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2012 Hatsu Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
The Hatsu basho was a strange one indeed, and Hakuho's three losses over four days in the middle of week 2 was so unconventional that it actually became the hotter issue than Baruto's first career yusho in my view. And deservedly so. I've witnessed the emergence of three dai-Yokozuna the past 20 years in Takanohana, Asashoryu, and now Hakuho, and never once has any of them allowed a yusho by day 13 from a non Yokozuna. Add that to the fact that Baruto was just good and not great at the Hatsu basho sealing the deal without a single signature win, and so of course I'm going to focus more on what's going on that would cause Hakuho to throw those bouts compared to Baruto just going through the motions and having the yusho fall into his lap.

Lest I draw any further ire from the Estonian fans after that intro, let's get right into the meat of the post-basho report starting with our yusho rikishi, Ozeki Baruto. First, let me address his henka against Kisenosato on day 12. There has been talk that Baruto decided to henka his counterpart after Kisenosato used exaggerated stall tactics prior to the tachi-ai. While that may be true, it doesn't give an Ozeki the right to henka a fellow Ozeki. A Maegashira rikishi? Yes...every day of the week, but not an Ozeki. Kotomitsuki was famous for using such tactics during important bouts, and while those tactics should be criticized, an Ozeki should never henka a fellow Ozeki. It's not a huge issue, but as I try and recall Baruto's bouts over the two weeks, that's the one that stands out most to me...a henka of Kisenosato. From day 1 to day 13 when the Ozeki clinched the yusho, what was the standout win? You'd have to say Kakuryu and/or Harumafuji. In my mind, wins over Kakuryu and Harumafuji and then a henka over Kisenosato does not equal an impressive yusho.

And I'm not criticizing the Ozeki at all. Baruto put himself in position to win by beating guys he should beat every tournament. If you go back and look at his performances over the last couple of basho, who did he lose to? You have guys on that list like Goeido, Okinoumi, Gagamaru, and even Yoshikaze. The Estonian's ability to beat guys he should beat every time; the weaker banzuke this tournament (Kotoshogiku and Toyonoshima were way down and Aminishiki was the jo'i star); and Hakuho's mysterious three days of sumo really made Baruto the winner by default.

Hmm..as I go back and look at what I've written so far, I'm sure I've made the Estonian fans even angrier, but what do you want me to say? Look, everyone at Sumotalk loves Baruto, and I couldn't help but smile as I watched him humbly accept the Emperor's Cup and then talk to the media the next morning. I am extremely happy for the dude, but I have to be honest when I say I was more impressed with Myogiryu and Gagamaru's sumo than I was Baruto's sumo. And that doesn't mean that those two were better than the Ozeki by any stretch or that they could have accomplished what Baruto did because they absolutely couldn't. I simply thought they were sharper with their sumo throughout the two weeks than Baruto was. Baruto deserved the yusho, but he didn't give me the impression of a bruiser who took the tournament by the horns wreaking havoc along the way. He just happened to be in the lead when Hakuho chose to throw those bouts, and I won't fault him for that. On day 9 I branded Hakuho's sumo as "sloppy" and then in the very next paragraph I likened Baruto's sumo to Hakuho's and said that it wasn't without its flaws. Nobody came unglued when I said that, and nobody through those first first 9 days thought, "wow...Baruto looks different this time around." He delivered a solid performance and was in the right place at the right time when Hakuho mysteriously lost those three bouts.

On day 12 when it was evident that Baruto was going to pick up his first crown, I was actually conspiring with the good Dr. Kadastik to have him write a surprise report on day 14 since neither of us foresaw Hakuho throwing his bout against Kotooshu, and we assumed like everyone else that the yusho would be clinched on Saturday. Anyway, when it happened on day 13 thanks to Baruto's win over Kotoshogiku and Hakuho's "loss" to Kotooshu, the feeling of "what the hell is going on here?" was a lot greater than any celebratory feelings regarding Bart's win. As Mario and I chatted on day 13 acknowledging that our little plan had just been foiled, I asked him, "so how does it feel to finally get this yusho?". His response was something like "I'd be enjoying it more if I didn't have a paper due." The point of bringing this up is that I didn't get the sense that Mario was overly excited because he knew there were other things going on besides Baruto's even keel performance. Mario had supped with the Ozeki just over a year ago (with Baruto dressed in a t-shirt and shorts in public!) and shoulda been dancing on the rooftops nekked, but I think even he understood that there are grander ways to win a tournament.

