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2010 Hatsu Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho report Helmut Newton sumo.
Hakuho's run last year went largely under the radar since he only took the yusho three times, but one of his most important feats last year in my opinion was that he kept the yusho line at 14-1 or better. It's something that's not talked about often, but the yusho line is a direct reflection of the sumo content during the basho. It's okay for Yokozuna to lose, but to have three fluke losses in one tournament is too much. Then when you couple that with the best Ozeki record coming in at only 10-5, the best word I can use to describe the Hatsu basho is sloppy.

But sloppy sumo is the least of sport's worries at this point thanks to yet another scandal brewing that involves Yokozuna Asashoryu. In the wee hours Sunday morning mid-tournament, Asashoryu was out drinking until about 4 AM with his manager and a dude that works for an establishment that is part of the sex entertainment industry. Though it didn't make headlines during the tournament, details of what happened that night began surfacing the day after the basho. The Monday after the tournament, Asashoryu was summoned to Musashigawa Rijicho's office and asked to explain himself to which the Yokozuna said he was dead drunk and shoved his personal manager to the ground. He apologized for causing a disturbance and blamed it on alcohol, and the commissioner considered the matter closed after scolding Asashoryu a bit.

The problem now is that the real details of the incident are coming to light, and it turns out that Asashoryu busted the sex guy's nose in the car as the two were traveling along the streets of Tokyo causing the guy to exit the automobile and flag down a police officer for help. A firestorm has now erupted focusing on two points: 1) that Asashoryu punched a guy not affiliated with sumo, and 2) that Asashoryu lied to Musashigawa Rijicho.

We won't know how this will play out until February 4th at the earliest, but Asashoryu appears to be in serious danger. Since no complaint has been filed with Tokyo police, a crime probably wasn't committed, and call me crazy, but something tells me any dude working in the sex industry ain't exactly the salt of the earth, so there's likely a good reason why he got his ass kicked, but the fact that Asashoryu lied to the sport's commissioner as a cover-up is going to come back and haunt him. I wouldn't be surprised to see another suspension or even the ultimate punishment.  And this time, I can't defend the Yokozuna. Let's watch how this all plays out, but Asashoryu has got to use better judgment. Drinking until the wee hours of the night with a dude from the sex industry during the basho? C'mon Sho...you're not in college anymore. I will blog on the matter hopefully in a few days and break this all down, but since this is the post-basho report, let's switch the focus back to the ring.

Asashoryu was as good as he can be at the Hatsu basho, so the fact that he took the yusho meant that Hakuho wasn't at the top of his game. Still, you consider Asashoryu's age and all that he's been through, his taking three yusho out of the last seven basho is quite an accomplishment. Asashoryu was stable throughout the basho, and that loss against Goeido on day 5 was simply a fluke. The bout of the basho came on day 11 when Asashoryu had Baruto parallel to the dohyo a full meter off the ground in the center of the ring. It was simply incredible, and I can't recall such a spectacular kimari-te as that since Harumafuji kicked Goeido's ass in Aki 2007 with a tsuri-dashi maneuver that was as pretty as you please. Then you had Asashoryu toppling Kotooshu a few days later with another sweet move, but the gap between Asashoryu and Hakuho was clearly manifest yet again on senshuraku. Still, Asashoryu played the field as well as can be expected, and he put himself in position to yusho in case Hakuho faltered. Hakuho did, and Asashoryu picked up number 25. And it's damn good he finally passed up Kitanoumi because I'd say the odds are fiddy-fiddy that Asashoryu is booted out of sumo by the end of next week. If it was his first time at screwing up, he'd be safe. But since this is the umpteenth time that controversy has surrounded the Yokozuna (justified or not), he's got to pull something major out of his arse to wiggle out of this one because his actions were inexcusable.

Let's move onto Hakuho who was simply lazy this basho. Perhaps we should have seen it coming on day 3 with his ami-uchi victory of Toyonoshima. I know that it's sometimes cool to see those rare kimari-te, but there's a reason why you don't see them in the Makuuchi division more than once or twice a decade if you're lucky. If your sumo is sound, you don't need those fluke kimari-te to beat your opponents. You can even go back to Asashoryu's wins against Baruto and Kotooshu. As spectacular as they were, they were unorthodox because the Yokozuna is no longer the superior rikishi against those two chest to chest. Anyway, on day seven against Baruto, Hakuho underestimated his opponent coming in, and it cost him. Course, if I was 11-0 against a dude, I'd probably be thinking about other important things too like finding a sleazy guy in the porn industry that I could go drinking with later that night until four in the morning. Hakuho looked to settle back in after that loss to Baruto, but he whiffed badly against Harumafuji and then fell asleep against Kaio at the tachi-ai the next day, and that was your basho right there. Still, there's nothing really to criticize Hakuho for. He can turn it on when he wants to, and he's still the easy favorite to yusho every basho for the next few years. I appreciate that he kept the yusho line so high all throughout 2009, so dude gets a pass this time.

