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2009 Hatsu Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho report Meet Japanese girls.
Unbelievable. Sumo just can't get it right. It produces the highest-rated basho in a decade only to have that momentum completely derailed a few days later with the announcement that a rikishi was busted for possession of marijuana. And this time it was serious because the offender was Japanese. If that wasn't bad enough, Wakakirin actually tested positive for marijuana...twice back in September, but thanks to the mentality that pervades in Japan that drugs are a foreign influence and not applicable to the Japanese, you not only have a Japanese rikishi arrested, but you have a scandalous drug testing process completely exposed. I get it. Boot Roho and Hakurozan (two foreigners) out no questions asked while you let Wakakirin (the native) skate. I take back everything I ever said about racism in sumo.

Adding to the nightmare is the fact that Kitanoumi Rijicho lied to the media back when the positive tests from the Russian brothers were revealed while never revealing Wakakirin's name even though he was asked point blank. The Japanese press asked Kitanoumi in a press conference about the rumors that Japanese rikishi had tested positive, but he denied any knowledge of it, a fib that is now making headlines in Japan as we speak. And while we're on the subject of Kitanoumi, how in the hell does he still maintain a seat on Sumo's board of directors? Wakakirin's stable-master, Oguruma-oyakata, was demoted two ranks from Sumo Association official (there are three officials adjacent to the 10 directors who make up the board) down to toshi-yori status, the same status held by guys like the recently retired Tochinohana and Tochisakae. Yet, Kitanoumi, who was Hakurozan's stable master, received no demotion whatsoever. He resigned his post as commissioner, but he still has the title of director. The reason Kitanoumi still maintains is same status is that nobody dares to stand up to him. When I said in my year in review report that Kitanoumi still has plenty of control in the Sumo Association, I wasn't kidding.

And if anybody knows the oyakata at all, it absolutely has to break your heart that Oguruma-oyakata was done like that. There are good guys in sumo, and then there are the really good guys. Oguruma is the goodest of them all. He's a great commentator on the broadcasts who isn't afraid to stand up for what's right; he's a humble guy; and he truly cares about his rikishi and is not in this just for the status and fame. He is everything that is good about sumo while Kitanoumi is everything that's wrong. I am not surprised at all when sumo fans like our former contributor George are turned away from the sport because they simply can't stomach the injustice and corruption.

Now that I've built up sufficient drama...let's get right to the basho starting with the yusho rikishi, Asashoryu. When I was crafting my pre-basho report, I had Asashoryu all but written off after reading those reports from the soken keiko session, but fortunately someone posted a keiko clip on our forum the next day of Asashoryu battling Harumafuji. After watching the clip, I knew the Yokozuna would be okay, but not this okay. Actually, you'll remember early on how many close calls Asashoryu had. Kisenosato nearly had him on day 1; Miyabiyama had a shot on day 4; and even Yoshikaze had the Yokozuna scrambling on day 7. Everyone was still holding their breath by day 8, but after kicking Aminishiki and Harumafuji's asses on consecutive days, you could see that Asashoryu had it back. It didn't hurt either that his competition the next five days consisted of the other four Ozeki and Baruto. By the time senshuraku came around, you knew Asashoryu was going to take the yusho. That's just the way sumo is, a game of fierce momentum. It was so important for Asashoryu to make a statement like this, and it was equally important to finally get off of yusho 22 and surpass Takanohana once and for all. As I said in my senshuraku report, you don't have to root for Asashoryu to win, but you're crazy not to root for his longevity. If Asashoryu can get serious about keiko again, he can wrest the title of numero uno away from Hakuho.

As for Hakuho, he was stuck in the same sorta rut this basho as Harumafuji. Things had gotten so easy for those two with Asashoryu out that they brought that same attitude into the Haru basho due to Asashoryu's terrible condition prior to the tournament. Hakuho is so good that he can literally sit back at the tachi-ai and still win with forward-moving sumo. He did just that nearly every day of the tournament, but the tactic caught up with him when Harumafuji was able to burrow on the inside of him on day 10 and then again in the playoff when Asashoryu was able to demand the inside position from the tachi-ai giving the taller Hakuho little chance. Asashoryu was likely sandbagging at times in January from hinting to the press that he might sit out the Hatsu basho to his terrible showing in front of the YDC to his holding his elbow after the win against Kotomitsuki on day 10. Whether Asashoryu was really faking things or not is inconsequential now. The point is that regardless of what Asashoryu says or does before the Haru basho, Hakuho will be ready. Where Hatsu had the suspense early on due to the mystery surrounding Asashoryu's condition, Haru will have the drama from day 1 with both Yokozuna healthy and rearing to go. I already see a repeat of last year's Hatsu basho with Hakuho taking the yusho again after a spectacular senshuraku bout.

Let's move to the Ozeki ranks where Kotomitsuki led the way...in rank only. The Ozeki's sumo was plenty rank as he managed 2-9 start before graciously bowing out. Kotomitsuki suffered from a bout of gout prior to the basho which disabled him from sufficient keiko. A guy at his age coming in out of shape will never cut it. No more to say.

