Post-basho Report | Pre-basho Report
It's clear that only one thing has been able to derail Asashoryu the last 14 basho, and that is injuries. An injured right bicep near the end of the 2006 Hatsu basho left the Yokozuna impotent, and then a freak elbow injury early on in Natsu 2006 led to his withdrawal. Other than that, one of the first laws you learned in Algebra class all those years ago still applies: Asashoryu = money. If the current rikishi surrounding the Yokozuna haven't been able to trip up the Yokozuna, an article written in a tabloid by a mysterious Mr. X ain't gonna do it either. What's the difference between a 15-0 yusho and a 13-2 yusho? Nothing...except that Asashoryu has one more of them than legendary Yokozuna Takanohana. Zensho yusho today, overall yusho in May. Scratch Takanohana off the list. Sorry bitter Japanese journalist, pissing Asashoryu off with bogus articles is only going to inspire him to reach 33 that much quicker. The Yokozuna responded to a Kisenosato loss in September by executing a ket-guri against the Komusubi in Kyushu. He's going to respond to the article by Shukan Gendai in the same manner only the forum will be atop the dohyo. Just watch.
As always, let's start off with the yusho rikishi. On one hand, you could say that the only mistake Asashoryu made the entire basho was standing directly in the way of Dejima's freight train charge on day 3, but on the other hand, it just goes to show that the Yokozuna runs from no one. Doesn't need to. Sure, a rikishi will catch him now and again, but the one thing you know you'll always get from the Yokozuna is a fair fight. To talk about Asashoryu's sumo would be to just rehash everything we've talked about the last two years. I think Ama said it best after losing to Asashoryu on day 7 when he said that the normal rikishi always has his next move in mind, but the Yokozuna has his next three or four moves already planned. The lightening quick adjustments in the ring, and the 100% confidence in his ability were evident again this basho, and after appearing to stumble a few times last year, I don't see how the Yokozuna drops another tournament this year if he finishes the full 15 days. Maybe he'll concede one yusho to Hakuho, but that's a big if. Watch for an extremely inspired Yokozuna the rest of 2007 thanks to the Japanese tabloids. Idiots.
Let's move to the jun-yusho rikishi since the Ozeki are hardly worth talking about. While M9 Toyonoshima's name on the leaderboard was just a formality, he couldn't have capped his 12-3 basho off any better than that ass-kicking of Sekiwake Kotomitsuki on senshuraku. The biggest positive about Toyonoshima's effort was that 10 of 12 wins were the result of forward-moving sumo. You could just see as the basho wore on that Toyonoshima's confidence was getting stronger and stronger. He had that close call on day 3 against Tochinohana and a lackluster pull down win over Asasekiryu on day 6, but he ruled that second week going 6-1 against kachi-koshi rikishi. Many of you may remember that Toyonoshima and Kotooshu entered the Juryo division at the same time before breezing their way up to Makuuchi. Toyonoshima actually beat Kotooshu in the Juryo ranks but was then surpassed by his taller rival once they hit Makuuchi. The point of all this is that Toyonoshima has always had the game; he has just never been able to put it together like this as a Makuuchi rikishi...until now. His lack of height has contributed greatly to this, but let's hope his run in Hatsu can boost his confidence moving forward to the point where it compensates for his size disadvantage. I think it will. In conclusion--and changing the subject completely--if you think that sumo would be more interesting and better off without Asashoryu, let me just introduce the yusho rikishi of the last three tournaments: Toyonoshima, Homasho, and Aminishiki.
Let's return to the Ozeki ranks where there is nothing but disappointment and mediocrity. As I suspected on day 2, Kotooshu's tachi-ai henka against Kisenosato on day 1 completely took him out of this basho. I hope that cheap win was worth it. Sure, the Ozeki deserved at least a tori-naoshi against Homasho on day 3, but he should have never been in that position to begin with. Of Kotooshu's 9 wins, only two were against kachi-koshi rikishi: Kyokutenho and Chiyotaikai. The Ozeki has GOT to add some better names to that list. We've been waiting for this break-out basho from the Bulgarian ever since he was promoted to Ozeki, but I'm more and more afraid that such a basho will never come. It seems that Kotooshu is content pulling in that Ozeki paycheck, but that's about it. If he ever got injured and dropped from the Ozeki ranks, you can bet the farm that he would go all out and regain the rank, but once there, he'd stagnate as he is now. Kotooshu has got to find something more than the money to inspire him at this point.