In the Ozeki ranks, we saw the usual poor finish from Kotooshu who started out 7-1 but managed just a 2-5 clip the final week. And how in the hell did he manage to lose to both Yoshikaze and Takekaze in a three day span? The answer is he let his day 9 loss to Baruto completely deflate him. You never know when the yusho line is going to end up at 13-2, so to just give up is inexcusable. It's what separates Kotooshu from the Khan.

Harumafuji's 10-5 is as good as can be expected from this Ozeki these days. Simply put, the two Yokozuna, Kotooshu, and Baruto are all better than Harumafuji, so right there you really don't expect better than 11-4 coming in. This basho showed that most elite rikishi will lose once to someone inferior, so throw in that early loss to Toyonoshima and it's par for the course. Yes, Harumafuji beat Hakuho on paper, but he also lost to Kaio on paper as well. It all balances out.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki has been declining at a steady clip the last year. With Chiyotaikai around, however, the question was when is the Pup gonna finally give up the ghost? Now that he has, the pressure increases on Kotomitsuki. I can't even recall the excuse he used when he withdrew, and I'm not going to go back and look it up because it was fake anyway. His day 1 loss to Goeido was understandable since the Father has the Ozeki's number. His day 2 loss to Kakuryu is understandable since we all understand just how slippery Kak can be. But getting worked by Hokutoriki on day 3? That same Hokutoriki who finished 3-12 thanks to being one of the lucky three who got to fight Chiyotaikai (his other win was over an M15 rikishi)? Kotomitsuki is circling the drain fast. You just didn't notice it until this basho thanks to Chiyotaikai. It'll be good for sumo, though. We've gotta clear out this deadwood at the Ozeki rank.

Which brings us to Ozeki Kaio who actually managed a 9-6 finish thanks to getting Kakizoe thrown at him on senshuraku. And when in the hell did sumo decline to the point where Kakizoe of all rikishi was involved in the kore-yori-sanyaku ritual on senshuraku? Actually, it's not that sumo has declined; it's another indication that this was a bad basho. There's nothing new with Kaio. Slip a little here, slide a little there, find a way to get that kachi-koshi yet again. Dude still can't win eight legitimate bouts in a basho.

Let's move to the Sekiwake rank where Baruto looms large after his second 12-3 performance in three basho. You could just see early on that Baruto had made the necessary adjustment to take that next step. Said adjustment is the Sekiwake keeping at least one of his arms in tight at the tachi-ai to ensure that he comes out of the initial charge with the inside position. From there, he can beat anyone as he showed on day 7 with his win over Hakuho. That win shouldn't have been a surprise if you can see the subtleties of sumo, and it was an easy call on day 5 to declare him ready to finally beat a Yokozuna.

The problem with Baruto the last few years was that people weren't afraid of him anymore. The top guys figured out how to beat him by fighting from the inside with Baruto accommodating things by quickly settling for two outer grips. Now that he has ensured at least one arm on the inside, I sense that the guys are afraid of him again. Chiyotaikai retired after day three, and as part of his comments he said, "I was just scared to get back on the dohyo." That statement can be loosely translated as, "I don't want anything to do with Baruto on day 4, so I may as well hang 'er up now." Even look at Asashoryu and how he approached his bout against the Estonian. Asa wasn't afraid of Baruto, but he was afraid of getting into a yotsu contest with him, something that he didn't mind doing previously.

Baruto was beaten straight up by Kisenosato on day 2, which speaks more of the Kid's potential than it does of Baruto's vulnerabilities, and then his loss against Toyonoshima wasn't too shocking as Toyonoshima is one of the best at forcing his way to the inside and leaving his opponent with the dual outside position. And then his loss to Asashoryu was expected. Having watched Baruto topple Hakuho a few days earlier, you just knew that Genghis would be prepared for Baruto by Day 11. Two things were great about Baruto's sumo this basho: first is the aforementioned adjustment at the tachi-ai that leaves him with at least one arm on the inside, and the second is the way he bounced back from his losses. A setback on day 2 against Kisenosato? No problem. The Estonian reeled off seven straight that included his victory over Hakuho. A two day losing streak on days 10 and 11? Been there done that as Baruto bounced back mightily keeping Ozeki hopes alive with a 4-0 finish. All things considered, this was the best basho of Baruto's career.