Chiyotaikai was his average self finishing an uneventful 8-7 again. His one big win was against Kotooshu, and then I guess the win over Kyokutenho looked good in the end even though Tenho has a glass jaw when it comes to facing the Pup's tsuppari attack. Chiyotaikai needed help on the final day from Goeido to get his eight, but he did Kaio a favor as well on day 9, so it all works out in the end...unfortunately for us. I respect Chiyotaikai and Kaio, but the faster they leave, the faster the younger guys can inherit the rank. And when I talk about younger guys, Baruto is the only foreigner left who shows short-term promise. Get Kisenosato and Goeido in the Ozeki rank, and it will do wonders for television ratings and ticket sales.

Kotooshu had the best basho of the Ozeki, and his 10-5 finish was respectable. Although he got off to a good 8-1 start, you could just see it in his sumo that he didn't want a part of the yusho race, which helps explain his 2-4 finish. It was a step in the right direction, however, because Kotooshu fans have been used to his needing some charity to even get his kachi-koshi. Kotooshu's footwork was much improved in Hatsu as evidenced by his thorough ass kicking of Kisenosato on day 2, but there's still more work to be done with the lower body...and between the ears for Kotooshu to really strike fear into anybody. That's the point...nobody is afraid to face this guy these days.

Ozeki Kaio is the same old tired act as Chiyotaikai, but I can't blame anyone for milking a good job for as long as they can. Kaio's tournament included zero impressive wins and is best remembered for his kote-nage throw against Toyonoshima that sent the Komusubi packing. I know there has been some debate as to whether that move should be disallowed because it's knocked several rikishi out of basho, but that's a retarded argument. How do you let other rikishi execute the kote-nage while Kaio can't? I guess his opponents are gonna have to figure out how to avoid it for at least two more basho.

After week one, who even remembered that Harumafuji was an Ozeki? What was that Ama? The Ozeki clearly came into the tournament cocky and unprepared mentally. Asashoryu's absence the previous three basho lowered the quality of sumo across the board, and while you can't blame Harumafuji for taking what was given to him, the Ozeki cannot just show up basho after basho and expect to win in double digits. He went 4-0 against his fellow Ozeki which is a small feat these days, and he needed what I thought was some charity from Kyokutenho on day 7 to notch just his second win in the first week. Harumafuji's only quality win came against Hakuho on day 9, but what's more telling to me is the way he was manhandled by Kisenosato, Goeido, and Baruto.

And speaking of Baruto, let's head to the Sekiwake ranks where the Estonian had himself another solid tournament. Baruto's fast 6-0 start was put into a bit of perspective when he looked absolutely lost against Kotooshu on day 7, and then he let a string of losses to tough rikishi get into his head to where he was upset by Kyokutenho and Kotoshogiku, but he made a huge statement on senshuraku when he threw Harumafuji around like a rag doll. We all know that Baruto needs to polish his technique; the problem is he tried a few new things mid-basho, most notably his attempted tsuppari against Kotooshu that completely took him out of the bout.

If you've watched sumo for six or more years now, you may remember Chiyotaikai's last yusho that came in Haru 2003. The knock on Chiyotaikai was of course that he had no yotsu skills, so the Kokonoe camp decided that the Pup would work on yotsu-zumo as that's what it would take for him to reach Yokozuna. The problem was that Chiyotaikai is strictly a tsuppari guy, and you don't just suddenly change what got you into a certain position overnight. The result was some shaky sumo on day 1 and then a loss on day 3 to Takamisakari no less. Chiyotaikai ended that basho 10-5 with an awful 0-3 finish against the main competition in his day, and he's never threatened for the Yokozuna rank since. Getting back to Baruto, his sumo is largely reactionary...which is fine. It's taken him to this height, and he makes a helluva lot more money than I do, but if he's serious about the Ozeki rank, he's going to have to learn a better tachi-ai and more offensive moves. Practice it little by little in the keiko ring, not mid-basho. Ultimately, Baruto's jovial nature that disallows him to get mean in the ring will keep him away from the Yokozuna rank, but he can back into Ozeki when a few guys retire.

Counterpart Aminishiki was lackluster this basho, so when a leg injury suffered against Asashoryu on day 8 forced him to withdraw, nobody missed him anyway. Ami picked up his usual win over Kotooshu and was the first to expose Kotomitsuki on day 1. His only other win came against Kotoshogiku, which says more about the Sadogatake-beya than it does Aminishiki. The Sekiwake was not missed this basho unlike our Komusubi who withdrew, which we'll talk about in a few.

Speaking of the Komusubi ranks, Kisenosato had an awful basho but still managed to kachi-koshi, which is a good thing as it puts him in the Sekiwake ranks for Haru. The problem with the Kid this basho was his dropping bouts to nonsense rikishi like Kotoshogiku (I know their history head to head), Kyokutenho, and Kokkai. Kisenosato never did score that big win in Hatsu. His ass-kicking of Harumafuji was put into better perspective by basho's end, and so what if he beat Chiyotaikai and Kaio? The Kid did pull out a big win over Goeido on day 14 and survived a scare from Takamisakari to clinch kachi-koshi, but give him props. He did it without any help unlike a lot of guys we've already mentioned. He can excel in Haru as his week 1 schedule won't be as tough.