Ozeki Tochiazuma was the number three guy on the banzuke, but he really had no business fighting in Hatsu after having his knee scoped two weeks before the basho. I know this is going to sound cold too, but I don't respect him any more for gutting it out this basho even though he was injured. I'd have rather seen him just sit the basho out instead of handing out the easy wins to his opponents. The Ozeki did manage four wins by out-thinking some of his opponents, but it was a stupid move in my opinion and only watered down the basho.
I mean, was there any doubt who was going to win on senshuraku when a 7-7 Kaio faced a 5-9 Tochiazuma? Yes, Kaio picked up the easy eighth win, but he was ineffective yet again this basho. He did have that superb win over Kotooshu on day 14 that was so overpowering I had to watch the bout a few times just to verify that it WASN'T a tachi-ai henka, but Kaio in this condition only weakens the collective Ozeki rank.
Of the four stagnating Ozeki, Chiyotaikai has been my easy favorite of late, but his inability to solve the yotsu-zumo specialists (Kyokutenho, Kotooshu, Asashoryu, Hakuho) is just killing him. His street smarts on the dohyo now help him beat the younger rikishi that will soon replace him (Kisenosato, Kotooshu, Ama), but that won't last too much longer. Chiyo's consistent 10-5 performances are going to quickly turn to 7-8's before you know it.
Ozeki Hakuho should be thrilled with his 10-5 performance that included a solid week two. Sure he lost to Asashoryu and his recent nemisis in Kotomitsuki the second half, but he cleaned house on his fellow Ozeki and seems comfortable on the dohyo again. Take his other three losses...Dejima, Tokitenku (to a tachi-ai henka), and Kisenosato. Kisenosato will continue to beat Hakuho once every three or four bouts, but the other two are going to quickly turn back into those easy wins. There's your 12-3 or 13-2 performance right there, which means beating Kotomitsuki and Asashoryu half the time puts this guy back into Yokozuna consideration. Hakuho got better and better as the basho wore on--against better competition--so I really expect him to do well in Haru and then threaten for the yusho in May. Sumo needs a legitimate rival to Asashoryu, so let's hope the Sumo Association doesn't hold Hakuho back because of his race.
Sekiwake Kotomitsuki was his usual mediocre self with 6 of his eight wins coming over make-koshi rikishi. He did have a great win over Hakuho on day 13, but the dude's gotta have a little more pride come senshuraku when he couldn't put away an M9 who's having a hot basho. What made it worse was that Toyonoshima made the Sekiwake look extra bad using great quicks to turn a stalemate into a humiliating defeat. Getting flicked to the clay like that by Toyonoshima on senshuraku? Embarrassing. Another 8-7.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama deserves a pass after his 5-10 basho. The dude's been hot for a year now posing legitimate threats to both the yusho and the Ozeki rank during that run. I'm fine with an off basho here and there. What really did the Sekiwake in this tournament was his loss on day 1 to Baruto. Baruto was hyped to no end early in 2006, but one rikishi he could never overcome was Miyabiyama. In fact, the Sheriff always put Baruto in his place whenever the Estonian was hot and flirted with the yusho race. So to lose to Baruto on day one just ripped the heart out of Miyabiyama this basho from the get go in my opinion. As for Miyabiyama's sumo, we rarely see now that inspired tsuppari attack that had a lot of rikishi shaking in their girdles. It's no coincidence that Miyabiyama's records have dwindled along with the lumbering tsuppari. Fortunately, there's still a lot of fat on the body and gas in the tank, so I expect Miyabiyama to quickly hop back into the top 5.
