice dummy, even I felt embarrassed for the dude. I mean, I can't even break down Kotoshogiku's sumo because he is useless at this level of the banzuke, and it was exposed greatly in week 2. And for those who actually claim Kotoshogiku's yusho in January was legitimate, let me pose this question: Why is it that the Ozeki was not able to defeat a single kachi-koshi rikishi in his follow-up basho? And when I pose that question, I am NOT implying that any of the Geeku's first seven wins were legit. I'm here to tell you that none of them were. I'm being nice when I say that maybe he can win two or three by himself.

Thankfully the runs by Kisenosato and Goeido generated enough headlines to distract the Japanese fans from Kotoshogiku's pitiful performance, so let's move over to Kisenosato who finished the shebang (as opposed to she bang) 13-2. Just like Kotoshogiku's run in January, Kisenosato's act was a complete farce, and I actually think this guy could legitimately win three bouts on his own per basho, but the 13 was a complete joke. There wasn't a single bout from the Ozeki where I was like, "Now THAT's what Willis was talkin' about," and trust me, I'd call it for sure if it actually happened. As predicted prior to the basho, the theme of the Ozeki being on a roll prevailed here in Osaka with the runs staged for Kisenosato and Goeido because you somehow have to justify the run made by Kotoshogiku back in January. That there was so much bitterness and emotion on senshuraku when Kisenosato wasn't give the shot to fight Hakuho in a playoff shows that a majority of the fans are eating this up hook line and sinker, and it all sets up the Natsu basho nicely.

Like Kotoshogiku, I really can't break down Kisenosato's sumo because there aren't any moves there that define the Ozeki's brand of sumo. He's always exposed at the tachi-ai, and you can't really label him as an oshi guy or a yotsu guy because he does nothing to set up either type of attack. If I were to attempt to describe a typical Kisenosato bout, I'd say the tachi-ai would be weak from both parties, and then a few seconds in the Ozeki uses a side slap to get inside where his opponent eventually relents giving Kisenosato the outer grip that he uses to finish of the festivities. The point is that the Ozeki cannot set anything up for himself at the tachi-ai, and he is almost as useless at this level of the banzuke as Kotoshogiku. For whatever reason, though, it's easier to pimp Kisenosato and have people buy in, and so that's why the major headline heading into May will be possible Yokozuna promotion for the Kid. Or should I say Kiddie?

Ozeki Goeido predictably shed his kadoban status with a seemingly epic 12-3 run in front of the hometown fans, but it was all really just as fake as a settuh double D's on an A-list actress. I will hand it to Goeido, though. As fake as his wins are, there is a comedy aspect to the sumo all around that keeps me entertained. There's really nothing more I can break down regarding his sumo, and call me crazy, but I think he's the best Ozeki among the three. I mean, if all bouts were fought straight up in sumo, I think Goeido would consistently be the highest ranked of the three. You can scoff at that statement all you want, but I think yaocho is so rampant in favor of Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku that we're all conditioned to think that Goeido is the lesser of the three when in reality, I think he's actually the best. Now, to qualify that remark, it's like saying that one of the ugly step sisters is the prettiest of the three because she's only missing two teeth instead of five.

Rounding out the Ozeki, it just bugs me to no end to see how Terunofuji is being treated. Here we had the perfect example of a legitimate rise to the Ozeki ranks, and now it's all getting tainted and glossed over because there is no equivalent in the Japanese ranks. I mean, I get why he had to lose to Ikioi on day 4, but then when he made Kotoyuki look like a 19 year-old Mike Tyson, I was physically ill. Ikioi and Kotoyuki aren't even worthy enough to hold this guy's jock let alone sniff it, and yet Terunofuji limps home at 8-7 losing solely to Japanese rikishi except for the day 10 loss to Hakuho. It really does make me sick.

As we look to the sanyaku, some may wonder, "Gee Wally, why did everyone make-koshi so badly?" And the simple answer is that you can't give all three Japanese Ozeki wins and except to post a decent record. All four sanyaku dudes lost to the three Amigos, and how is anyone among the jo'i who doesn't hail form Mongolia going to overcome an automatic 0-3 record? The easy answer is that they're not. Takarafuji was fortunate enough to check in at 6-9, but that's because he didn't have to fight Harumafuji or Terunofuji. Then, when the Mongolians play along and send Kisenosato to 13 wins and Goeido to 12, it leaves less room to bow to others. Of course, Toyonoshima is the exception to that. Get this: Toyonoshima finished 3-12; yet, two of his wins were against Yokozuna. Sumo these days is more muddled than Rihanna's vocals on Work, and I literally have to take a step back in between basho because the inconsistencies we see everywhere are so frustrating.

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