All Columns written by Mike Wesemann

for the Kyushu Basho 2002

 

2002 Kyushu Roundtable

This basho had two polar opposite storylines going on at the same time. The positive thread made me realize I was witnessing a historical run by an under-sized rikishi, while the negative thread had me disgusted with the attitudes of the rikishi and the general direction the sport is heading. Did the positive out weigh the negative? We'll find out in January.

 

I'll start with the positive, which is of course Asashoryu's record run to the yusho. Not only was it his first yusho, but he accomplished some feats this year and this basho that have only been obtained by past rikishi who were eventually crowned Yokozuna. Some of his outstanding accomplishments include:

 

* Winning his first 8 bouts for three consecutive basho

* Obtaining the Makuuchi yusho in just 24 tournaments (only Yokozuna Takanohana has done it as fast)

* Winning the highest number of bouts for this year (66 wins) becoming the first non-Yokozuna to do it in ten years

 

Coincidentally, the major storyline heading into the Hatsu basho in January is whether or not Asashoryu can pull off a consecutive yusho, thus guaranteeing promotion to Yokozuna and cementing his spot in sumo history. Will Asashoryu be promoted to Yokozuna? I think it's inevitable. Can he repeat in January? It's highly probable. Normally, I wouldn't be so convinced that he could put together two yusho in a row so early in his career; but the field may be weakened in January, so he has to be the favorite going in. Of all the positives going for him, I have yet to see Asashoryu dominate his fellow Ozeki and the Yokozuna in week two of a basho. I attribute that to his lack of experience and size, but the day will come when the fans will throw their zabuton after Asashoryu losses because they will be so rare. His week two opponents may not even be an issue for the Hatsu basho, however. Here is a breakdown where all the top rikishi stand for next basho:

 

Yokozuna Musashimaru -- already declared he will sit the Hatsu basho out in order to rehabilitate his wrist.

 

Yokozuna Takanohana -- Highly questionable. Because of Taka's popularity and ability to generate ticket sales, we won't know if he'll sit the Hatsu basho out until the 11th hour. About 10 days prior to the Hatsu basho, reports will begin to come in regarding the rikishi's practice sessions. Takanohana's participation will be a good indicator of where he stands. Even if Taka does compete in January, he will not be close to 100%.

 

Ozeki Kaio -- Highly questionable. Kaio tore the bicep in his right arm during Kyushu. Medical reports indicated he would need about three months to rehabilitate the injury. Even if Kaio does compete in January, he will not have had the opportunity to practice at full strength.

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai -- Questionable. Chiyo injured his triceps (at least that's what he says) during the Kyushu basho, and the doctors estimated 2-3 months of rehabilitation.

 

Ozeki Musoyama -- Highly questionable. On senshuraku in Kyushu, Musoyama appeared to have dislocated his shoulder in his loss to Asashoryu. This has been a recurring problem that has hampered Musoyama's career. Even if Musoyama does compete in January, he will be...well...Musoyama, which means unthreatening.

 

Ozeki Tochiazuma -- Highly probable. Tochiazuma was less than impressive in Kyushu as he was coming off a major injury. He should have the ring rust out of his system, but Tochi was totally dominated by both Ozeki in Kyushu.

 

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki -- Kotomitsuki barely held on to his Sekiwake rank with some cheap sidestepping in his later bouts in Kyushu, but he had a terrible basho.

 

Sekiwake Takanowaka -- Takanowaka, who will be promoted to Sekiwake for January, should continue his energetic fighting; however, don't be fooled by his 11-4 record in Kyushu. All of his wins over rikishi ranked Sekiwake or higher for Kyushu were obtained by using pull-down techniques except for his default win over Musashimaru and uwate-nage win over the struggling Tochiazuma on day 3.

 

Who is going to step up and challenge Asashoryu? I don't see anybody up to the task. One of Asa's most impressive traits is he doesn't choke. He didn't choke when he was up for ozeki promotion, he didn't choke as a new Ozeki, and he certainly didn't choke as a sophomore Ozeki. How many other rikishi can say the same? The bottom line is this: Asa will face a weak field in January, and he should yusho again. If he does win in January, will his subsequent promotion to Yokozuna be undeserved? Premature maybe, but definitely deserved. If winning two basho over weak fields was so easy, why haven't other rikishi stepped up as well? I'll be rooting for Asashoryu because his overall sumo, his bulldog attitude, and his fighting spirit are downright special.

