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2017 Haru Pre-basho Report

I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth restating, especially after the Hatsu basho and its aftermath where Kisenosato was promoted to Yokozuna. When I first hatched the idea of Sumotalk, I had two goals in mind in creating the website: 1) Build a readership of 4,000 readers, and 2) Produce a site that was official-looking enough to where media outlets would call me for comments. Regarding the title of the website, which is "Expert Sumo Analysis," I thought to myself that there is no official body out there that determines what constitutes a sumo expert, and so I decided to just set the baseline myself. I figured that if I was going to accomplish goal #2 then I would have to live up to the title, at least in the eyes of the media outlets around the world.

Because Sumotalk was hosted initially on my cousin's crappy web server in his basement, I really don't know when I surpassed the mark of 4,000 unique readers per month, but it did only take two yeas for the BBC to contact me for a phone interview regarding Asashoryu and his reported bad behavior as a Yokozuna. Over the years, I've learned how the process for media requests works, and I know exactly when they're going to start coming in. What happens is that something out of the ordinary will occur in sumo, and then that tidbit of news will hit the international wires, and then foreign media entities will see it and go, "Hmm...looks like we could do a story on sumo wrestling." And sumo wrestling is one topic that fascinates most everyone, and so even if someone doesn't follow it, I'm quite sure the headline would catch their attention.

Anyway, we just had an occurrence in sumo wrestling that hasn't been seen in 19 years, and so the media outlets came a calling the Monday after the January tournament looking for comment or asking about information as part of their research. A major newspaper out of New York sent me a request with some bullet points asking my opinion and clarification, and so I happily complied, and the dude wrote a story that was published the next day. The story was basically the foundation of the piece he first came across on the wires with a few tweaks and additions of his own here and there. Though I've never been in journalism, I've just learned how the system works, and I give the guys the information that I know they're looking for and don't try and stir things up by saying, "Well, actually, did you know that it was all fake and that blah blah blah?"

I do my thing, and they do theirs, but the point of this is...you've got this major newspaper with a readership purportedly over two million people, and so anybody who happened to read the article would take it at face value and just accept it because it came from a seemingly credible source. I doubt that anyone stops to think, "Does the author of that report REALLY know what he's writing about?" From my perspective, I know the canned lines that were fed to him from the wires, and then I know the information that I fed him, and so I could take his report piece by piece and classify it as: his own words, words from the international wire report, and my input. I can do that in this case because I was a source, and I know what he had to work with originally, but the other two million readers have no clue that the author of that report knew nothing about sumo wrestling prior to seeing that story come across the wires, and so they just accept the whole thing at face value and think to themselves, "So Japan has a new Yokozuna...the first one in 19 years. Ya don't say..."

This phenomenon of blindly trusting the establishment just because they say so has definitely been in play among the Japanese public with the recent promotion of Kisenosato to Yokozuna, but if people would actually just take a step back and use common sense to analyze the situation, it's easy to see that the promotion was entirely political and set up with fake sumo (hey, I was saying "fake sumo" long before the term "fake news" become a popular phrase, but the idea is the same...manufacturing a bogus story or bogus results to fit an agenda). I mean, let's just step back and analyze the timeline and key events surrounding Kisenosato's promotion:

* Kisenosato goes 12-3 at the Kyushu basho immediately generating headlines that he would be up for Yokozuna promotion at the Hatsu basho

* No "meyasu" or general requirements like the yusho or number of wins for promotion were established prior to the Hatsu basho

* Kisenosato defeats on paper 1 Yokozuna, 1 Ozeki, and 5 kachi-koshi rikishi on his way to a 14-1 finish

* A special meeting among the Yokozuna Deliberation Council is scheduled at the end of day 14 to consider promotion even though the basho isn't even over, and Kisenosato has yet to fight Hakuho

* Kitanofuji calls into the senshuraku broadcast where he discusses Kisenosato's sumo with the NHK announcers and uses phrases like "he was in danger a lot" and "it's hard to really pinpoint his sumo."

* The media starts reporting Sunday night that Kisenosato will be promoted to Yokozuna

I guess what I'm trying to say is this sure didn't look like a legitimate Yokozuna run, and it didn't feel like one either. As Don Roid and I were discussing the basho with Lynn Matsuoka on the FightBox podcast, I thought Lynn's comment was quite telling when she was talking about the Kisenosato - Hakuho matchup on senshuraku. She intimated that something just didn't seem altogether right, and then she speculated that perhaps Hakuho was dinged up when a rikishi from the previous bout flew off the dohyo and struck Hakuho in the arm as he sat ringside.

The point is that nobody the entire basho was talking about how strong Kisenosato was or how he used a certain technique to dominate his opponents or how he ruled the tachi-ai or how his sumo looked worthy of a grand champion or how his opponents looked afraid to fight him. Rather, people were only left with attempts to try and explain the inexplicable. In short, this promotion had no aspects of the typical yusho run.

I've all but ignored the pre-basho headlines this time around. I mean, reading sumo news these days is akin to reading someone breaking down episodes of soap operas as if they were non-fiction, but I think the most telling headline from them all was published on Thursday by the Mainichi Shimbun where they pointed out that the number of kensho banners (those sponsor banners that get marched around the ring prior to more prominent bouts) have reached the highest total ever for a non-Tokyo basho. About 1,900 banners will be marched around the ring crushing the previous mark of 1,674. You see those types of headlines and then note that the Osaka tournament is completely sold out, and you can see why the Sumo Association has allowed its sport to go in this direction.

But, it's not my Association, and I don't make the rules; I just comment on the sumo in the ring and the politics behind it, so let's look ahead to the 2017 Haru basho where a Japanese rikishi will fight as Yokozuna for the first time in just over 14 years.