The last rikishi Komusubi Kisenosato wanted to see on senshuraku coming in at 7-7 was the feisty Ama. As he did in so many of his losses, Kisenosato dominated the tachi-ai and dictated the pace of the bout, but in his haste to finish off his opponent straightway, he was burned at the tawara. The Kid should have never been in the position to begin with, however. He can't be losing to the likes of Kaio and Tochiazuma when those two rikishi tally only 12 wins between them. Kisenosato is so close to consistent 10-5 performances, and I think by the end of this year, he'll be there. His sumo is just fine, and his intensity is only surpassed by Asashoryu himself. I look for Kisenosato to pick up his first yusho before Kotooshu. Let's hope his demotion for the Haru basho is lateral and not vertical.
Komusubi Roho was beyond stink this basho. In fact I'm embarrassed to even type the words "Komusubi" and "Roho" in succession. His performance reeked of his younger brother's days when ranked among the jo'i with the only difference being Roho scored three yori-kiri wins while Hakurozan's were all of the pull down variety. Roho actually had a great moment this basho when he stood Dejima upright at the tachi-ai in their bout, and he scored a quality win over Tokitenku, but how does this guy go 10-5 in September against the same competition? I'll tell you. He doesn't care. His job was on the line in September. Now the only thing on the line is a few thousand dollars a month per paycheck, which is nothing when you consider what he'd be making back home in Russia if he didn't have sumo. As frustrated as the Bulgarian fans must be over Kotooshu's sumo, I'll bet the Russian fans are throwing the denials around with a frequency unseen since Simon Peter...it's gotten that bad.
Let's drop down to the Maegashira ranks where M1 Kotoshogiku has officially forced the Sumo Association's hand in terms of sanyaku promotion by going 9-6. Still, I know this might sound crazy to some, but I didn't think that Kotoshogiku had a very good basho...and that's a compliment by the way. What really stands out is that four bout losing streak mid-basho to Chiyotaikai, Kisenosato, Hakuho, and Homasho. Sure, those are all quality rikishi, but the Geeku was manhandled by all four. To his credit, Kotoshogiku was finally able to pick off a few Ozeki albeit a crippled Tochiazuma and an over the hill Kaio, and he did kick Baruto's ass pretty good (remember that guy?), but overall, I didn't think Kotoshogiku was as good as he could have been. Remember, this guy is exempt from fighting Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki every basho, so that 9-6 record is a bit inflated when compared to rikishi of similar rank who are going it alone. Still, I don't see any other candidate for that vacant Sekiwake position, so Kotoshogiku's the man. He should have been a Komusubi this basho, so you take his 9-6 performance from that rank, and I don't see how the Association can deny it any longer although just you watch them find a way. Kotoshogiku's quality wins this basho were against Ama, Baruto, and I guess Kaio. He's got to up that list a bit in the basho to come for me to consider it a good tournament for him. The potential has been there from day one, however.
M1 Dejima was a complete mystery this basho. Two ass-kickings of the toughest two guys on the banzuke and a great win over Kotomitsuki only to be wasted by a 1-11 performance against the rest of the field. I can't explain it other than to say the rikishi began to quickly wise up to this one trick pony's attack after day 3.
Okay, here's the dilemma facing the Sumo Association: do we demote Miyabiyama to Komusubi or do we demote him further and bring up M2 Tokitenku (8-7) and/or M4 Ama (10-5) to the sanyaku? Tokitenku looked fantastic in some of his bouts this basho, but he also pulled some pretty cheap moves at the tachi-ai. I'm torn, really. On one hand you have that awesome neck force down against Kotooshu on day 2, but on the other hand you have that tachi-ai henka of Hakuho on day 7. You have another tachi-ai henka against Miyabiyama on day 11 (which Tokitenku thankfully lost), but then the Mongolian followed that up with a brilliant chongake trip of Kisenosato on day 13. We saw both ends of the spectrum with Tokitenku this basho, but the bottom line is this guy can bring it. He combines the usual flawless technique displayed by the Mongolians coupled with that beer gut that is going to make it harder for his opponents to move him with. The future is bright for Tokitenku, but dude, lose the tachi-ai henka.