Counterpart Toyonoshima withdrew early after showing up on the wrong end of a Kaio kote-nage throw as previously mentioned. Toyonoshima claimed that his back troubles were overblown prior to the basho, but who's to say? You can't fault him for losing to both Yokozuna, an Ozeki, and Baruto before running into Kaio. The important thing is that Toyonoshima is 100% in Haru although his paltry two wins will unfortunately send him too far down the ranks to pester the jo'i. We'll have to wait until May to see him up here again, but it should be worth the wait.

Kotoshogiku leads the Maegashira ranks, and you know how I used to always bring it up that he gets a break each basho for not having to fight his two stablemate Ozeki? Now that I think about it, maybe he'd have less competition if he could fight them. Regardless, the Geeku got off to a terrible 0-6 start with his 6-9 finish being inflated a bit by a default win over Toyonoshima. What ever it is...the Geeku has lost it. He did have a good win over Kisenosato and an even better win over Baruto, but with the competition he faced, he just couldn't afford to lose to guys like Yoshikaze and Takekaze.

Counterpart Kyokutenho was the perfect contrast. He got off to an equally bad start as Kotoshogiku, but he made amends for it by beating the lesser competition in week two. Throw in his two upsets over Kisenosato and Baruto and win against Kotomitsuki, and you have the exact basho that anyone ranked M1-M3 needs to accomplish to reach the sanyaku. Sanyaku and Kyokutenho mix about as well as Darwin and his Bible, but props to the Chauffeur for showing the Maegashira how it's done.

M2 Miyabiyama's 6-9 finish was par for the course. It was good to see him pick up wins over three Ozeki even though that rank was largely non-existent, and then he almost beat Asashoryu on day 4. Course "almost" only counts in horseshoes and drug testing foreign rikishi for marijuana.

Counterpart Yoshikaze overachieved in my opinion finishing 6-9 himself. You gotta hand it to Kaze for his fighting spirit this high in the ranks. He has neither the body nor the game to survive up here, but hell if he didn't beat Ozeki Harumafuji on day 1. Then of course there was the little wager between Martin and Clancy on whether or not Yoshikaze could win 5. Clancy said yes, Martin said no, which makes the Transylvanian 0 for whatever when betting against his senpai.

M3 Takekaze had an equally surprising basho managing to finish 7-8. Don't get too excited, however, as his only win over a kachi-koshi rikishi came in an absolute fluke against Goeido. Yoshikaze and Takekaze showed great spirit this basho, which is more than you can say about a lot of guys who wander into these parts.

In the past, I've often talked about how I loved the M4 rank. The reason was it provided the perfect launching pad for a hot rikishi to make his move to the sanyaku. The rank was just out of reach of all the elite, but enough would trickle down to give the M4 a sufficient test. With Harumafuji's promotion to Ozeki (and two healthy Yokozuna), this dark horse rank now becomes the West M3 slot occupied by none other than Goeido this basho. And my man didn't disappoint. In hindsight, Goeido suffered a horrendous loss to Kotomitsuki on day 3, and then there was the one second fluke against Takekaze, but other than that, he was nails finishing up 10-5 that included deferring his senshuraku bout against Chiyotaikai. Goeido is on the brink where he's just a few bone-headed losses away from consistent 11-12 win performances among the jo'i. He's also got a bit of a mental block when fighting Yokozuna and Ozeki. He doesn't think he belongs in the dohyo with these guys yet, so he's unable to finish a lot of them off even when he gets the upper hand. The highlight of Goeido's basho was the win over Baruto where he showed that he can go toe to toe with the Estonian at the belt...and kick his ass. What Goeido needs now is a little more attention from Asashoryu. The Yokozuna has had enough distractions lately to where he has been unable to visit the Sakaigawa-beya and tutor Goeido, but let's hope that changes in Osaka...Goeido's home town. You can already see the storylines for Haru shaping up.

Wakanosato was a bit off this basho even though he finished 7-8. He just didn't have that good upset over an elite rikishi (Kotomitsuki doesn't count), and he failed to beat a kachi-koshi rikishi, but give him props for for taking care of bidness against the younger guys around him. Counterpart Kokkai was average even though he finished 5-10. The Georgian didn't look as lost as he has recently, and that's encouraging considering his competition this basho. He had a few good wins with the highlight being that yotsu-zumo contest against Kisenosato, so let's hope he doesn't continue this slide in Osaka. I like him this high to keep guys honest.

M5 Futenoh was as useless as tits on a boar this basho finishing 5-10. Counterpart Takamisakari was decent even at 6-9. The difference here was Takamisakari gave everyone a fight, and unlike Futenoh, he can keep all of his opponents honest at this rank. Just ask Kisenosato who nearly bit it on senshuraku against the Cop.