So now the question becomes did he deserve promotion to Ozeki? After all, he has notched 34 wins the last three basho. The easy answer is no, and I guarantee you the subject wasn't seriously discussed as the banzuke was being reorganized. That unwritten 33-wins-over-three-basho rule went by the way side a decade ago, so it's useless to go back through history and analyze when guys got the promotion and when they didn't. The simple answer is was the Association ready to promote him? No they weren't because Baruto only managed nine wins in Kyushu. Just looking at the guy, it's no surprise that he's able to pull of a 12-3 basho, but can he do it consistently? He hadn't done it up to this point, but now that he's posted two 12-3 basho in three tournaments, he's forced the hand, and the Association will officially declare him up for Ozeki promotion depending his results at the Haru basho. And that also brings up another significant point: you don't promote a guy to Ozeki unless he's performed in pressure situations. Baruto had zero pressure on him this basho. For Haru, once the banzuke is released, the Association will come out with a number (called meyasu), and they'll say this is the mark that Baruto needs to reach to be considered for promotion. The media will next hop on the bandwagon, and then Baruto's every movement will be scrutinized. In other words, there will be pressure. The losses are heavier and harder to overcome when a number has been established for you. This basho, there was no expectation; thus no pressure. And that's why Baruto didn't deserve promotion. He's got to go through the rigors and then post another 11-12 wins while the pressure is on. Simple as that, outstanding basho, and let's move on.

We've already talked enough about Chiyotaikai and his retirement from sumo. The Pup was a fantastic Ozeki through about 2005, but he was a perfect example of why it's just too hard to be demoted from the rank. I don't have any problems with the current methods used to promote Ozeki. Every case is different and requires unique consideration, but something has to be done about the rules of demoting an Ozeki. I've suggested in the past that current Ozeki should be required to re-qualify for the rank once a calendar year by winning 33 bouts over three consecutive basho. That'd fix all the problems of uninspired and disabled Ozeki. And my parting shot for Chiyotaikai: dude was the last of a dying breed in sumo. And I'm referring to those rikishi who are purely oshi-zumo and tsuki-zumo guys. Hokutoumi was the last Yokozuna who employed this style, and Chiyotaikai will be the last Ozeki. The Mongolians have just changed the face of the sport to where a strictly oshi-tsuki guy can no longer get it done. So props to Chiyotaikai for doing what he did in the sport. See ya in the broadcast booth.

Let's move onto the Komusubi who weren't contributors to the basho. Both of these guys--Kotoshogiku and Kakuryu--are good for keeping the guys ranked above them on their toes although their methods are quite different, but they don't exemplify what it means to be a sanyaku rikishi. Kotoshogiku failed to score any big wins, and a Komusubi has gotta do that to keep his rank. Kakuryu toppled both Sadogatake Ozeki but just couldn't put a run together throughout the basho. At 6-6 after 12 days, I thought it was fitting that both Aminishiki and Kisenosato--rikishi better than Kakuryu--kept him from retaining his rank. Kakuryu's biggest contributions come from the upper Maegashira, not the jo'i.

Moving to the upper Maegashira, Toyonoshima was nails in January. Big wins included Harumafuji, Kaio, and Baruto, and the M1 did everything you need to do at this rank: score some upsets and beat the guys ranked below you. Counterpart Tochinoshin was intimidated. I know he had a shoulder taped up for most of the basho, but the problem here was not physical. I know some people will probably disagree with this assessment, but I could see it on his face. Tochinoshin had the opportunity to win more bouts, and he just failed to do it. I don't think he was prepared mentally for what he faced in Hatsu. Expect him to kick ass in Osaka only to be right back up here again and wilt.

M2 Goeido underachieved yet again. I'd be interested to know where this guy's head is because he doesn't have the same concentration that he did when he first entered the division. Goeido finished 7-8 thanks to that fluke win over Asashoryu, but you look at his other wins and the biggest name is Kotomitsuki. The only rikishi Goeido beat who scored a kachi-koshi (Wakanosato) was ranked 4 1/2 levels beneath him on the banzuke. Goeido's problem starts with his tachi-ai. He's one that likes to roam, but even when he does keep it straight up, he abandons his attack too early and relies far too much on sideswiping and pulldown wins. The only way he's going to win in this division with his body is to charge straight forward and fight from the inside out. If he strays form this, he doesn't kachi-koshi. Counterpart Miyabiyama was par for the course at 5-10. He gave a few people scares and he exposed Kaio on day 1, but he needed a few guys from way down the ranks to finish 2-0.

M3 Hokutoriki fought as expected finishing 3-12. I wonder how many people got stiffies after his 2-1 start, but you had to consider those wins were over Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki. Jokutoriki righted the ship after that falling 11 straight days until they mercifully fed him Tochinonada on senshuraku. Kisenosato was solid at 9-6, but he missed out on having a spectacular basho by losing to Kakizoe and Kaio. Other than that, he lost to the two Yokozuna and the top two Ozeki in a performance that's good enough to boost him back up into the sanyaku. Toyonoshima likely assumes the vacant Sekiwake slot, but Kisenosato is the sixth best rikishi on the banzuke in my opinion.

M4 Kakizoe overachieved in January, but you have to hand it to him for beating an upstart like Tamawashi and three veteran guys the first four days. His upset of Kisenosato on day 10 was icing on the cake, but anyone who thinks he can consistently perform at this level is mistaken. Great basho though. Look at counterpart Takekaze. Sure, he finished 6-9, but three of those wins were over kachi-koshi rikishi, and with Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki's early demise, Takekaze was thrown to the lions. Takekaze was excellent during the Hatsu basho highlighted by his oshi-dashi win over Kotooshu on day 12. The Kaze will fall in the ranks for next basho, but I don't mind him among the jo'i if he fights with this kind of determination.