M4 Ama had a near identical basho to Tokitenku. He had his moments, but he also hit below the belt with that tachi-ai henka of Kotooshu on day 8. On paper, he has that win and a win over Kaio giving him two wins against Ozeki, but taken in context, those were not quality wins. I also think that some of his fellow countrymen went easy on him those first few days, so that 10-5 record is inflated a bit and will probably be taken into account when the new banzuke is released. Who would you say are the best rikishi in all of sumo? I'd say Asashoryu, Hakuho, Kotooshu, Chiyotaikai, Kotomitsuki, Miyabiyama, Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, and Baruto. Of these rikishi that Ama fought this basho, here are the results:
Kotooshu: win by tachi-ai henka
Ama is a good rikishi, and one of the most fun to watch, but I think he will always be overshadowed by the likes of Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku. So to conclude my talk of the upcoming banzuke, here is how I would put the new ranks:
Kotomitsuki S Kotoshogiku
Miyabiyama K Kisenosato
Ama M1 Tokitenku
Let's back up a bit where M2 Aminishiki was completely lethargic this basho managing only a 4-11 record after making a surprise surge to Komusubi in Kyushu. How's this for a common theme: Aminishiki did have two wins over Ozeki albeit a crippled Tochiazuma and an over the hill Kaio...
M3 Kyokutenho eeked out a kachi-koshi on senshuraku fulfilling his goal of winning a majority of his bouts at the basho prior to his wedding celebration. His bride must be giddy! If Kyokutenho can sleepwalk to an 8-7 record this high up (wins over Kotomitsuki, Chiyotaikai, Kaio, Tochiazuma, Miyabiyama), just think what he could do inspired by increased action on the homefront. Course, you all know the saying...what decreases the sex drive of women by 90%?
Wedding cake. Expect even more boring sumo from Kyokutenho in the days to come.
You know, there's not much more we can say about M2 Baruto at this point. The dude's been forced to withdraw two of the last three basho after getting beat up high in the ranks. It's quite a disturbing trend. Baruto waltzes his way to double digit wins from low in the Maegashira ranks only to be placed among the jo'i where he suffers an injury. I think what's happening is Baruto has risen quickly up the ranks on size and brute strength, but he hasn't honed his sumo skills, so when he attempts to fight the guys that really know what they're doing--and who aren't afraid of him--his body is being forced into compromising positions that his joints simply can't handle. We've all speculated on how well a beast from another sport like a lineman from an American football team would do if put on the dohyo against sumo rikishi. I think we have our answer. Asashoryu or Takanohana's rise through the ranks were record setting, but those guys had sumo backgrounds prior to entering sumo...they had been the taught the basics and had practiced them for years. Baruto rose to the echelon of the sport even faster, but he just didn't have sufficient background and training in sumo to prepare him once he faced the best of the best. It's going to be very interesting to see if Baruto can even last in sumo. Is that ridiculous to even consider?
Let's move to M4 Homasho, who I thought looked great despite a disappointing 7-8 finish. This guy is quickly winning over fans, not only because of his straight-forward sumo, but he also shows so much respect for the sport. Watch him the next time he loses...the dude bows deeply to every opponent regardless. We haven't seen this kind of old-school respect since Tosanoumi, and I guarantee you that the Japanese fans are noticing this. Homasho is everything that's right about sumo, and I love the kid. Hey, I've underestimated him going into the last few basho, but that's fine by me. Sumo needs guys like this. Homasho got off to an 0-2 start, but that win against Kotooshu on day 3 was epic, especially since he had the inner grip to Kotooshu's outer grip. His win over Kotoshogiku didn't suck, and he also showed up a lot of veterans. This guy has the upside of Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku, which should provide a solid core of Japanese rikishi in the years to come. I doubt there's a single sumo fan that doesn't like Homasho.
Like Homasho, M5 Takamisakari finished 7-8, but he had a good basho. What do you expect from the Robocop this high up the ranks? His 6-2 start proved costly because it gave him dates with a couple of Ozeki to bring him back down to earth. If you can get past the circus act prior to this bouts and the usually poor tachi-ai, Takamisakari's counter sumo is a joy to watch. Kokkai's 7-8 finish from the same rank is disappointing because the Georgian only faced Maegashira rikishi. We're not seeing the double-tsuppari attack from Kokkai nearly as much as we did in his more successful days.
M6 Asasekiryu went 10-5 from the M6 rank, but who did he fight? He only had one win over an opponent ranked higher than him (Kyokutenho), so don't expect him to threat the sanyaku come March, but what's really important is that Asasekiryu will be ranked in the top 16, which means Asashoryu gets one more lower-ranked opponent while as George put it once, Asasekiryu will be able to run some interference for the Yokozuna.