M6 Bushuyama was clearly over-ranked at this level, and at best, he's a borderline Makuuchi rikishi. Bout after bout he was close but could never seal the deal, thus his 2-13 finish. Guys who can't finish receive Juryo paychecks. Counterpart Aran is a Makuuchi rikishi, but he doesn't have the game yet to compete at this level, and it showed with his 5-10 finish. It doesn't mean that someday he can't kachi-koshi from M6, but he's got to settle into a yotsu attack to succeed. Currently, his sumo is all over the board including his tachi-ai.

M7 Hokutoriki's 9-6 performance shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. Here's a veteran who definitely knows how to win, so when you have newbies like Bushuyama and Aran, softies like Futenoh, and oldies like Dejima surrounding him on the banzuke, hell yeah he's gonna kachi-koshi. Counterpart Dejima struggles no matter where he's at on the banzuke. I think his problem was manifest with his faking a shoulder dislocation after getting his ass kicked by Yamamotoyama on day 13. He pouted like a child limping back to the dressing room gingerly holding his elbow just so only to come out the next day and beat a 10-3 Tamanoshima. That lard you see covering Dejima's body is called baby fat.

M8 Asasekiryu sucked in Hatsu. There's just no other way to state it. How does a veteran like Suckiryu end up 6-9 this low in the ranks with nobody around him? I can't explain it, so I won't. Contrast that with counterpart Kakuryu...a rikishi who doesn't have the game or experience of Asasekiryu, yet the Kak managed a 9-6 record without even trying. Kakuryu was prepared; Asasekiryu was not.

Nothing new to say about M9 Tosanoumi who finished 5-10 other than pointing out that 4 of his 5 wins were scored with non-forward moving sumo. He's just trying to survive out there, and I don't have a problem with it cause he gives you an honest day's work everyday. Counterpart Chiyohakuho has probably peaked in the division, which doesn't mean much considering his four basho history. He's undersized, so he's got to have more than just a lightweight tsuppari attack to make an impression in Makuuchi.

M10 Tokitenku finally scored a kachi-koshi checking in at 9-6. Tenku can credit that to an incredibly weak banzuke. Counterpart Tochinonada is sorta like Dejima in that regardless of where he's at in the ranks, he always seems to hover around 7-8 wins. Even among the jo'i the Gentle Giant can finish with seven wins easily, so put him down here, and 8 is a given.

I don't think anyone in interested in sumo can root against M11 Iwakiyama. A coupla basho ago he got off to a great start in the division only to suffer an injury that knocked him back down to Juryo for a spell, so it was compelling to see how he'd do in Hatsu. The Moon in the Man didn't disappoint putting together a nifty 4-0 spurt late in week two to secure kachi-koshi. Like Tosanoumi, Iwakiyama will never get another sniff of the sanyaku, but it's fun to watch these veterans continue to survive in the division. Counterpart Tochinoshin started well, sucked in the middle, and then pulled his head out using a 4-0 finish to secure KK at 8-7. Here's a telling stat: of NoShine's eight wins, only two were against kachi-koshi rikishi in Kakizoe and Iwakiyama. Have we already seen the best that Tochinoshin has to offer? Prolly.

It was a typical basho for M12 Tochiohzan when ranked this low: fast start, name on the leaderboard, fold in the end when the pressure mounts. An 8-0 start followed by a 2-5 finish. And the highest-ranked rikishi he faced during the homestretch? M3 Goeido. How is Oh ever gonna succeed in this division when he's unable to keep things together the entire 15 days? The ultimate sanyaku right now is Bart, Kisenosato, Goeido, and Toyonoshima. Beyond that, is there anyone that even gives you a stiffie? You'd have to say that Kotoshogiku, Kyokutenho, and Tochiohzan are the best Maegashira rikishi on the board right now, but Tochiohzan can't even stay ranked higher than M4. Judging by his finish in Hatsu, I don't see much changing, which means interest in non-sanyaku bouts the next year will be next to nothing. Counterpart Kakizoe scrapped out an 8-7 mark thanks to a 3-0 finish. This is really the best that Kakizoe has to offer, so lump him in with guys like Tosanoumi and Iwakiyama.

M13 Tamawashi showed flashes of maturity this basho as he fell just short at 7-8. After two basho in Makuuchi and two make-koshi, the Mongolian has now gained sufficient experience to not only win a majority of his bouts but to stick in the division. I don't see him ever being an impact rikishi, however. Counterpart Koryu just isn't cut out for the division. He likewise has spent two basho at the dance now, but he only has a 9-21 record to show for it. Next.