M5 Yoshikaze finished 6-9 as well, but his resume was much less impressive starting with the competition he faced. Although, he too managed an oshi-dashi win over Kotooshu, which raises the question more regarding Kotooshu's mental state than it does the ability of the dual Kaze. Counterpart Kyokutenho secured his ho-hum 8-7 with zero fanfare.

Whatever clicked inside of M6 Bushuyama the last six months or so was obviously absent in January because Dolly was absolutely awful. He had no stability on the dohyo and appeared far too top-heavy (urp) for his own good. His 2-13 likely sees him fall down to Juryo, but it's for his own good. He was an overachiever the last half of 2009. Counterpart Aminishiki spaced his losses out just enough during the fortnight that he was never in the spotlight, but he took full advantage of weak competition to sneak his way to 11 wins. You have to hand it to him though for defeating the likes of Kakuryu and Goeido the final two days when the Association was clearly testing his worthiness of a special prize. Shneaky probably fills out that last Komusubi slot for March, and let's hope he's healthy. His softer competition in January only helped.

I was happy to see M7 Tamawashi pull out his kachi-koshi, and he shouldn't get frustrated at all by his 2-5 finish after that 6-2 start. Trust me, you don't want to go 10-5 as a youngster from this level only to get your ass-handed to you the next basho after a trip to the jo'i. I stated this during the basho, but I didn't remember The Mawashi as being so big. And not only is he big physically, but he's got shweet tools. Tamawashi prefers the oshi attack, but he's also very adept at fighting at the belt as seen in his yori-kiri win over Kyokutenho. This guy is well-rounded and on his way to the sanyaku. You always like to see counterpart Wakanosato do well, so props for his 9-6 effort. I love the guys that never henka and that stick to their brand of sumo do or die (you got that Goeido?). Wakanosato can stay around as long as he wants.

No comment on M8 Tokitenku who withdrew after a 5-5 start. Same goes for counterpart Asasekiryu (6-9) who is thankfully low enough in the ranks--and will be next basho--to where I don't need to keep track of him.

M9 Kokkai finishing 5-10 despite a very weak lower half of the banzuke tells you that he'll be bathing in Juryo waters by the end of the year. Problem with the White Knight is he's lost his identify. Revert to your wingspan sumo ways or commit yourself to yotsu-zumo. This in-between stuff is nonsense. Counterpart Shotenro was the perfect example of why de-ashi (or footwork) and the lower half of the body are so important in sumo. During his 0-9 streak to finish the basho, he looked on the brink of winning more bouts than not, but he just couldn't finish due to his knee injury. His stint in Juryo will help him though. There's plenty of softies and old-timers down there, so recuperate well and we'll see you back here in May my man.

M10 Tochiohzan was uninspired this basho. His win over Toyohibiki on day 8 shows you that he always belongs higher in the ranks than the Nikibi, but it just didn't seem to me that Oh cared at all this basho. 8-7 is below average for this guy, and it's no use commenting further until he's a lot higher up the charts. M10 Aran had a great basho, and it's almost as if the announcement that this guy was diagnosed with cancer a year ago lifted a huge burden off of his shoulders. Maybe it really is that he has regained the weight he lost and therefore doesn't need to rely on cheap sumo, but whatever it is, I liked it in January. Like the Russian rikishi before him, Aran's technique isn't fabulous, but he has that same brute strength, so it doesn't take much for these guys to kachi-koshi anywhere on the ranks. Stick the sumo basics, and you will rise. Great stuff from Aran in Hatsu.

Was this the beginning of the end for M11 Takamisakari? I look at the schedule he faced, and it's not exactly a who's who list. True, his 7-8 won't demote him far, and seven of his eight losses were to kachi-koshi rikishi, but that's the problem. When you become unable to beat guys with game, the youngsters are going to rise up and nudge you down to Juryo. Part of the problem could be that the sensei from the Cobra-kai wasn't ringside to yell "Finish him!!" when Takamisakari looked to have the upper hand in most of his bouts. Counterpart Mokonami was in serious danger of falling to Juryo after a 1-6 start, but a fusensho win over Tokitenku and a healthy dose of guys like Koryu and Bushuyama mid-basho enabled him to make things respectable in the end at 6-9. Regardless, Mokonami regressed seriously this basho, and I'd give him the same advice that I gave to Goeido. Fight from the inside out. He's just too small to bully these guys around going chest to chest unless he has the inside advantage.

M12 Homasho is the one-eyed man in a blind man's kingdom. 9-6 from this rank? Who cares? Counterpart Tosayutaka had perhaps his best basho of his short career. 10-5 with all five losses coming to kachi-koshi rikishi is an accomplishment for this underprivileged cat. Great stuff, and enjoy it while it lasts because Tosayutaka will never do this in the upper hand of the draw.