We cannot take anything away from this yusho. It was deserved, so props to Baruto for putting himself in this position and finishing the fortnight with an excellent 14-1 record, but I don't think there is any denying that no one had a clean taste in their mouth by the time Sinead O'Connor sang. The good news is that Baruto has another basho in March to prove that he is Yokozuna material. The YDC has already stated that 12 wins and a jun-yusho performance from the Estonian could be sufficient, and we all know that Baruto can accomplish that in his sleep. When Harumafuji was up for promotion six months ago, I flat out said that he's not Yokozuna material. Baruto is, so I want to see the version of him that strikes the fear of God into his opponents, the version of Baruto we didn't see in January.

Let's move on to our jun-yusho rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho. I've already stated in my daily comments that I thought he gave away his bouts to Kakuryu and Kotooshu, and Clancy explained it perfectly when he faced Harumafuji and lost to that ridiculous henka where the Yokozuna ended up in the third row. Regarding Hakuho's sumo, I did make the sloppy sumo comment on day 9, but I attribute that to either boredom or his simply forecasting that he was going to fall. Baruto showed us this basho that he doesn't even have to be fighting in top form to win it all. Hakuho has been living that the last two years, so there's nothing new to say that I didn't say in my daily comments. I will reiterate that I believe Hakuho is making himself appear more vulnerable in preparation for one of the two Japanese Ozeki to take a yusho.

Which brings us to Ozeki Kotoshogiku who had his worst basho in well over a year. What's worse, the Komusubi ranks and upper Maegashira were awful this month. I noticed a lot of pull/slapdown losses for the Geeku. Couple those with the ease with which Hakuho and Baruto flung him, and it tells me that he had no power whatsoever from the lower body. I didn't read of any pre-basho injuries so I attribute it to one of the three following reasons:

- He was just off, something that seemed to happen every other basho up until a year ago
- He was paying off some debts incurred during his Ozeki run
- This is the real Kotoshogiku and the results from the last year were a farce (due to careful orchestration)

I know few people believe me when I say I hope it's reason number one. I mean, look at Kotooshu and Harumafuji. Both of those guys sucked at least once during the previous year, so let's wait to pass judgment until we see him fight a coupla more tournaments. Regarding the Geeku's sumo, he's strictly a yotsu guy, so he needs a solid tachi-ai and good de-ashi, two characteristics that were obviously lacking in Hatsu.

Ozeki Kotooshu, along with Baruto, took full advantage of the weaker banzuke this time around. I don't think he really looked any better this basho than he did all last year, but when you have ineffective Komusubi and a weak upper Maegashira, an Ozeki damn well better win in double-digits. The win over Hakuho and loss to Kisenosato cancel each other out as they were staged, so we should really gauge his performance on these two aspects: 1) he suffered a bad loss to Homasho, and 2) his only win over a kachi-koshi rikishi was on day 1 against Aminishiki.

Ozeki Harumafuji was measurably better besting Kotooshu and Kisenosato on his way to posting 11 wins. The problem, though, with analyzing any of these top guys besides Baruto is that they were all involved in a couple of orchestrated bouts, so it's not an apples to apples comparison this basho. And speaking of the Harumafuji - Baruto matchup, whose to say that Harumafuji didn't stand straight in Baruto's way during their match the same as he did against Kotoshogiku? I'll reserve further comment on Harumafuji until a basho where there's fewer shenanigans.

And that brings us to Ozeki Kisenosato, who ended with 11 wins. I mentioned previously that Baruto really didn't have any signature wins, but if that's the case how do you describe Kisenosato's wins? Kotooshu gave him their bout, he henka'd Kotoshogiku, and even that win over Kakuryu on day 5 was weird. I thought the Kid looked good in his tsuppari attack there, but he couldn't finish the Kak off with the shoves, and so as the two hooked up at the belt, Kisenosato executed a throw at the edge that was so weak, Kakuryu did a 360 at the tawara and still survived standing on both feet. Kisenosato did push him out at the end, and while I can't go as far and say that bout was thrown, when there's such a weird ending it makes me wonder, especially considering that Hakuho gave Kakuryu one on day 10. Aside from any yaocho talk, Kisenosato was average this basho with his sumo. It's encouraging to see him win a lot of bouts by oshi or tsuki techniques as that's his strength, but his showing against the Sekiwake on up was meek at best. I think this guy is on par with the current Ozeki not named Baruto, but he's not showing us anything special. Those were 11 inflated wins.