M7 Kasugao underachieved--again--but still managed an 8-7 mark while counterpart Futenoh pulled a 5-0 finish out of his arse against crap competition to score one of the ugliest 8-7 finishes you've ever seen. Not worth recounting, trust me.
I think Martin's probably onto something with M8 Kakuryu. It's completely acceptable to go 6-9 from this rank in your second tournament in the division, but unlike say Homasho, Kakuryu has not established any presence whatsoever in the division. Kakuryu's tachi-ai is extremely weak, which forces him to rely on scrap sumo to win.
I had to cringe on senshuraku when M10 Iwakiyama lost to Ushiomaru sealing his make-koshi fate. This one's painful because he fought mostly the worst the division had to offer. Iwakiyama has obviously found a diet that makes him slow and immobile. It's working, son.
M11 Tamakasuga provided a nice diversion early on helping us get through the first half of the Makuuchi bouts. To recap, Tamakasuga pasted his first seven opponents only to lose his next six. It's for the better. Remember what happened in Kyushu from the M4 rank?
M14 Tamanoshima's act is so tired. Not sure what I mean? Sucking higer up in the ranks only to post double-digit wins from lower in the Maegashira is akin to earning promotion from the J2 league to J1. If you don't know what that means, you're lucky.
Oh great...M14 Hakurozan won 8 bouts. I don't remember at all how he did it, but just thinking about having to watch this guy in the Makuuchi division for another basho is like listening to one of Def Leppard's recent albums. Can I ask how in the hell a kick-ass hard-rock band from England managed to turn themselves into one of the lamest American pop-rock bands you've ever heard of?
Thankfully, M15 Asofuji will be demoted back to where he belongs after his 4-11 mark. No wait, he'll be in Juryo in March for a basho before going back to Makushita.
I actually enjoyed watching some of M15 Ushiomaru's sumo this basho. The guy showed a great tachi-ai, a solid oshi-attack, and some decent fighting spirit as he managed a 9-6 record. What happened? Ten bucks says he has Velvet Revolver in the iPod.
And finally, M16 Tosanoumi is always worth the mention just because he's one of the good guys of sumo. Props on his 3-0 finish to eek out kachi-koshi on senshuraku.
Last year's Hatsu basho was important because it showed that a few rikishi could gang up on the Yokozuna and actually take him down. Unfortunately, this year's Hatsu basho was a dud, not because Asashoryu won but because the other rikishi in the jo'i flirted with the yusho about as much as a C# programmer does with girls. We gotta have some more rikishi step up. In the meantime, all we've got to keep us entertained is a made-up story by a tabloid that offers zero explanation regarding "why?". Save me a seat in the courtroom.
2007 Hatsu Pre-basho Report
I am really struggling to find anything positive heading into the Hatsu basho. First, the banzuke rankings lacked a Makuuchi rookie or a new sanyaku member for the first time in seven basho giving us zero new rikishi to get excited about. Second, with the basho starting on the 7th and New Years in Japan wrapping up on the 3rd, there have been hardly any keiko reports (let alone good reports) as the rikishi usually wrap up their de-geiko the Thursday before the basho (Jan. 5th). And third, so many key players are injured or coming off of injuries. Asashoryu is off in Mongolia receiving treatment for his right shoulder, which he supposedly injured at the Soken keiko session. Hakuho is coming off of toe surgery and hasn't looked his dominant self in the keiko ring, or so it has been reported. Tochiazuma is coming off of knee surgery and can only practice against non-sekitori. Chiyotaikai didn't bother showing up for the Soken keiko session, so I assume he's dinged up as well, and a report from Dec. 24th has Kotooshu with a bad back. Who does that leave us with...Kaio? You'll forgive me if I channel my energy into a more exciting activity like watching shogi matches between two nerds on NHK.