M13 Tamanoshima is obviously following Futenoh on Twitter (who isn't?) because at 7-8 from this level he'll be joining him soon. Tamanoshima needed a 5-0 stretch in week 2 just to make it look respectable, but it wasn't. No use commenting on Shimotori and his 8-7 finish. He's at his personal ceiling already.

Everyone was rooting for M14 Iwakiyama after his 1-4 start, and the Hutt came through reeling off eight straight wins mid-basho to secure his kachi-koshi and invitation to the dance again in Osaka. Guys like Iwakiyama and Wakanosato are everything that's good about sumo. Counterpart Hakuba is everything that's bad about sumo. If you don't think he henka's in at least 75% of his bouts, then get back to that Kimurayama poster on your wall and box of tissue. I've already talked about how much I loath this guy in my day 13 comments. His first few tries in the division, he went straight up and got his ass kicked. This basho his approach was to henka allowing him to pull out a kachi-koshi, but like a bad writer who happens to find an audience, he'll eventually be exposed for the fraud that he is.

I was genuinely glad to see M15 Kitataiki jump out to a 7-1 start, but he came up limping after a loss to Henkuba on day 10 when the two rikishi got their legs tangled awkwardly on their way down to the clay. All of Taiki's losses were to kachi-koshi rikishi, and he even beat a few more KK guys in Aran and Iwakiyama. The good news is we finally saw his potential in the division the first week of the basho. The bad news is I don't think you ever recover from a serious knee injury. Not in a sport like sumo. What I like so much about Kitataiki is that he's on oshi-zumo guy first, but extremely capable of finishing guys off yotsu style. In fact, he had only one oshi-dashi win the entire basho. No surprise that counterpart Tochinonada only managed a 5-10 record.

Moving to the bottom rung, M16 Koryu's 3-12 was predictable. He's just too light for this division and can't compensate for the difference in weight as others can. Counterpart Toyohibiki enjoyed a rare awakening. Too bad his 12-3 didn't come from five notches up the ranks. On one hand, it's hard for me to get geeked about a guy going 12-3 from this area who has been in the division for 3-4 years now, but on the other hand, Toyohibiki was out for blood this tournament unlike any other basho we've seen from him. He trusted in his shoving attack, and his de-ashi had a spring to them that allowed him to bully his opponents around. Now, the Hutt's not going to go 12-3 again next basho, but he has to trust in the same attack, which could easily bear some 10-5 fruit. Keep your fingers crossed.

That does it for me this basho, but something tells me this Asashoryu business is going to keep me from my usual hiatus in between basho.

Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
One good thing about New Year's in Japan is that it's a long, relaxing holiday. The negative aspect, however, is the members of the media take a long, relaxing holiday themselves, and the result is a complete dearth of keiko reports. Things picked up the Monday before the basho, and it was nice to have some details from the Soken general keiko session, but with Makiko Uchidate's term as a member of the Jedi Council coming to a close at the end of the Hatsu basho, the press quickly shifted its focus to the current status of her relationship with Asashoryu...and fortunately, I'm not talking about a physical relationship here (shuddering at the thought). And now towards the end of the week leading up to the tournament, Takanohana-oyakata is generating all of the headlines with his announcement that he will leave the Nishonoseki Ichimon so he can throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming elections for the board of directors (see the story that ran on our news page December 26th for background information).

In my year-end report, I speculated that in the short-term I didn't foresee too many changes in the world of sumo, and Musashigawa Rijicho seemed to be on the same page when he spoke with reporters on Monday stressing to the press the need for some of these younger rikishi to rise up and challenge the top guys. I don't suspect anyone ranked below Ozeki is ready to do that the first half of the year, but cleaning out some of the deadwood currently occupying the Ozeki rank will help.

With very few keiko reports to refer to, let's examine the field, starting of course, with Yokozuna Hakuho who sits in the prestigious East slot. There's not much more to add beyond what I said in my year-end report regarding this guy. What I didn't have access to then were his pre-basho keiko reports, and all accounts have Hakuho in excellent form heading into this basho. Dude fought an unheard of 29 times for a Yokozuna at the Soken keiko session on Tuesday losing only twice. He also fought Asashoryu twice defeating him soundly both times with kimari-te that included "yori." If Asashoryu is the second best rikishi in the field, and Hakuho is already kicking his ass, it's pretty safe to say that Hakuho is going to clean up this basho. I'm on record as saying that Hakuho is so good right now that he's currently calling his shots, and I think a consecutive 15-0 performance is in the cards. I suspect Asashoryu will take the yusho in either March or May, but otherwise, twenty ten will be dominated by Hakuho. The only drama we'll have to feed off of will occur the coupla notches beneath Yokozuna.