The guy who is showing a lot of promise is Sekiwake Kakuryu, who is every bit the equal of the bottom four Ozeki. Whenever a rikishi is involved in a staged bout, it makes me wonder if he was involved in other shenanigans that I didn't catch. In the case of Kakuryu who lost to both Japanese Ozeki, it makes me want to go back and look at those bouts, but the point isn't who did what and why. The point is that Kakuryu is fighting at a level that would put him in the top five of the sport. I loved that matchup with the Kak and Myogiryu on senshuraku. Not because I thought Myogiryu could beat him, but because Kakuryu protected his rank. He knew Myogiryu was a dangerous rikishi, and instead of trying to just kick his ass and send a message, he made the smart move which was to make sure he got the win. He did that by striking and then focusing on pushing Myogiryu to the side using his quickness and footwork instead of pure strength. While it wasn't a full frontal linear assault, it sent the message to Myogiryu that when you fight up this high, there's more to it than just coming at it full boar. Now, I think if you forced both guys to fight straight forward, Myogiryu could win 3 of 10 at this point. That number will increase as he learns how to fight at this level, but Kakuryu's actions are going to make Myogiryu think twice before he comes all out next time. So watch, Kakuryu will get him once more straight up the next time as Myogiryu will fight more carefully, and then by the time they fight for the third time, Myogiryu will be wiser for it and actually give the Kak a run for his money. Besides that Myogiryu bout, Kakuryu's best wins were over fellow Ozeki Harumafuji and Kotooshu. The way he dismantled Harumafuji and sent him out via tsuri-dashi shows that he's as Ozeki-worthy as the two Japanese Ozeki. Finishing with just 10 wins means there will be no talk of Ozeki after next basho, but this is a perfect chance for Kakuryu to win 11 or 12 in Osaka and then make a statement in May.

Across the aisle, Toyonoshima just couldn't get anything going this basho. Part of the problem is his schedule was overloaded in week 1, so he ended up fighting all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna by day 9. He was just too beaten up at that point to recover and push around the upper Maegashira in week 2. Toyonoshima will be back at this rank soon, but this basho was a good example of how he will peak at Sekiwake whereas Kakuryu should be promoted to Ozeki before he hangs it up.

The Komusubi rank was a non factor this basho, but that was expected coming in. There's no sense in dwelling on Miyabiyama who finished 3-12 without a single forward-moving win. He's clearly not a jo'i rikishi and only helped to inflate the records of the guys above him. Wakakoyu was a bit more compelling since I think he has what it takes to be a jo'i rikishi. The Wookie was overwhelmed that first week, which is typical of a Komusubi, but his 5-3 finish against the upper Maegashira rikishi shows that he will be back. From the M4 or M5 rank, he's an 8 or 9 win guy, so we haven't seen the last of him. Wakakoyu's biggest win was over Kakuryu, and his tachi-ai is explosive enough that he can score an upset or two per basho moving forward. No shame in his performance in January.

There's nothing to say about M1 Takekaze who was completely outclassed at this level of the banzuke. With the veteran being forced to fight straight up, it's no wonder he finished 4-11 (or is it a small wonder?). Counterpart Aminishiki did finish 9-6, which will boost him up to Sekiwake for March, but there's no point dwelling heavily on this guy. The bottom line is he defeated all of the rikishi he should have (ranked below him) and then got one extra guy from below in lieu of stable mate Harumafuji. His biggest win was over Kotoshogiku, but was that really an upset considering how awful the Geeku looked? If Aminishiki was able to sustain the Sekiwake rank, I'd talk more about him, but I consider his performance this basho somewhat of a fluke.

It's amazing how high I was on M2 Okinoumi just two basho ago after he and Homasho tore things up from the M1 rank, but Okinoumi has had zero spark the last two tournaments. I haven't read of an injury, but this dude isn't fighting with any spirit. His 4-11 was a major underachievement, so let's continue to watch him from lower in the ranks. Is he a guy like Homasho where everything has to be perfect for him health wise in order to do well? Could be. Counterpart Goeido is just another rank and filer due to his inability to establish any presence among the jo'i. Sure, he won two bouts against Ozeki (Harumafuji and Kotoshogiku), but he was clearly off again in January. I don't know why I have overlooked this in the past, but I think I figured out what hampers the Father among the elite: the shortest arms and legs in the bidness. He's like Wakanosato with his crocodile arms. For those of you who remember Wakanosato in his prime, the dude was a Sekiwake mainstay who was able to constantly defeat the upper echelon guys by establishing an inside presence and then fighting from the inside out. The dude was a master at sukui-nage and inside belt throws. He understood his limitation due to his stubby limbs and adjusted accordingly. I don't know why I didn't figure it out sooner, but Goeido suffers from crocodile-itis, and until he learns that his short arms do not favor him in a pull fest or give him the advantage with an outside grip, he will continue to flounder. 6-9 is not good enough for a rikishi of his ability.