Let's begin the cavity searches of our contestants if we must. I don't have my Sanseido Daily Concise dictionary handy, but I think it's pretty safe to say that you can translate the following line "Asashoryu in Mongolia to receive treatment for injured shoulder" into "Asashoryu relaxing in Mongolia for the New Year holiday." Why shouldn't he though? He can show up a coupla days before the basho unpracticed and still wipe the clay with his opponents' collective arses even if everyone else is healthy. I don't think we'll see a sharp (for his standards) Yokozuna at the Hatsu basho due to his lack of practice, but he has to be the favorite to yusho considering everyone else's condition. Other than the Soken keiko session where Asashoryu participated in 7 bouts, the only other keiko news I read about him came the day before when he fought 21 times with Maegashira guys even managing to get thrown down by Kyokutenho and Kasugao. Regardless, Asashoryu should breeze to his 20th yusho, and I say the basho itself goes as Asashoryu goes in terms of the level of sloppiness. In the end, we should see Asashoryu on top yet again at 13-2.
Ozeki Kotooshu stopped a practice session short against Kotoshogiku the day before Christmas citing a sore back, but the next day he managed to throw Asashoryu to the clay at the Soken keiko session. Those are the only keiko reports I've read regarding the Ozeki, but I just can't get excited about the Bulgarian...yet. Let's wait and see how he handles Kisenosato and Tokitenku the first two days, and then we'll talk. I suspect the Ozeki will win 11 this basho.
Ozeki Tochiazuma claims that he was seriously considering sitting this basho out after having his left knee scoped, but was there really any doubt? This Ozeki is a bulldog in the ring, but his lack of mobility should make him a sitting duck for the younger, quicker opponents. I'll be surprised if Tochiazuma wins nine. Unless he's been pulling the wool over our eyes, I think a make-koshi is in the cards especially since he can withdraw and not get demoted.
I don't see any reason why Ozeki Kaio can't repeat his ten win effort last basho. The Ozeki's condition hasn't worsened any while those around him have. Let's give him 9 or 10 wins.
The only time I read the word "Chiyotaikai" in a keiko report prior to this basho was when his name came up on the absentee list at the YDC general keiko session. To show up and give a half-assed effort is one thing, but not showing up at all tells me the Ozeki couldn't afford getting hurt. I haven't read of an injury, but I haven't read of any keiko reports either, so I say the Ozeki falls off a bit this basho struggling for 8 wins, which he better grab by day 11.
Ozeki Hakuho has received a fair amount of coverage prior to this basho, and rightfully so. He's the sport's best hope in terms of offering someone to at least challenge Asashoryu consistently. Reports of Hakuho's condition have been positive, but I'm worried about a his inability to just crush his opponents out via yori-kiri. It seems the Ozeki struggled against quicker opponents in the ring, so I think he's going to struggle again at the Hatsu basho. Remember the final basho of 2004 and then the Hatsu basho in 2005? Hakuho was so good then that people weren't even talking about Ozeki....this guy was going to be challenging the Yokozuna rank within the year. Well, Hakuho choked at the Haru basho when Ozeki promotion was on the line, and then he went into a nearly year-long funk low lighted by an ankle injury forcing him to withdraw in Nagoya. Hakuho struggled immensely in 2005, but once he got everything back together, he just rolled through 2006. I think Hakuho is in a similar funk now. He was injured once again, and his confidence has got to be down after his failed Yokozuna run, but give him about two more basho to get it together and then watch out. A struggle for 10 wins this basho, but the dude is gonna yusho in either May or July.
I really like Sekiwake Kotomitsuki's chances to make some noise this basho. He finally got off the snide in Kyushu posting 9 wins...yes, I said nine wins. I think he's going to carry that momentum into the Hatsu basho. The (lack of) conditioning and injuries to those around him plus the fact that he'll get two Maegashira scrubs in place of Kotoshogiku and Kotooshu has gotta be worth one more win, dunnit? Dare I say that Kotomitsuki is primed for a double digit basho?
Counterpart Miyabiyama should be his usual bullish self, which means no one but Asashoryu wants a piece of him. I think the Ozeki are going to give up a few wins this basho, and Miyabiyama will be right there to scoop them up. The key to the Sekiwake's success is a good start (3-0 would be great). If he can also avoid some of those nasty henka, Miyabiyama should be a force this basho. I look for the Sekiwake to play big roles at Hatsu hovering around 10 wins.