Let's move over to the West where Asashoryu has been so-so in his pre-basho keiko. But none of that matters. A year ago Asa was getting worked in the keiko ring, and he managed to start out 14-0. In looking at the Hatsu basho banzuke, the bottom rung of the jo'i ladder is M3 Kisenosato, so assuming Asa fights the Kid on up, his toughest competition will be in descending order Hakuho, Kotooshu, Kisenosato...and I don't see anyone else who can beat him straight up. Yeah, there are slippery guys like Harumafuji and the Kak who aren't beyond henka'ing a Yokozuna, but what I'm getting at is I think Asashoryu finishes 13-2 this basho exhibiting a solid effort in the process.

In the Ozeki ranks, Kotooshu will be key this entire year as he's physically the second best rikishi on the banzuke. When Musashigawa Rijicho made his comments about some of the younger rikishi rising up and challenging the Yokozuna, he was mostly referring to the hope that some Japanese rikishi could fulfill that task, and while I have that same fantasy...er...uh...hope as well, in reality Kotooshu is the best shot right now to challenge the Yokozuna. What will determine good basho this year is having at least one of the following rikishi win 11 or 12: Kotooshu, Baruto, Kisenosato, Goeido. I see no reason why Kotooshu doesn't get off to a good start this year. 11 wins, which has meant a good basho for him lately.

Ozeki Harumafuji has been officially riding the gravy train since his promotion to Ozeki. How soon could he forget what got him to that rank anyway? 8 basho or so ago Harumafuji had this determination where he was just gonna kick your ass from the tachi-ai going for the throat with both hands and never relenting until you were driven back and out. And while we still see flashes of that from time to time, it's mainly out of desperation when he's in a funk, and it's not uncommon for the Ozeki to back off the attack mid-bout and go for evasive pull maneuvers. Harumafuji will never be the rikishi he once was until he recommits to the moro-te tachi-ai and moves straight forward in his sumo. Look for about nine average wins this basho...again.

The last time I remember Ozeki Kotomitsuki impacting a basho was in Nagoya 2008, and the only thing that's happened since then is Hit and Mitsuki has gotten older. His only use right now is he can usually win eight bouts on his own allowing him to assist Kaio if necessary at the end of the basho. Mitsuki won't win more than nine and will likely finish with eight.

Watch for the usual with Ozeki Kaio: a decent 6-3 start followed by a 2-4 finish with at least one of those wins coming against a fellow Ozeki who just rolls over for the Old Gray Mare. If Homer Simpson were in the crowed, we'd hear a "Bo-ring!" for sure.

In the Sekiwake ranks, it's the same old for Baruto. He can't beat either of the Yokozuna, and he'll likely get beaten by Kotooshu, so he's 12-3 at best and working backwards from there. The Estonian simply can't afford two or more losses to rikishi ranked below him. Fortunately for Baruto fans, he's home in Tokyo where he fights his best, so look for Baruto to flirt with 11 wins. The key is to mix up his attack from the tachi-ai and neutralize his opponent's charge. Just standing there and letting your opponent crash into you thinking you can rely on an outer grip obviously didn't work in Kyushu. Someone has got to clue Baruto into the fact that Hakuho goes for the inside position with at least one arm every tachi-ai for a reason.

Across the aisle is our bridesmaid, Sekiwake Chiyotaikai. The fact that Chiyotaikai didn't even show up for the Soken keiko session tells you all you need to know. I did see a news report this morning on NHK that had Chiyotaikai visiting the Tokitsukaze-beya and practicing with Toyonoshima. NHK graciously showed a few bouts where Chiyotaikai was able to push the accommodating Toyonoshima back and out, but they ended with another bout where Toyonoshima got the belt. They didn't show the finish. Didn't need to, which is what you should watch for this basho. If a rikishi gets the Pup's belt, he's done. And the problem is he can't fight the guys away from it anymore. We've already got our special feature on Chiyotaikai's retirement in the can...or not.

Somehow I can't get too geeked up for our Komusubi; course, other than Baruto, the entire sanyaku sucks this basho. I'm nervous about Kotoshogiku because he also failed to show up for the Soken session. That reeks of injury, and this is one guy that has to be 100% to kachi-koshi from this rank. I suspect only 5-6 wins for the Geeku. Counterpart Kakuryu just seems to fight better from the upper Maegashira. For some reason I just can't get his act late in Kyushu out of my mind. You'll remember that he was gripping hard at 2-7 resorting to some of the worst henka of the basho (and that's saying something with Kimurayama and Kasugao on the banzuke) to limp home with a 7-8 mark that allowed him to keep sanyaku status. I just can't cheer for a guy who resorts to such tactics, so let's hope the sumo gods make him pay with another make-koshi knocking him down to Maegashira. I don't dislike the Kak; I just want to see him earn his pay. 6-9.