M3 Kitataiki was useless in January as portrayed by his 2-13 record. His win over Toyonoshima on senshuraku illustrates more that Toyonoshima was down this tournament rather than Kitataiki actually has any business fighting at this level. M3 Takayasu got out to a hot start thanks to the match makers waiting until day 7 before they started feeding him to the Ozeki and Yokozuna. The result was a 7 bout losing streak starting from day 7, but Takayasu put up a solid fight in all of his matches. I thought the dude was going to get shredded, but I'm genuinely glad I underestimated him. Takayasu's picking up a win against Kakuryu on day 14 was huge, and shows that this guy won't give in. 6-9 in his debut is fantastic, and I'm confident we will see this kid in the sanyaku soon, and no way I would have said that prior to the basho. Great outing for Takayasu.

M4 Homasho was just kind of "there" this basho like Okinoumi. Dude did have to fight the bottom four Ozeki (he went 1-3), but he just didn't have his usual fighting spirit. Injuries have plagued him his entire career, and then when you consider he didn't join the professional ranks until he was 24, he's just got too many miles on his body to consistently perform at a top level. It's too bad because when Homasho is on his game, it just seems like the basho is better. He did okay to finish 7-8, but he didn't have much life to him. I guess you can say the same for Tochinowaka although the youngster did manager an 8-7 record. Tochinowaka was far too passive this tournament for my liking, and I hope it doesn't become a habit. Everyone knows how high I am on this kid (I think he's a future Ozeki), but there was nothing good about his sumo in January. His kimari-te are all over the board, which is a sign that he's reacting to his opponents and not just going out and kicking their asses. He will get all the top guys in Osaka, so he best be prepared.

I've already heaped tons of praise on M5 Myogiryu, but he's worth it. Dude didn't lose to a single make-koshi rikishi, and all of his wins are forward moving techniques. He's so confident that he doesn't know how to henka, and he gets in his opponents' faces from the get-go. On one hand, I want to say that his size is all that stands in his way of going as high as Ozeki, but then again, Asashoryu wasn't that big either. Myogiryu has no downside, and while a guy like Tochinowaka has a perfect sumo body, Tochi showed us some nonchalance this basho while Myogiryu was balls to the wall. As for his sumo, he delivers a solid tachi-ai, and then fights from the ground up. This guy's a model rikishi, and I can't wait to see him fight in Osaka. Don't expect a kachi-koshi in March, but seven wins is not out of the question.

Let's skip forward to the M7 rank where Aran finagled a kachi-koshi after an ugly 4-7 start. The Russian is no longer noteworthy until he does something again--anything--higher up the ranks. Counterpart Aoiyama approached this basho thinking he could just skate his way to another kachi-koshi after winning the Kantosho from low in the ranks in Kyushu. After clinching make-koshi by day 11, I think the kid realized that it will actually take some effort to succeed this high, and he finished the basho on a bit of a run. Remember last basho when they gave the Kantosho to Aoiyama over Myogiryu? Huge mistake.

It was nice to see M8 Shohozan nab kachi-koshi on senshuraku after falling to 6-7. Shohozan is a poor man's Myogiryu, and while he doesn't have the potential of Myogiryu, he always delivers a solid tachi-ai, and he always fights straight forward. Where they differ is in the footwork, which is why Shohozan has to scrap a bit more for his wins. Counterpart Tochiohzan winning 11 from here is an average basho for him. He has got to start contributing among the jo'i again.

Ditto for M9 Tochinoshin, who finished 10-5.

M10 Tokitenku's sumo disgusts me, so his 11-4 is inconsequential to me. Counterpart Gagamaru looked as good as we've ever seen him, and yes, I realize he's fighting near the bottom third of the Maegashira ranks, but the content of his sumo was nearly flawless. Gagamaru's tachi-ai and de-ashi were so good, and I know he can see similar success next basho. Whether he actually does, though, is all between his ears. Who can forget how listless he was in Kyushu when fighting among the jo'i? Gagamaru has all the tools, and now it's just mental toughness for the Georgian. His 12-3 performance earned him the Kantosho award, but I thought the Ginosho award would have been more applicable his sumo was that good.