Komusubi Kisenosato's got a great chance to make some noise this tournament. He's been practicing very well prior to the basho, but then what's new? The only thing that is keeping the Kid from climbing even higher in the ranks are careless losses. That'll be the difference between the usual 8 wins and double digits, but I think his youth and speed will exploit the lame and injured.
Counterpart Roho does not belong at this rank....this basho anyway. Hey, this guy was legitimate Sekiwake material after the Aki basho, but all of his hard work and goodwill went out the window in Kyushu due to his sumo content. Roho managed to keep his Komusubi rank, but anyone with a conscience is just sick that he sits in the sanyaku while more deserving rikishi named Kotoshogiku and Dejima are left out. How do I know which Roho is going to show up this basho? You may remember prior to the Aki basho, Roho (and fellow Eastern European Kokkai) had a great pre-basho workout. He also had to prove himself after that incident in Nagoya. The problem now is he doesn't have anything to motivate him. Like Chiyotaikai of late, I am in Roho's corner when he fights straight up, but his henka-filled retreat "sumo" is revolting. I think Roho's conscience is going to get the better of him this basho, which means fewer henka. The problem is, without proper mental preparation, I see him getting whipped that first week and failing to kachi-koshi.
Let's drop down to the Maegashira ranks where once again, the cream has floated nicely to the top. M1 Kotoshogiku was snubbed from a sanyaku berth, so hopefully he's out to prove the Association elders wrong. His competition will be no better this basho than it was last basho, so there's no reason to think he won't repeat his performance, right? Not so fast. I think the sanyaku snub may work against the would-be Komusubi. First, there's the disappointment of waking up on banzuke morning and finding that he'd only jumped one rank. I would think a normal person would say to himself "what else do I need to do?" Panicking in an effort to please instead of performing sound, basic sumo would be a detriment, and then the last time Kotoshogiku was ranked at M1 (three basho ago) he went 3-12. I think the M1 cools off a bit, but 8-7 is not out of the question. Regarding the Association's decision to keep him out of the sanyaku, I think it goes back to the fact that he didn't beat any Ozeki in Kyushu.
Like Kaio, M1 Dejima is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Dejima could never have the impact on a basho that he did earlier in his career, but he shouldn't provide for that Hakurozan-esque slouch either that just lets the jo'i walk all over him. Dejima can certainly pick off a few Ozeki, but I see him struggling against the younger sanyaku and some of the blood in the upper Maegashira. 7 wins.
I love Tokitenku at M2 because he won't let everyone walk all over him either. He'll at least keep his week one opponents honest, but I don't see him emerging from the initial onslaught he'll face with a chance to kachi-koshi. 6 wins.
Former Komusubi Aminishiki checks in at M2 after a lackluster performance from the sanyaku in Kyushu. What's gonna change this basho? The competition won't, so I see Ami struggling this high up the ranks again. He should pick off a few rikishi in the elite ranks, but his Maegashira pals are also tough as nails. 7 wins.
At M3 we get our first walkover in Kyokutenho. Normally you have a rikishi or two who have solid basho from the M6 - M7 range only to get into it too deep and just get crushed among the jo'i. Takekaze and Hokutoriki are good examples, and Kyokushuzan was. Kyokutenho is a much more quality rikishi than those three, but he's given up on trying to always fight at his best. He'll get freebased to the tune of 4 wins.