We have a stellar upper Maegashira save Hokutoriki, and it's nice to see Toyonoshima, who checks in at M1, get another crack at the jo'i after a great run in Kyushu. Sure, Toyonoshima didn't face the same competition that the jo'i rikishi did last basho, but he did score a nice win over Kotooshu. Furthermore, just look at the sanyaku on up. The Yokozuna are nearly unbeatable, and in Toyonoshima's case, Baruto is unbeatable; but other than that it's wide open for this kid. I think Toyonoshima shows a renewed fire at Hatsu and finishes with a very respectable 7-8 at basho's end, but don't be surprise if he can kachi-koshi. The exact same applies to counterpart Tochinoshin, who has an even greater advantage than Toyonoshima due to his size. Physically, this guy takes a back seat to maybe four or five guys among the jo'i, which is saying something. For this youngster, however, it's all about mental toughness at this level. In the past, Tochinoshin has just wilted when he's risen this high; but I think he experiences a mini-breakout this basho. That doesn't necessarily mean kachi-koshi, but it means quality and consistency throughout the basho. At least seven wins.

M2 Goeido is somewhat of a mystery at this point because I don't know if he's 100% physically. But the banzuke this basho will allow some of these rikishi to take advantage of their surroundings. All four Ozeki are beatable by someone who gives a damn; Chiyotaikai's presence weakens the sanyaku unlike we've seen in a long time; and the Komusubi show me little promise. The upper Maegashira is strong, but we could easily see a 12-3 jo'i performance this basho come from outside the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks. Goeido has the tools to pull that off, but he's messed around nearly the entire year last year with evasive maneuvers and pull sumo. Was he compensating for his elbow injury? Let's hope so. I'm not convinced that Goeido will have a break-out basho, but if he's 100% healthy, he could do some damage this tournament. Allow me two days to watch him, and then I'll comment further. I give him at least nine wins. It will be fun to watch the jo'i try and solve counterpart Miyabiyama's style. Don't forget, with Yamamotoyama out of the division, Miyabiyama is the next fattest, and he moves extremely well for a guy his size. His footwork isn't what it used to be, but Miyabiyama will score some upsets. I seem him tiring out in the end with about six wins, but he won't get bullied around.

M3 Hokutoriki will. When he's the weakest link among the top 16, he gives up. He'll be lucky to win three bouts, and after the brutal week one schedule he'll face, I can completely see him needing help to pick up his first win late in week two. Get ready to feel sorry for Jokutoriki in Hatsu. Rounding out the jo'i is Kisenosato, who has the chance to pillage and plunder this basho. In the Goeido paragraph, I mentioned that one of the lower jo'i guys has a great chance to go 12-3. Kisenosato is the most promising to accomplish that. And remember, he's still going to fight the same competition as everyone above him. He's just too good to slump for too long. You have to go as high in the ranks as Baruto to find a guy who is better than than the Kid--and even that is debatable, so with a few soft Ozeki in between Baruto and the Yokozuna, Kisenosato is primed to take back a Sekiwake slot for March. I see the Kid winning 10-11 on pride alone.

Now that we are out of the jo'i, M4 Kakizoe leads the rest 'o the pack. If you look at everyone below Kakizoe, there are a lot of guys that he's used to and can beat, but the biggest problem for him is he'll get the three Sadogatake rikishi ranked above, and that's going to be too much for him to overcome. Zoe Jane ain't so sweet in Hatsu with 4-5 wins. Counterpart Takekaze should fare slightly better only because he's had more experience fighting in this range, and he's got the beefier body. Still, he's overmatched on this banzuke and won't win more than six.

M5 Yoshikaze is probably a step above the two guys I just mentioned, so I expect him to outperform them to the tune of one win. He hovers around 7-8 wins. Counterpart Kyokutenho sits in an important slot because not only is he out of the range of the jo'i rikishi, but he's also probably safe from facing any of the Sadogatake guys as well. There is no reason why Kyokutenho shouldn't post a great record this basho. He thrives at this exact point on the banzuke due to his ability and weaker competition. Double-digit wins for Tenho or my name's Chaz.

It will be interesting to see how well Bushuyama can fare at the M6 rank. It's probably too high for his own good, but Bush has shown alotta heart these last few basho. Odds are against a kachi-koshi, but he'll come close with about seven wins. Like Kyokutenho, Aminishiki's gotta be salivating at his current circumstances. And like Kyokutenho, it'll be a shame if he doesn't win at least 10. Do your stuff Shneaky and make us proud.

M7 Tamawashi is a little bit high for this banzuke. It's not that M7 is too high for him generally, but you just look around him, and there are so many veterans who have served time in the sanyaku and frankly know how to win in this division. The Mawashi will give us a good effort but only manage 6-7 wins. Counterpart Wakanosato is one of those sanyaku veterans I was talking about who sure as hell knows how to win, 'specially with the inside position. I like Wakanosato to win at least nine from this position.