Let's move down to the M13 rank where two of our rookies checked in with Chiyonokuni and Tenkaiho. Chiyonokuni really took me by surprise. A skinny guy who focuses on a tsuppari attack, I thought he'd struggle even from this low rank, but he gets every ounce out of his size and is so quick in his attack (similar to the old Ama) that he easily overwhelms the competition this low. At 9-3, an injury in his fight against Tochinoshin caused him to withdraw, but nearly half of those wins contained the compound "tsuki" in the kimari-te, and you know my take on the difference between tsuki and oshi. Chiyonokuni is yet another young, Japanese rikishi who will be part of sumo's brief resurgence after Hakuho's retirement. I enjoyed watching Chiyonokuni as much as anyone this basho. Counterpart Tenkaiho was good but not great. His 7-1 start was nice for sure, but there were a lot of softies in that group. As the match makers gave him kachi-koshi rikishi down the stretch, he struggled mightily finishing 1-5. My take on Tenkaiho is he's too fat to really make an impact in the division. Sure, he can survive this low, but he's an average rikishi.

You already know my thoughts on M14 Takanoyama, so let's move to M15 Kyokushuho, our third rookie in the division this basho. My mother once told me that if I couldn't say anything nice about anybody then I shouldn't say anything at all. I'll leave it at that.

And finally, our fourth rookie this tournament, M16 Nionoumi, wasn't able to overcome his lack of size, even at this level. He just doesn't have anything to offer at the sport's highest level, and with so many new, young rikishi flowing into the division, there's no place for Nionoumi.

Catchyall in March.

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2012 Hatsu Basho Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
Over the holidays I attempted several times to crank out a year-end report, but there was nothing new to say. The rikishi of the year is obvious, and you all know who my latest mancrush is who would have been touted as newcomer of the year. There wasn't that one great bout that stood out to me as bout of the year, and then my favorite basho reporting-wise was the Haru basho where Clancy and I rehashed what we consider the best of Sumotalk. In my opinion, I pretty much summed up the year 2011 in the blog entry I posted just after Kotoshogiku was promoted to Ozeki titled "Orchestrating an Ozeki Run". Go back and read that plus the best of Sumotalk from March if you need a year-end fix. I'm not going to spend the time to write something just to write something, which is also why I didn't start this report out by saying, "I hope everyone had a nice holiday."

Before we discuss the individual rikishi, let me start off this report with two topics that I see shaping the course sumo will take in 2012. First, lining the rafters of the Ryogoku Kokugikan are 32 portraits of the rikishi who have won the last 32 tournaments. Prior to each Tokyo basho, the newest portraits are introduced meaning the oldest portraits are removed in order to make room. The next portrait to go belongs to Tochiazuma who was the last Japanese rikishi to take the yusho when he accomplished the feat in January 2006. Like a banzuke with no Japanese Yokozuna or Ozeki, this circumstance will not sit well with the Sumo Association, so don't be surprised to see either Kotoshogiku or Kisenosato pick up their first ever yusho in twenty twelve. The best scenario would be to have one of the two ranked as the highest Ozeki and then enter the final day of the tournament tied with Hakuho. I doubt Hakuho would allow the yusho to fall as low as 12-3, but if he and a Japanese Ozeki both entered senshuraku at 12-2 or better, it sets up the perfect scenario. In order for that to happen, Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato will have to do a lot of work on their own, but it isn't impossible.

The second storyline I see unfolding in 2012 is the continued decline of the foreign rikishi coupled with the emergence of Japan's new talent. At the end of each year, I like to go back and list the rookies from each basho and then gauge the prospects of sumo moving forward based on the new talent in the division. The crop from 2011 are as follows:

Natsu: Tochinowaka, Kaisei
Nagoya: Takarafuji, Takayasu, Daido, Sagatsukasa, Fujiazuma
Aki: Masunoyama, Yoshiazuma, Takanoyama
Kyushu: Myogiryu, Shohozan, Sadanofuji, Aoiyama, Tsurugidake

Losing 17 sekitori due to the yaocho scandal meant that some undeserved rikishi would be promoted to Makuuchi prematurely, but there are some outstanding newcomers in that crop. I would rank the legitimate rikishi as follows:

Top Tier (meaning potential to reach Sekiwake and higher)

Middle Tier (meaning potential to reach the jo'i including Komusubi)

The top three guys from the middle tier also have the potential to reach Sekiwake. These newcomers coupled with the two new Ozeki, Toyonoshima, and guys like Okinoumi and, yes, even Wakakoyu will eventually rise to the upper echelon of the banzuke and assume the elite ranks as the top foreigners begin to retire. As I've written previously, I believe that the oyakata have come to sort of a gentleman's agreement that they will place less and less emphasis on scouring other countries to find that foreigner diamond in the rough and refocus their recruiting efforts within Japan.