 

Now that my praise for Asashoryu is finished, there is one other rikishi whom I think deserves special mention: Tosanoumi. Fighting from the Maegashira 1 rank, Tosanoumi gave us some of the most memorable bouts this basho. He backs down from nobody, which is rare during these tachi-ai henka happy times. Chiyotaikai, Tochiazuma, Kotomitsuki, and Takanowaka--I'm talking to you. While Tosanoumi does win some bouts with pull down tactics, he will hit you straight up on the tachi-ai...every time. Many of Tosa's losses are by rikishi sidestepping him at the tachi-ai because they don't want to nut up and challenge his initial charge. Tosanoumi went 8-7 and will be rewarded with a deserved promotion to Komusubi for next basho. It's easy to see why he is Kenji's favorite active rikishi.

 

Another noteworthy performance was produced by Takanowaka. Though I am critical of his hiki (pull down) habits, winning 11 bouts from the Komusubi position is rare. I have kept my eye on Takanowaka since Makushita when I noticed him as an undersized rikishi with surprising strength when fighting at the belt. I love his sumo when he bellies up (mune wo awaseru) to his opponents instead of trying to pull them down. 11 wins from the Komusubi rank means that he's completed his first step towards Ozeki promotion. He needs to average 11 wins over his next two basho to secure the promotion, but he can do it. He should be one of the major players for January. His real test will be in March, however, when I expect everyone back at full strength.

 

Takanonami fighting from the M1 position deserves honorable mention with his 10-5 record. Here is a rikishi with all the potential in the world to be great, but he just lacks any aggression. This former Ozeki can seriously challenge for the rank again if he puts his mind to it. Takanonami should be 10-5 every basho in my opinion. His size and counter tactics are the best in the sport right now. He should jump right over Komusubi and be ranked as a Sekiwake with Kotomitsuki and Takanowaka for next basho. One note though, stop playing mind games with your opponents by delaying your tachi-ai (initial charge). Put your fist down and fight on the first try. How many times do we need to see your opponents literally fall forward while waiting for you to go?

 

As far as breaking down performances by rank, here's some brief commentary.

 

I think Yokozuna Takanohana, who sat this tournament out from the beginning, is ready for retirement. It's my opinion that the Sumo Kyokai wants to keep him around to ensure at least one Japanese Yokozuna.

 

Yokozuna Musashimaru looked good the first few days, but I thought it coincidental how his wrist injury flared up when he suffered his first loss. Maru is sitting out the tournament in January, but I'm sure he'll pick up his usual three yusho next year.

 

Ozeki Kaio suffered his injury so early this basho that it was hard to tell what kind of condition he was in. His two wins were over decent opponents, though, in Takanowaka and Miyabiyama.

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai just quit in my opinion. Maybe his triceps was bothering him, but it sure didn't look that way as he pulled down Tosanoumi--twice. Just when I get excited about Chiyotaikai, he lays an egg.

 

Ozeki Musoyama will forever leave us with the question "what if?" Musoyama looked good for most of the basho, but too many of his losses where the result of lack of concentration. When Musoyama first emerged on the Makuuchi scene, I along with much of the Japanese media thought he was a surefire Yokozuna. His strength and sumo are worthy of a Yokozuna, but the ever-important mental toughness is lacking.

 

Ozeki Tochiazuma is still breathing a sigh of relief after barely pulling out his 8 wins to stave off demotion. Call it luck having the top four rikishi sitting out, and most everyone else looking just awful this basho. Remember, Tochiazuma is the defending Hatsu basho champion, so we'll see how he fares in his hometown Tokyo.

 

Sekiwake Wakanosato looked as down as I've ever seen him. He almost managed a majority of wins this basho, but how could you not with everyone sitting out? He'll have a fresh start in January in making another run to Ozeki promotion.

 

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki barely achieved 8 wins to hold on to his rank. This former champion may be following Kaio's footsteps: look fantastic one basho, but terrible the next.

 

Komusubi Kyokutenho barely missed a kachi-koshi going 7-8. Even as I write this, I can't recall a single bout of his. Let's just say his performance this basho was forgettable.