And then we come to the number 16 guy on the banzuke, Baruto. Number 16 is important because it caps off the range known as the Makuuchi jo'i, or upper echelon. The Yokozuna always fights number 16 up through number 2 unless someone withdraws or he has a stablemate in that range and is forced to go deeper. I love Baruto in this position because I think he can do some damage. I don't see him beating Asashoryu this basho, but everyone else is fair game. The Estonian has got to jump out to a fast start, especially considering he should get the toughest opponents early on. I'm inclined to say that he will contend for the yusho, but as much as I want to hop on his bandwagon, I still go back to his lack of quality keiko. He's constantly practicing with a toothpick in the Juryo ranks named Satoyama. That doesn't help. He needs the experience fighting the jo'i in the practice ring so he can get a feel for them at the hon-basho. Baruto ranked at M1 went 4-6 before withdrawing in September. I think Kyushu proved for the most part that he has recovered from that injury even though he may not yet be 100%. What Kyushu didn't prove was that Baruto was beginning to figure out how to beat the truly good rikishi. In September, he was handled by the following rikishi: Chiyotaikai, Roho, Asashoryu, Hakuho, Ama, and Miyabiyama. In Kyushu he lost to: Asasekiryu, Homasho, Roho, Aminishiki, and Kotoshogiku. Now go look at the top 15, the majority of rikishi Baruto will face at the Hatsu basho. All of the dudes that beat Baruto the last two basho are there except for Asasekiryu. My whole point in this is I don't se anything that Baruto has done the last half of 2006 to improve himself when fighting the best. His oyakata has GOT to work it out so that Baruto is fighting quality rikishi in the keiko ring every day. Until he does, I don't think we'll see the breakthrough that we all know is potentially there. 9-6.
Rounding out the rest, M4 Ama is probably in his rightful place on the banzuke. I think he'll handle enough rikishi below him that he'll be able to muster a kachi-koshi. 8-7. His counterpart, Homasho, is will probably have the bulk of the attention centered on him the first few days after his 12-3 showing in Kyushu. You'll note how I said the first few days. As much as I love the guy--and hey, bet you hadn't of heard of him until I pegged him on our eyeonsumo page--I think he's going to take some lumps this basho. I think eventually that Homasho will flirt for a berth in the sanyaku, but not yet. I see him going 5-10. The low attack he implements works well for Tochiazuma, but Homasho isn't nearly as strong to make it work among the jo'i.
Takamisakari at M5? This should be fun. Dude will be lucky to scrape out five wins himself. Takamisakari will be the perfect example of why you need a good tachi-ai this high up the ranks...especially if you're a lanky dude with little muscle. Counterpart Kokkai really had a bad basho in Kyushu, and I attribute it to a poor keiko regime prior to that basho. I have yet to read any keiko reports surrounding him this basho, so this is a stab in the dark: 9-6. If you look at the rikishi immediately surrounding him, Kokkai's one of the better guys. Resurrect that awkward tsuppari attack that was missing in Fukuoka and you'll be just fine.
Asasekiryu checks in at M6, and like Kokkai, will provide some decent game in the middle ranks. I'm sure Asashoryu sat him down before leaving for Mongolia saying something like, "son, you're the man of the stable now while I'm gone..." We'll see if the pep talk worked. 8 wins. Counterpart Tochinonada is just like that stock that you really need to get rid of but you can't because it used to be higher, and you're holding out hope that it might just rise back up to it's previous status. Sell the damn thing already! 7-8.
I really like Kasugao at M7. You look at this dude's brute strength and his good sumo body, and it's baffling that he isn't consistently higher on the banzuke. Bad technique will do that to you I guess. 8 wins. Counterpart Futenoh's stock is slowly moving toward Tochinonada status. I've been waiting for him to do anything since day 3 of Aki 2005. I guess he'll kachi-koshi, but it means nothing until he does it among the jo'i.
M8 Kakuryu is sort of intriguing. He did kachi-koshi in his debut last basho, but he never really established a defining style. I think the large number of veterans surrounding him that basho will be too much for him to overcome. 7-8.
Okay, let's play a little game here now. I'll start listing off the names of rikishi in descending order, and you just stop me when I mention someone you want to hear about. Ready?
Takekaze...Kakizoe...Toyonoshima...Iwakiyama...Jumonji...Tamakasuga...Tochinohana...Toyozakura...Tokitsuumi...Kasuganishiki...(I'm still waiting)...Yoshikaze...Tamakasuga...Hakurozan...Asofuji...Ushiomaru...Tosanoumi...Otsukasa.
That's what I thought. Let me just point out the fact that dudes like Hakurozan, Asofuji, and Ushiomaru still in the Makuuchi ranks after that Kyushu basho is a pure testament to how bad the lower two fifths of the division flat out sucks. I'm not gonna waste any time or bandwidth on it.
Here are my Hatsu basho predictions:
Yusho: Asashoryu (13-2...Hakuho gets him as does one other)
Clancy kicks things off for us on day 1...see you after that.