Amidst these two storylines will be the one constant that is Yokozuna Hakuho. Over the last year, the gap between Hakuho and the next best rikishi (Baruto) has definitely not contracted. With the new faces in the Ozeki rank we now have a higher percentage of rikishi able to take the yusho, but Hakuho is still the man, he's still in his prime, and he really doesn't have a rival to wear him out. At 21 career yusho, the Yokozuna should waltz to at least 5 yusho this year, which will put him at...(hold on, furiously counting on my fingers)...at 26 for his career, so if this dominance lasts into 2013--and I don't see how it doesn't--we could see sumo's most hallowed record fall in two years' time. There's really no point analyzing Hakuho prior to each basho. He will always be the favorite to yusho, and once that changes, you'll definitely read about it here. For good measure, let's give the Yokozuna a zensho yusho this basho, something that he sacrificed often last year for the good of sumo.

On one hand, I agree that Baruto is the next best rikishi and rightfully assumes the top Ozeki slot, but on the other hand, I'd sure like to see him act like #2. I realize that Hakuho's dominance is wearing the veteran Ozeki down, but Baruto does not prepare for each tournament 100%. With a body like his and as coordinated as he is, there's no excuse for the Estonian not to have taken a yusho already. It's sort of an Ozeki's right to capture at least one tournament in his career, but the Ozeki must prepare himself accordingly and take care of the grunt work. Baruto isn't of that mindset, and it shows in the ring with continued careless losses that leave him around 10-11 wins. I don't see that changing this basho. If anything, the quick start this month and the layoff over the holidays will hamper a guy like Baruto.

I'm genuinely glad to see Kotoshogiku ranked in the second Ozeki slot. I'm not sold that he's the sport's top three rikishi, but the dude is working hard and taking pride in his rank. He should also benefit from a few holes in the jo'i namely Miyabiyama, Takayasu, and Kitataiki. I like the Geeku to win 11 this basho, and he very well could be ranked as the top Ozeki heading into the always unpredictable Haru basho.

At first glance, I wonder how the hell Kotooshu is ranked next, but considering Harumafuji's horrible outing in Kyushu, I guess the Bulgarian sits here by default. I just don't have anything encouraging to say about Kotooshu. I don't believe that he's fighting injuries; rather, I think he's gotten himself into a rut and doesn't have the desire to work his way out. Basho in and basho out, it will be a struggle for this Ozeki to win 9 bouts, and don't be surprised if he's kadoban for at least half the tournaments in twenty twelve. With the banzuke a bit easier this time around, I think he safely wins 9.

Harumafuji should atone for his sins in Kyushu and take advantage of the somewhat weaker jo'i. I haven't read any of his keiko reports, but this guy doesn't have two bad basho in a row. Don't be surprised if he's your jun-yusho rikishi, and I see him winning 10-11 this time around.

Kisenosato makes his debut in the Ozeki ranks, and I don't think the Kid will have a lot of jitters. Yes, the rank was handed to him, but who of the current Ozeki could win 33 bouts over three basho anymore? None of them can do that consistently, so it doesn't bother me that Kisenosato is ranked this high. As expected, a majority of keiko reports prior to the basho have focused on him, and from what I've read, he's in fine form. I actually think there was more pressure knowing that he needed to win 33 bouts to justify his promotion than the pressure associated with fighting as an Ozeki. I see a good but not great start to his Ozeki career with 10 wins.

There's nothing worse than having a yayhoo or two in the Sekiwake ranks. Fortunately, that's not the case this basho as Kakuryu and Toyonoshima deservedly occupy the two Sekiwake slots. These two are in the same position that Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato found themselves in a year ago, and like the two new Ozeki, Kakuryu and Toyonoshima should be able to maintain this rank for most of the year. With no need for new Japanese Ozeki, these two will have to go 34 or 35 wins over three basho to demand the rank, something I don't see happening. Still, both dudes will continually topple the Ozeki and breeze their way to kachi-koshi. Look for both to win nine.

Is it just me, or are the days of rikishi with a huge bump on their right shoulder a thing of the past? Call me crazy but I see a direct parallel between the decline in sumo's popularity and the decline in rikishi with bumps on their shoulders. The only reason I bring this up is I don't have anything else intelligent to say about Komusubi Miyabiyama, a rikishi who used to sport a sweet bump. Plain and simple...Miyabiyama is way over ranked and is going to get get his ass kicked. Dude is just too slow for his tsuppari/pull tactics to work anymore and that will manifest itself to the tune of four wins max.