 

Well, it was a down year for the sport of sumo. Ticket sales to the tournaments are bearing this out. It used to be that a non-sellout was big news, but these days there just aren't enough rikishi generating any excitement. While I'll never tire of Takamisakari's antics, I probably won't be willing to fork out 8,000 - 10,000 yen a pop to sit in a cramped seat and watch it. The people I feel most sorry for are the fans in the outskirts of Kyushu who have eagerly waited for the sumo exhibition tours set to begin the day after the Kyushu basho. Problem is, there won't be enough rikishi competing to give them their money's worth. There's no question that the sport needs a healthy Takanohana. The emotion he inspired in September was unforgettable. Perhaps, Asashoryu can take his place in the years to come, but we'll have to cross our fingers and see.

 

Comments through Day 13

November 22, 2002 -- Day 13 was a much-needed bright day for the Kyushu basho as Asashoryu clinched his first Makuuchi divisional yusho. It was quite an emotional victory not only for the sophomore Ozeki, but for his mentor Takasago oyakata, the entire country of Mongolia, and this columnist as well (the Barometer theory remains alive and kicking after a major scare).

 

Asashoryu obtained the coveted Makuuchi yusho after just 24 basho (four years) in the sport. This ties the mark set by current Yokozuna Takanohana. It's no coincidence that Asashoryu is accomplishing feats that have previously been attained only by those who eventually made it to the sports highest rank. Asa's got his first shot at Yokozuna next basho. If he wins again in January, the promotion is his. I don't foresee a strong field waiting for him next basho as Musashimaru has already withdrawn, and several other top guns have injuries requiring several months of rehab.

 

Asa's victory today wasn't easy, however, as Wakanosato gave him a huge run for his money. Wakanosato took the advantage from the tachi-ai with a firm inner-grip (shitate). Asa eventually got his own inner grip on Wakanosato's belt to bring the rikishi into the migi-yotsu position, but Wakanosato seemed to have the better leverage. Asashoryu twice attempted the shitate-nage throw, which is very dangerous if unsuccessful because it leaves you on one foot having expended a great deal of energy. Wakanosato drove Asashoryu to the edge of the ring both times, however, Asashoryu refused to be forced out. He was finally able to get Wakanosato back into the middle of the ring and enough of an offensive postion to trip the Sekiwake over.

 

Asashoryu's mentor, Takasago-oyakata (moto-Asashio), was very emotional. He happened to be in the broadcast booth for NHK, so there were ample close-up shots of the shisho. There's not a prouder moment for a stable master than to have a rikishi you've raised from the beginning stand in the winner's circle. Well maybe one greater moment--to have your apprentice be crowned Yokozuna. Asashoryu has an excellent shot at the greatest honor in two months. Speaking of pride, the entire Mongolian nation is probably on holiday for the next few days. Asashoryu received a huge reception in his home country after his promotion to Ozeki, so you can imagine what's in store for his next trip home

 

Perhaps, yours truly was the most relieved by today's result, as a loss to Wakanosato today would have disproved the Barometer theory. For review, Wakanosato is nicknamed the Barometer because he's the perfect measuring stick in the sanyaku. Simply put, if you lose to Wakanosato, you're not fighting well enough to yusho. Since Asashoryu's yusho was a foregone conclusion, a loss to the Barometer would have been disastrous.

 

In other bouts, Musoyama easily toppled fellow-ozeki Tochiazuma. Musoyama seemed to be the one rikishi this basho primed to step up and challenge Asashoryu; however, careless losses here and there abolished any yusho hopes. In a battle of two 8-4 former Ozeki, Dejima forced out Takanonami to earn his 9th victory and a possible special prize. Kenji correctly picked Asashoryu to yusho--will Dejima make him look even better by winning the Kantosho prize? Could be. Takanowaka also picked up his important 9th win by easily defeating Takamisakari. Takanowaka may also be in line for a special prize to go along with his certain promotion to Sekiwake for the next basho. Tosanoumi kept his kachi-koshi hopes alive by defeating Tochinonada in a battle of two fierce competitors.

 

With the yusho determined, the remaining bouts are still relevant for those rikishi who are near eight wins. Eight wins guarantees a promotion for next basho, whereas eight losses clinches a demotion. The battle among the three Ozeki should be decent. Asashoryu should easily handle Tochiazuma on day 14 (if he isn't too hung over), and the most anticipated match left will by on senshuraku when Asashoryu takes on Musoyama. Kotomitsuki and Tosanoumi will also be worth watching as their backs are up against the wall with seven losses apiece. Some of the best matches on day 15 will be those rikishi who both have 7-7 records.