Remember M8 Tokitenku at the start of last year? He had come of an entire year I believe without having scored a single kachi-koshi. Tokitenku's over that funny bidness now, but he just turned thirty in September and is showing his age. His experience may lead him to eight wins, but now more. Counterpart Asasekiryu has been an non-issue in sumo for at least a year now. His spunk is gone, and he only survives in the division because the lower third of Maegashira has been so putrid the last two years. Goes back to what I talked about in the year end report. There's just not enough new blood to clear out the deadwood. Asa's Secretary finishes with about six wins.

M9 Kokkai is probably ranked too high here as much as I hate to say it. There's just too many decent guys between him and the bottom feeders for him to pad his record. I see an awful, lackadaisical start followed by a brief surge in week two. Still, Kokkai finishes with 6-7 wins. Counterpart Shotenro is very interesting at this level. He managed a decent basho in Kyushu despite a bad leg, and his wheel should be back to full strength by now. If he's 100% healthy, Shotenro could win 11, and I see him going at worst 9-6.

Normally M10 Tochiohzan does very well at this level, but like Kokkai, there are just enough veterans surrounding him that this basho ain't gonna be a waltz. Oh will get kachi-koshi for sure and will probably end up with double-digit wins, but I don't think it will be one of those basho where he's on the leaderboard during most of week two. I'd like to proclaim that counterpart Aran is better than this rank, but it just isn't so. Aran's sumo has regressed more than anyone the last few basho, and you don't find the real pushovers until you get four full levels down the chart, so I expect Aran to give us another ugly basho. Oh, he'll be damned if he doesn't get kachi-koshi, but I fear it will be through unsavory sumo. 8-9 wins.

M11 Takamisakari is perfect at this level, and that's all I have to say about that. Counterpart Mokonami is still a bit green in the division, especially when you consider the veterans surrounding him. I expect an average basho with seven wins, but damn if he ain't gonna have a sweet tan for January.

M12 Homasho's sanyaku days are long gone. Like Wakanosato, he's become one of those savvy veterans with decent skills and a great fighting spirit, but his quest in sumo at this point is to milk that paycheck as long as he can. Give Homie nine wins. Counterpart Tosayutaka is gonna struggle again this basho. If he were four ranks lower, he'd kachi-koshi fer sure. He may get his KK, but it won't come sooner than senshuraku. I think seven wins is a safer bet.

M13 Tamanoshima is just trying to avoid the same fate as Futenoh. Tamanoshima IS close enough to the bottom where he'll be able to draw on his experience to pick up easy wins for half of the basho. I like him to win between eight and nine. Counterpart Shimotori can't afford to lose to anyone ranked lower than him save Iwakiyama, or he won't kachi-koshi. I don't think he'll KK anyway. He's due for a sloppy basho and trip back down to Juryo.

M14 Iwakiyama is in the perfect position this basho...not to make a huge run but to put together a solid performance to the tune of nine or so wins. Having fought the competition he did last basho, guys like Hakuba, Kitataiki, and Koryu are gonna be a walk in the park. Counterpart Hakuba's shikona can be translated roughly as the white bird, but I'd say the white feather is more appropriate. Talk about a guy with miniscule punch in this division. I don't see how he survives let alone win more than five.

M15 Kitataiki was once a very promising rikishi, but a serious knee injury derailed him just as he broke into the division. I haven't watched him in the Juryo ranks the last two years, but the fact that it's taken him over a year to get back to the division tells me that he's not the rikishi he once was. Kitataiki was a great thruster in his day, but he's abandoned that style in favor of retreating, evasive sumo. I'm rooting for him to do well, but I'm skeptical. 5-6 wins. Counterpart Tochinonada makes his return to the division, but it ain't gonna be triumphant. The Gentle Giant is just too slow these days, and he can't dig in sufficiently with the lower body to keep his opponents from taking advantage of him. I think Nada falls just short at 7-8.

M16 Koryu's shikona is roughly translated as the Dragon of Light, but I'll take liberty with that and rephrase it as the light dragon. Like Hakuba, there just isn't enough substance to this guy to handle the punishing Makuuchi division. I see Koryu getting worked to the tune of 5-10, which is an awful basho when you're sittin' on the bottom rung. Counterpart Toyohibiki can probably be nicknamed the Caboose since he always seems to bring up the rear of the division, and this basho is no exception. If he can't kachi-koshi with the lightweights immediately surrounding him, there's no hope. Give him eight wins.

And that's a wrap on the pre-basho report. I don't see anyone ranked M4 or below from putting together one of those faux yusho runs where they annoy us on the leaderboard until the middle of week two. This basho belongs to the two Yokozuna, and while there is maybe a 20% chance of someone from the jo'i flirting with 12 wins, I just don't see how this tournament doesn't belong to the Khan. Hakuho will pull slightly ahead at the end, and then will put his final stamp on things come senshuraku when he defeats Asashoryu yet again.

As I've said the entire week, if any drama is to come of this basho, it has to come from either Kotooshu, Baruto, Goeido, or Kisenosato. My predictions are as follows:

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

Clancy has your back on day 1.






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