The most alarming aspect of the tournament that I can already see is this:

* Kisenosato must save face as a newly-promoted Yokozuna
* Kotoshogiku did not retire and must come up with 10 wins in order to be re-promoted to Ozeki
* Goeido is fighting in his hometown

That alone is a lot of wins that need to be generated, and that doesn't even take into account that guys like Shodai and Mitakeumi also need to be sustained at the Komusubi rank. There's just a lot of wins that need to be dished out to the big five, and there's only one way to satisfy everyone.

Last basho, the elite Mongolians only mustered a total of 24 wins among the four, which is largely why we have the banzuke that we do, and I just don't see them all of a sudden making this resurgence and re-establishing their dominance in the sport.

Since I know that we're not going to get legitimate sumo in the ring for the most part among the elite ranks, let's just sum up the key rikishi this basho in no more than two lines each.

I think the three Mongolian Yokozuna are resigned to the fate of what the Association has become, and they will only step up and yusho if none of the big five can sustain a yusho run on paper.

Ozeki Terunofuji has intentionally lowered himself to the level of the Japanese Ozeki, and so if they make-koshi, he make-koshi's; if they fall to Sekiwake, he could fall to Sekiwake just to keep up the ruse.

Kisenosato is a joke.

I do expect Goeido to make a run this basho on paper.

The big question surrounding Sekiwake Tamawashi is how often will he go all out? He's so much better than anyone that Japan has, and I've really enjoyed him of late because his rise to Sekiwake has been organic.

Takayasu's rise to Sekiwake has not been entirely organic, and he's always a good dude for the Mongolians to "lose" to early on.

I don't think Kotoshogiku is guaranteed 10 wins this basho. It wouldn't surprise me if they let him get there, but sumo doesn't need him around to maintain its popularity.

Mitakeumi and Shodai wait in the wings once Kotoshogiku retires. I was actually impressed with Mitakeumi's finish to the Hatsu basho, but just because he beat up on two guys ranked at M8, it doesn't mean that this guy is a legitimate sanyaku rikishi; it means that he can hold his own in the mid-Maegashira ranks.

No comment on M1 Takekaze.

I think M1 Ikioi in the west is probably the second best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke behind M8 Okinoumi.

Sokokurai's rise to M2 has been organic, and his sumo technique is superior to Japan's big 5 making him one of the best guys to watch in January. We'll see if he fights like Tamawashi this basho actually intending to win.

M2 Takanoiwa has decent game, but the only reason that they'd ever let this Mongolian get any run is because he fights from the Takanohana-beya.

No comment on M3 Shohozan.

M3 Takarafuji is probably the #3 Japanese rikishi right now, but he's had to give up so many bouts for the big 5 that it's hard to tell.

No comment on M4 Yoshikaze. Too many wins are needed by others to have this guy do anything.

M4 Arawashi is another Sokokurai...better than the Japanese big 5 but lying low for political reasons.

M5 Endoh is not a legitimate Makuuchi rikishi. Show me proof otherwise.

M5 Hokutofuji is my favorite guy to watch right now in the division. At M5, hopefully he can stay out of the political fray because I want to see how well he can do at this level.

M6 Chiyonokuni is a mental mess. I would have thought that the Wolf would have toughened up his guys better, but after his death it's only gotten worse for the Kokonoe boys. And that's saying something!! Oops, I went past two lines.

M6 Aoiyama is living the good life in Japan and happy to do so.

Ditto for M7 Ichinojo who fortunately has plenty of game to yo-yo up and down the Makuuchi banzuke and continue to get fat on the sport.

M7 Chiyoshoma is another guy from the Sokokurai / Arawashi mold. He has way more game than the Japanese guys but isn't allowed to flaunt it day after day.

M8 Kaisei withdrew due to a shoulder injury or something. When you let up in the ring, someone gets hurt.

Already mentioned M8 Okinoumi.

M9 Kagayaki cannot handle sumo that is not linear just in case any of his opponents care to scout the dude.

M9 Kotoyuki's 12-3 a year ago was bought and paid for. Obviously.

M10 Tochinoshin is just gettin' fat along with his bros, Aoiyama and Ichinojo. This guy is so much better than any of the Japanese rikishi to the extent that if he were Japanese, we'd probably be saying that his Yokozuna run was actually legit.

Where have you gone, M10 Tochiohzan?

Can't believe I typed M11 Daieisho in a pre-basho report. Won't happen again.

M11 Ishiura is probably over-ranked here at M11.

M12 Sadanoumi strikes the fear of God into exactly...no one.

M12 Ura will be the biggest story of the first 10 days. I don't necessarily care for his schtick, but as long as it's legit sumo I'm on board.

Takanohana will have to continue to buy wins for M13 Takakeisho if he wants to keep him in Makuuchi.

Same goes for M13 Daishomaru and his stable master.

M14 Myogiryu was one of the more exciting Japanese rikishi to watch, but I think his smaller stature has just taken it's toll on him the last little while. He's lost a lot of confidence.

M14 Kyokushuho should rule down here if he's 100% healthy.

M15 Chiyooh is as useless as tits on a boar.

M15 Tokushoryu makes his return to Makuuchi after a spell in Juryo, and I think he's got a great shot at kachi-koshi this basho.

M16 Nishikigi is on the brink and is already pushing for another exhibition tournament this summer in Morioka. Pretty please?

That wraps up the Makuuchi division, and I know that this has been a different pre-basho report, but then again this sport is not the one that I grew up on. There's no sense making any predictions anymore, which is sad.


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