Nothing went right for M14 Toyohibiki in Hatsu. How many of us thought "this guy is back!" after his brilliant day 1 win only to fail to notice that the win came against Koryu. The Nikibi dropped his next six and struggled throughout the fortnight. You'll remember that he had surgery for a detached retina that kept him out of the Kyushu basho, so attribute his performance to ring rust. He should right the ship in Juryo and be back where he belongs shortly. You could just see counterpart Masatsukasa fading like your favorite pair of blue jeans in Kyushu, so there's not surprise that he got thumped to the tune of 4-11 in Hatsu. I guess he's got some nagging injuries, but this dude needs to go rethink a few things in Juryo.

M15 Tamanoshima was solid finishing 11-4. Normally, I would say that I don't care because as a former Sekiwake he should perform this well at his level, but Tamanoshima is officially over the hill, so props to his strong showing. As far as I'm concerned, he can rule the bottom half of the Makuuchi roost because he ain't doin' anything higher up the banzuke.

Which brings us to M15 Yamamotoyama, our lone rookie who scrapped out a fine kachi-koshi for himself. If you read my comments during the basho on this guy, I have nothing further to add. Once all of the rikishi figure out that you don't align chests with this guy, he will struggle the same way Konishiki did after he got too fat to sustain the rank of Ozeki. I enjoy watching Yamamotoyama, but it's due more to his freakish size than anything.

And finally, M16 Homasho who brought up the rear of the banzuke had himself a great basho save a day 3 loss to Koryu. I guess Homasho is another guy who you'd add to the list of best Maegashira rikishi. For a guy of his size to have any sorta injury will just kill him, and his bad wrists had hampered him for most of last year. Hopefully, this basho was an indication that his wrist surgery in September last year has paid off. I thought he deserved the Fight Spirit Prize (Kantosho) as much as anyone.

That puts a wrap on the year's first tournament. I see where the Association as announced another drug test for the end of this month. Let's hope they have that mess cleaned up by time the Haru basho starts because that tourney should be a barn burner. See you all then.

Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls here.
The first thing I do when a new banzuke comes out is look for rikishi ranked where they shouldn't be. The 2008 Kyushu banzuke had rikishi all over the place out of rank providing for a very un-balanced banzuke. The result was 7 rikishi who finished with double-digit wins and more yusho pretenders than we ever care to see. The Hatsu basho banzuke, however, is extremely balanced with only a few guys out of rank with two of those being Yoshikaze and Takekaze ranked too high. The result is that you won't see a lot of high scoring this January, which means Hakuho and Harumafuji are going to have their way...just like the previous two basho. Of course 90% of the pre-basho scrutiny has been focused on Yokozuna Asashoryu who looks to complete a basho for the first time since Natsu 2008, a tournament where he went just 11-4. Judging by his pre-basho keiko, however, he's out of shape and not ready to enter the tournament. Well, not ready to enter it as a dai-Yokozuna. Keeping in mind that we've really only received true keiko reports regarding Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Harumafuji prior to the tournament, let's examine the entire field taking generous stabs in the dark along the way.

Yokozuna Hakuho checks in once again in the banzuke's highest seat. After wasting time staying at home and battling Makushita Ryuo, Hakuho got pro-active and visited twice the only rikishi who has a chance to stop him this basho in Harumafuji. Hakuho's results against Harumafuji haven't been kick-ass to the tune of a 90% win percentage, but he's really just sizing the new Ozeki up and plotting his plan when he faces him late in week 2. Against fellow Yokozuna Asashoryu at the YDC general keiko session, Hakuho won the first six before finally bowing to his senpai. And while I didn't see footage of the session, I'll bet Hakuho let Asashoryu win that last one out of pity. What I'm really trying to say here is that Hakuho will be unstoppable at the Hatsu basho. Asashoryu's back and doesn't seem to be a threat, the four Ozeki without the letters A-M-A in their shikona will be weak, and Hakuho has a chance to win a fourth consecutive basho, something he has yet to do in his career. The incentive is there, and if Hakuho can start out 5-0, I see him winning the whole shebang with a zensho yusho.

Moving across the aisle, Yokozuna Asashoryu got off to a late keiko start, and it caught up to him on the Wednesday before the basho when his keiko opponents changed from Futenoh, Tochiohzan, and Tochinonada to Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Kotooshu. There's no other way to say it; Asashoryu was embarrassed in front of the YDC. His showing was so bad that speculation ran rampant as to whether or not he would go kyujo. Asashoryu actually can go kyujo and not be forced to retire, and I thought at first that was the best option, but after watching a video of a keiko session against Harumafuji the next day, I'm not so worried. The good news for Genghis is that there's not much more tough competition beyond what he faced at the YDC session. He could very well lose to Harumafuji but beat the rest of the Ozeki. He'll out-quick Baruto. He'll have a tough time with Aminishiki and at worst should go 1-1 against the two Komusubi. After that, the upper Maegashira is mostly gravy, so I don't see him being humiliated as he was at the general keiko session, but winning more than 11 will be tough. Keiko is one thing, but once the hon-basho starts, it's just a different atmosphere. An atmosphere that Asashoryu hasn't experience since September. It's called sumo-kan, or ring sense, and I think Asashoryu needs to get it back before he can seriously contend for a yusho.