Counterpart Wakakoyu employs a similar style to Miyabiyama, but the difference is he's young and has a much sharper tachi-ai. I won't go as far to see that Wakakoyu will kachi-koshi, but I think he flirts with it. This isn't his first time fighting the top guys, and he actually beat a coupla Ozeki the last time he fought from the jo'i. He's a one dimensional rikishi for sure, and it's easy to frown upon a guy when that dimension includes the pull tactic, but Wakakoyu belongs here. I think he finishes with 6 wins but wouldn't be surprised to see him win more.

Our M1's are largely the reason why the Sekiwake on up are guaranteed to kachi-koshi. I don't like anything about Takekaze or Aminishiki in this slot. I don't believe Takekaze is brazen enough to employ henka every bout among the jo'i, and like Miyabiyama, Aminishiki is way too slow to make any impact at this level. The M1 rank will be Sinead O'Connor ugly when she grew out her hair and went on that strict diet of deep-fried foods and lard.

At one point in time, I had a mancrush on both of our M2's, Okinoumi and Goeido. Okinoumi has established himself as a playuh in the sport and is on the rise while Goeido has established himself as a certifiable head case. With Miyabiyama, Takekaze, and Aminishiki undoubtedly giving up their ranks in Haru, Okinoumi has the second best chance of anyone to slide into the Komusubi slot for Haru. Dude employs a solid yotsu style and his tall enough to cause trouble for guys like Baruto and Kotooshu. I see Okinoumi winning eight with a solid performance. As for Goeido, I have continued to give him the bendoubt over the last few years, but there just comes a time when a jilted lover has to be honest with himself. Goeido lacks a solid mentor to show him how to put 2 and 2 together with one 2 being physical tools and the other 2 being mental fortitude. The Father has simply become a sideshow and has been surpassed by peer who understand that solid sumo does not involve light tachi-ai and evasive maneuvering. Give the guy 6 wins on potential alone.

M3 Kitataiki will pick up a few wins against the over-ranked rikishi above him, but he cannot survive the jo'i this tournament. The guy means well but just doesn't have the strength in his lower body (prolly due to a knee injury) to hold his own. I don't see him winning more than five by the time the fat lady sings. As for Takayasu, I'm not very optimistic regarding his debut among the jo'i. First, the dude always fights too high for his own good. He's not that strong to begin with, so when you take your legs out of the equation as well, you just can't budge your opponent. And while he has survived with that sumo to rise to this point, it's a whole new game in these parts. Though I really like the kids and his background and his work ethic, I'm afraid he's going to be shredded in his jo'i debut. I hope I'm wrong but I only see him winning four or five. It should also be mentioned that while Kisenosato lost his mentor in the former Takanosato who died just before the Kyushu basho, he at least had enough time with him as a sekitori to learn what it takes to be successful. In Takayasu's case, I think losing his mentor greatly effects him because now there's no one there to point out his flaws and show him how to fix them.

M4 will be my favorite rank this tournament with Homasho and Tochinowaka if Homasho is completely healthy. The M4 rank gets a bit of a break as it is in that they aren't required to fight the entire jo'i, but when you have guys like Miyabiyama, Aminishiki, and Takekaze above you just taking up space, it makes it that much easier. I see both of these guys winning 9 or 10 bouts and shooting up to the sanyaku for Komusubi. As for Tochinowaka, if all of the stables were dissolved, and a draft was put in place to repopulate the heya, I don't see how Tochinowaka isn't the second pick behind Hakuho.

I'm totally geeked to see Myogiryu in the M5 slot. It's a rank that's a safe distance from the jo'i; yet, a guy can actually reach the sanyaku from here with a great basho. The competition for Myogiryu will be little changed from what he experienced in Kyushu, so with any rookie jitters out of the way, I expect this kid to continue to surprise his foes with his solid tachi-ai and quick oshi attack. I like Myogiryu to tag along right behind the M4's and flirt with double-digits. Counterpart Toyohibiki is one of those guys who struggles regardless of his rank on the banzuke, and rikishi like that have no hope of going higher in the ranks. The Ibiki won't make a peep during the fortnight finishing with (yawn) five wins or so.

I normally enjoy the M6 rank but not with Yoshikaze and Kyokutenho occupying the slot. These are two guys who can't succeed higher than this rank, so what's the point of getting excited about them. Their experience in the division is such that they can and should both win 8, but it's all insignificant.

M7 is quite compelling with two Eastern Euros in Aran and Aoiyama. I think Aoiyama's presence lights a fire under Aran's arse, so I expect a solid basho from the Russian featuring 9 or 10 wins. As for Aoiyama, I get the feeling he's the second coming of Tochinoshin, so expect some brilliant moments for the next year or two and then that gradual fade to black. With Aoiyama being ranked near the bottom of the division in Kyushu, I see him struggling more with the speed and experience of the rikishi at this level. He'll finish with 7 win or so.

It's a rank like M8 where you can see how the balance of the banzuke has been disrupted a bit. It's actually the perfect spot for Shohozan to follow up on his successful debut in Kyushu, but Tochiohzan is a lot better than so many guys above him. Yes, Oh is coming off of an injury, but it was only a minor flesh wound so expect this guy to flirt with a special prize. I live Shohozan to win a solid eight and Oh to flirt with 11.

M9 Tochinoshin has fallen fast, but he's just too damn big and too good'a yotsu fighter to struggle this low. Along with stable mate Tochiohzan, here's another guy screwing up the balance of the ranks. I see the Private having his way down here and challenging Tochiohzan for that special prize. As for Daido, this is right where he belongs on the charts, so expect a status quo 7 or 8 wins.

M10 Gagamaru started out 10-1 the last time he was ranked this low that included a legitimate win over Baruto of all rikishi. Back in his comfort zone, expect Lord Gaga to rule again with 9 wins or so.

M11 Fujiazuma is one of those guys who was promoted prematurely, and while he did see some success in his debut, it was largely attributed to a bunch of other guys promoted undeservedly. It's not that he's unworthy of the division, but as things have settled down since the yaocho shake-up, Fujiazuma had become a guy who has to do well just to stay at this level. I see him struggling for 7 or 8 wins. I like counterpart Sadanofuji who has decent size and some pop in his tsuppari. With his debut out of the way, I expect him to continue to figure things out and kachi-koshi again with 8 maybe 9 wins.

M12 is a sign that the banzuke is getting considerably weaker with Yoshiazuma and Tosayutaka, so let's skip to M13 which houses our first two rookies in Chiyonokuni and Tenkaiho. I've never seen any of these guys fight, so all I have to go off are their physiques and the information I've read about them. Chiyonokuni is a scrawny guy who watched too much of his senpai, Chiyotaikai, and the success he saw using pull methods. Unlike Chiyotaikai, Kuni hasn't got much muscle on his upper half, so I think he struggles a bit in trying to establish himself in the sport's top division. My guess is about 7 wins in a shaky debut.

Tenkaiho is a wide guy who has actually submitted his application to the Sumotalk crew to be labeled a Hutt. With the other Hutts all doing so poorly, I'm fine letting him in with a good showing. I do think this guy has the size and the ability to dig in and hold his own at this level, so let's give him 8 in his debut.

Oh boy, here we go again with white and nerdy M14 Takanoyama. I think it's been clear over the years that I don't appreciate gimmick sumo even from undersized rikishi, so don't expect my opinion to change regarding this guy anytime soon. I guess those insulin injections that Takanosato was giving his prodigy were working because he's actually dropped a few kilograms heading in Hatsu. That doesn't help his cause, and so look for five or so wins and plenty of cheers from the easily entertained crowd. I actually watched Gremlins on New Years Eve with the chillun, and it amazes me how much M14 Sagatsukasa has grown up.

M15 Asasekiryu has shown few signs of life during his steady decline, and there's not reason to believe he won't continue to fall as the younger talent forces their way into the division. Across the aisle is our third rookie in Kyokushuho, a Mongolian from the Oshima-beya. I've never seen the dude fight and didn't glean anything from the media after the release of the banzuke, so I'll save my comments until I see him fight a few times.

Bringing up the rear is M16 Kaisei who has regressed at an incredible rate after a nifty debut back in May. I wonder if Kaio's retirement has meant fewer sekitori for this guy to wrassle with prior to the basho? Something's up because he's become slow and useless in the division for the most part. I think he does well with 6 wins the way he's looked the last few tourneys. The caboose (literally) is our final rookie, Nionoumi, who becomes the third guy in history to reach the division who failed to qualify for the Sumo's height and weight requirements. Toyonoshima has done well despite his physical limitations and Sagatsukasa has struggled. Give me a few days to observe this kid before I really comment on his future.

Expect the status quo in Hatsu, and now with Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku in the Ozeki ranks, we no longer have those shoe-ins for special prizes. Here are my predictions nonetheless:

Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
Shukunsho: none
Kantosho: Tochiohzan
Ginosho: Tochinowaka






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