In the Ozeki ranks, Kotomitsuki leads the way simply because this is Harumafuji's first basho at the rank. Mitsuki missed the YDC session with a case of gout likely brought on by drinking excessive alcohol. Nice training regime. For Kotomitsuki to do well at a tournament, he's gotta have a good pre-basho so he's on a roll coming in. Unfortunately, I don't think he has, so I see the Ozeki lackluster at 9-6.

Chiyotaikai should be par for the course which means he'll find a way to win his eight. The top of the Maegashira ranks is a bit soft for my liking, but the best sanyaku we've had in years will make up for it. The Pup's gotta get out to a fast start against the Maegashira to secure kachi-koshi, but I think he'll do it. 8 wins.

Ozeki Kotooshu is another mystery since the only keiko report I've read about him saw him go 1-1 against Asashoryu. As I stated in my year-end report, Kotooshu's sumo has been just painful to watch the last few basho. I doubt his stablemaster, the Bore, has done much to solve it, so expect another lackluster performance. Focus on the Bulgarian's footwork this basho, especially the way he comes out of the tachi-ai. If he looks well-grounded to the dohyo, he'll be fine, but if he's taking a lot of short steps this way and that, he's going to struggle. Give him 8-9 wins.

Stick a fork in Ozeki Kaio already. The veteran was a no-show at the YDC keiko session, which is a terrible sign. At least show up even if you don't fight. Kaio was moving so poorly in Kyushu before he withdrew, and at his age, he ain't gonna heal so fast. We've said it several times over the last few years, but this has really got to be the end. The Ozeki's lucky to last even five days. No sense predicting his final record because I don't see how Kaio doesn't retire during the basho.

Which brings us to the best Ozeki on the board without question in Harumafuji. You have a guy that's been on a major roll; he just went 13-2 threatening for the yusho; he's young; he's a damn hard worker; he has excellent technique; and he's brimming with confidence. I don't see an Ozeki let-down for Harumafuji. Dude can smell a yusho just around the corner, so he's going to do what it takes to get to that next level. As I mentioned earlier, Hakuho wins in Hatsu, but Harumafuji's day may come as soon as Haru. It's not that I think he's close to seriously challenging Hakuho basho in and basho out, but I think Kublai will let his guard down here soon allowing Harumafuji to move into the winner's circle. What does Hakuho care if another countryman takes the yusho? Asa had no problem with Hakuho, and Hakuho will have no problem with Harumafuji. Since he is riding some serious momentum already, I see Harumafuji winning 12 in Hatsu.

Moving down to the Sekiwake ranks, Baruto occupies the first slot. I've yet to read any keiko reports from the Estonian, but Mario did translate an interview with the Sekiwake where Estonian fans sent in their questions for him. You can read excerpts of the interview here on our forum (go to page 19), and the one thing that stood out for me is that Baruto seems more worried about pleasing the fans than he does just kicking everyone's ass. Next to Takamisakari, a Baruto kachi-koshi interview is the most enjoyable. The Estonian is always so jovial (remember Kitakachidoki anyone?), and that smile is so contagious, you can't help but to root for the guy, but if the Sekiwake could develop a real meanstreak, he'd become an absolute terror upon the dohyo. Still, he'll win at least three against the Ozeki, and he'll crush the upper Maegashira, so Baruto is favored to score another kachi-koshi. I'm just waiting for the day when he wins 11-12 from this level. Could happen by the end of the year. 8-9 wins for now.

In the West, Aminishiki moves back up a notch after a puzzling Kyushu basho where he beat Hakuho straight up and handled a lot of the tough guys but suffered losses to dudes like Futenoh, Wakanosato, and Kyokutenho. I see Sneaky riding some of the momentum Harumafuji has brought to the stable and posting a solid basho finishing around 9 wins.

I absolutely love the two Komusubi in Kisenosato and Toyonoshima. Kisenosato was overlooked at the Kyushu basho even though he won 11, and after recovering from that illness that actually had him hospitalized during the Aki basho, the Kid is back. He seemed to be a major player when the heavy hitters all practiced at the YDC session, and he has enough experience under his mawashi that I see him enjoying another solid basho despite the tough schedule he'll face in week 1. I'm looking for a 4-3 start at worst on his way to a 10-win basho. He's the third most exciting guy on the banzuke right now behind Hakuho and Harumafuji. Moving to the right, I was disappointed to see Toyonoshima sit out the YDC keiko session with a sore lower back. Toyonoshima emphasized that he was completely fine and was only taking precautions because his legs were a bit numb when he woke up in the morning, but if he was really completely fine, he'da practiced at the YDC session. A healthy Toyonoshima wins 8 at the basho, but I'm not sold that he's 100%. I see him hoisting a few Ozeki scalps but otherwise falling short with 6-7 wins. I hope I'm wrong because I have high expectations for this guy long term.

Let's move to the Maegashira ranks where Kotoshogiku checks in at M1. Talk about a guy who has fallen off the radar. I guess more than that is he's simply been overshadowed by Harumafuji's rise to Ozeki, Kisenosato's resurgence, Aminishiki's quickness, Toyonoshima's maturity, and Baruto's rise to the sanyaku. Since Kotoshogiku has got to win a majority of bouts against those guys before he faces the Yokozuna and other Ozeki in order to succeed, in puts things into perspective regarding his chances. Unlike Yamamotoyama, they're slim. I don't see the Geeku overcoming a tough early schedule, so expect more frustration as he finishes 6-9. Kyokutenho finds himself ranked as high as he's been in a year or more, and frankly speaking, he is no longer comfortable at these ranks. No doubt that he has the ability to beat anyone ranked higher than him and it wouldn't be an upset, and while there's a wheel there's a way, I just don't see any will for the Chauffeur this basho. 5 wins.

M2 Miyabiyama is extremely compelling at this rank because his tsuppari attack is still tough to handle for rikishi who can't out-quick him from the start. I'm excited to see him face the Ozeki, and he gives Asashoryu fits again if the Yokozuna is a go, but I don't think there's enough gas in the tank anymore for the Sheriff to sustain a complete basho where he's fighting at his best. Watch for a decent start considering his schedule, and then he'll putter out at the end. 6-7 wins...which is very respectable. Counterpart Yoshikaze reaps the reward of one of those fluke basho from lower in the ranks where a guy gets hot and actually stays on the yusho board only to lose it of course in the end and find himself ranked way out of his ability the next tournament. Yoshikaze is going to get filleted this basho, and I don't see him winning more than four.

Same goes for M3 Takekaze, who was actually a Komusubi a year ago. Takekaze was so beaten down, though, when he graced the sanyaku that he has yet to recover. The sanyaku is far better this basho than when Takekaze was a Komusubi, and he's not better than a one of his peers in the upper Maegashira which is a recipe for an ugly basho. If the two Kaze's combine for more than 10 wins this basho, I'll eat Arbo's shorts.

Goeido fills out the M3 West slot and could be the sleeper this basho. I wonder why it is that he fights much better from this level than he does from the sanyaku. There are so many rikishi for the press to talk about above him from the two Yokozuna, Harumafuji, Kaio, Baruto and the two Komusubi that Goeido is getting completely overlooked this basho. I think the lack of attention is good for the kid, and he should be much more settled from the start this tournament. He should finish week 1 around 3-4, which is great from this rank, and then just wipe the dohyo clean with the arses of his week 2 opponents. I look for Goeido to re-establish himself this basho and wrest the West Komusubi slot away from the ailing Toyonoshima.

At M4 is Wakanosato, a rikishi you gotta love in these parts as he should face a good share of the top guns. His fast start last basho and early upsets of some of the Ozeki have probably reminded his peers just how dangerous he is with the inside position, so while I don't think he has quite as good a basho as he did in Kyushu, he can still win seven due to his lower rank. Counterpart Kokkai should be an adventure at this rank. I think he and Kotooshu have hired the same lower body coach because Kokkai's sumo has become just as sloppy as the Ozeki's, it's just not as prominent due to his rank. I wish I was wrong on this one, but I think Kokkai is going to have a long basho. It's been awhile since he's been ranked around so many quality rikishi, so I think he'll look like a first-timer again in these parts. Five wins is an accomplishment.

I normally love the M5 - M6 ranks because guys with game can do a lot of damage from here. Unfortunately, Futenoh leads the way at East M5 so I think even FEMA will be able to handle these guys in Hatsu. Futenoh is probably far enough away from the top guys who don't hail from the Sadogatake-beya, but he's no longer a potent guy high in the Maegashira ranks. Six wins. Counterpart Takamisakari is largely in the same boat although I like him better than Futenoh and think he may be able to surprise a few people here. That unfortunately doesn't translate into a kachi-koshi, but the Cop'll come close with six or seven.

M6 Bushuyama is way out of his league here. He'll struggle with the speed and the crafty veterans at this rank and will be lucky to win even five bouts. Bushuyama impressed me with his brief surge at the end of the Kyushu basho, but like Amy Winehouse on a roll, he's way too high here. Aran on the other hand has gotta shot, even though he's in the same boat as Bushuyama in terms of jumping up the ranks quickly. I commented on this in Kyushu, but you could tangibly see at about six to seven days into the tournament that Aran had figured out how to win. It wasn't pretty, but dude exuded confidence the latter half of the basho. That's half the game right there, so if Aran ain't got the shakes, I think he can kachi-koshi and expect him to do so.

I actually like Hokutoriki at M7. He's a veteran now and can handle most of the youngsters near him with his sly sumo. Like Kyokutenho, Hokutoriki will at times go half-assed in order to keep himself out of rising too high, but I expect a kachi-koshi this basho. Counterpart Dejima seems to struggle with his kachi-koshi regardless of where he's ranked on the banzuke, so hellifiknow how he's going to turn out.

Two rikishi poised to threaten for double-digit wins both reside at M8 in Asasekiryu and Kakuryu. Both Mongolians are better than this rank, and with hardly any heavy hitters surrounding them, they could actually find themselves on the leaderboard in week 2. 10 wins for Asasekiryu; 9 wins for the Kak.

I'll bet it's been years since Tosanoumi was ranked at M9, and he finds himself sandwiched among some pretty tough rikishi whose youth will make it tough for him to succeed. I really don't see how the Blue Collar Man scores a kachi-koshi this basho. 6 wins. Counterpart Chiyohakuho is in the same boat. After his successful debut in the division, he really hasn't looked comfortable and has failed to settle into a good fighting routine. He matches his date to the left with six wins.

Tokitenku and Tochinonada are under-ranked at M10. Tokitenku has to stop his make-koshi slide this basho, and I think he does it with nine wins. The Gentle Giant could very well reach double-digit wins, so give him 10.

Iwakiyama is compelling at M11. Iwonkey Kong was doing well coupla basho go before an injury sent him back to Juryo. He cleaned up in the Juryo ranks and finds himself up as high as M11 this basho. He's on the kachi-koshi fence for sure, but I think he barely falls short. Counterpart Tochinoshin falls safely back to the lower third of the Maegashira ranks and should find the going easy enough to capture nine wins. Someday, this guys needs to make a decent stand among the jo'i.

Same goes for M12 Tochiohzan. If Oh and No Shine fail to kachi-koshi among the jo'i before their careers are through, it'll be such a waste. Tochiohzan has shown before that he can get off to a great start this low only to go weak in the news when paired with rikishi higher in the ranks. Don't be surprised if we see such a bash from him again. 9-10 wins. Counterpart Kakizoe can still kachi-koshi here but can't win more than nine.

Tamawashi makes his return to the division at M13 after a successful stint in Juryo. The problem though is he's surrounded by a lot of Makuuchi veterans who have fallen lower than they should be. Tamawashi has it in him to make a stand and kachi-koshi, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get off to another slow start and never recover. Seven wins but valuable experience for next basho. Counterpart Koryu attempts his third go-around and has yet to impress. Like Aran, there seemed to be a point in Kyushu where the light clicked on and Koryu figured something out. He failed to kachi-koshi, but he wasn't the push-over he was in his debut. Like Tamawashi, Koryu gets close to kachi-koshi but falls short in the end with six wins.

M14 Toyohibiki is definitely one to watch this basho. You'll remember he had a fantastic basho in Aki that sent him up to the jo'i, but a detached retina suffered late in October and the resulting surgery forced him to miss the Kyushu basho entirely. I know nothing about detached retinas, recovery time, and any lingering side effects, but if Toyohibiki is 100%, he's capable of winning 11 and sailing right back up where he left off. Let's hope the Hutt has recovered. Counterpart Masatsukasa finds himself among some steep competition. Calling the bottom five or six rikishi on the banzuke dregs is normally a compliment, but you can't say that this basho with a lot of good veterans recovering from injury and Yamamotoyama lurking beneath. As a result, I think Masatsukasa is going to struggle and fail to kachi-koshi.

Tamanoshima is one of the said veterans as he checks in at M15. Tamanoshima has been stuck this low for several basho now, but he's good enough to keep himself in the division by beating younger opponents like Masatsukasa. Tamanoshima is on the kachi-koshi fence. I say he gets it. Which brings us to our lone rookie, Yamamotoyama. This guy has gained a lot of notoriety namely because he's the fattest sekitori we've seen since Susanoumi. Remember Susanoumi? If you don't it's because he spent the majority of his career in the Juryo ranks. When guys get too fat, they just can't move sufficiently in order to sustain solid Makuuchi careers. Look at Konishiki. He shot up the ranks in record time, and was close to the Yokozuna rank, but he got so fat he couldn't even touch his fists down at the tachi-ai. Konishiki won his last yusho in Haru 1992. Less than two years later he was gone from the Ozeki rank. Yamamotoyama showed glimpses of brilliance last basho as he made multiple appearances in the division from the Juryo ranks, and I assume he's going to have a few good bouts this basho. Hell, he could very well kachi-koshi in his debut, but he's too large to be a successful Makuuchi rikishi. He'll be more of a novelty than anything.

And finally, Homasho finds himself on the lowest rung of the totem pole at M16 after a nagging wrist injury has sent him to the brink. Homasho is lightweight as it is, so if he's not 100%, he's going to struggle. If that wrist has fully healed, like Toyohibiki he's very capable of 11 wins. I expect the two-month layoff to help Homie, and I'll say he manages 9-10 wins. Sumo can use all the good guys it can get, so let's hope Homasho is back.

After watching the video of Asashoryu's practice against Harumafuji, I'm far more encouraged than I was after reading the YDC keiko reports. I think the Yokozuna will add sufficient excitement to the basho, but still, as I mentioned in my intro, with the balanced banzuke I don't see a lot of high scoring. I'll be surprised if more than 5 rikishi win in double-digits. Here are my predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
Shukunsho: none
Kantosho: Kisenosato
Ginosho: Asasekiryu






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