 

Comments through Day 11

November 20, 2002 -- What an ugly day of sumo. Can anything go right this basho? Asashoryu suffered his first loss today, and fellow Ozeki Musoyama reassured us that he is still capable of whiffing on his final push out of the ring only to end up flat on his stomach. If this website were more hi-tech, the head in my picture would be shaking back and forth in disbelief. The third Ozeki, Tochiazuma, did win although he jumped out of the way of 3-7 Maegashira Gojoro to get it.

 

Asashoryu, who is still in a commanding position to pick up his first yusho, came out tentatively against the larger Tochinonada. It seemed as if he couldn't make up his mind whether or not to go for the belt or get in a shoving match with the #6 Maegashira. During this indecision, Tochinonada pounced with a few powerful thrusts and easily pushed Asa out of the ring making the Ozeki look bad in the process. Losing to Tochinonada is nothing to be ashamed about as he frequently topples the giants; however, Asashoryu was completely lackluster after his previous 10 days of outstanding sumo. Maybe even Asashoryu is getting bored.

 

While Ozeki Tochiazuma did manage a win after Asa went down, he resorted to the unforgivable tachi-ai henka (side steeping opponent's initial charge) to get it. Come on Tochiazuma, I know you're kadoban and need all the wins you can get, but jumping out of the way of Gojoro?!? Not wanting to face Tosanoumi straight up is one thing, but side-stepping a 3-7 M4 is the last thing I need to see an Ozeki doing. The victory did give Tochiazuma his 6th straight victory to put him at 7-4. He needs just one more win to avoid demotion.

 

Asashoryu's loss should have given Musoyama a little more incentive to win because it put him back in the yusho race; however, after dominating Kyokushuzan for the whole bout he failed to finish off the Mongolian and ended up flat on his stomach at the edge of the ring. Good-bye yusho. This happens at least once a basho and gives Musoyama costly losses that derail his runs at the yusho. The bout was fitting as it capped off an ugly day of sumo where nobody seemed to shine.

 

In the bout between the two struggling Sekiwake, Wakanosato got his 5th win when Kotomitsuki went for the hiki (pull down) technique mid-bout. As is usually the case, this ended up in Wakanosato's easily driving his counterpart out of the ring. Perhaps Kotomitsuki didn't want to be out done by both Komusubi who each resorted to the hiki during their bouts as well, which subsequently resulted in their losses. Tosanoumi easily forced out Kyokutenho, while the mammoth Miyabiyama finished off Takanowaka. Takanowaka's loss hurts because not only does it take him out of the yusho race, but it hurts his chances of being awarded the Fighting Spirit prize. Takanowaka still has an impressive 7-4 record and should win one more to secure promotion to Sekiwake for next basho.

 

The veteran Akinoshima was driven out by Dejima to suffer his third loss. While a run at the yusho for him is highly improbable, he is only two losses back. Both rikishi now stand at a respectable 8-3. Takanonami is also at 8-3 after luring Takamisakari into the same trap that everyone else falls into. Add Asashoryu into the mix, and unbelievably, these are the only four rikishi who have secured a kachikoshi. So, after 11 days the yusho race shapes up with Asashoryu leading the pack at 10-1 and Dejima, Takanonami, and Akinoshima hanging on with 8-3 records.

 

Hopefully, the final four days will provide more excitement. The Ozeki will begin facing each other from day 13 with the Sekiwake also being thrown into the mix. The key bout from here on out is Asashoryu vs. Wakanosato, which should occur on day 13. Remember, you have to beat Wakanosato in order to be qualified for the yusho (see Terms-->Barometer), so if Wakanosato pulls the upset, all hell could break lose.

 

Comments through Day 9

November 18, 2002 -- Am I mistaken, or is this exhibition tournament in Kyushu not going so well? I am just flabbergasted by the continued withdrawal of all the top rikishi from this basho; the latest being Ozeki Chiyotaikai. If this was election night and I was a CNN hack I'd call this basho early in favor of Asashoryu and say "let's get the hell out of here." I hope to see a little more effort from everyone in 2003.

 

The only remaining question in my mind now is "can Asashoryu be the first rikishi in eight years to go 15-0?" The answer to that is "who looks good enough to beat him this basho?" Flat out nobody. NHK news displayed a graphic over the weekend showing that Asashoryu has gone 8-0 the first week of the tournament for the third basho in a row. The few rikishi who have ever accomplished this feat in the past have all been crowned Yokozuna. Currently, Asa leads the pack at 9-0. There are two rikishi behind him at 7-2, but are Takanonami and Akinoshima going to seriously challenge him for this basho? For his last six bouts, instead of taking on the likes of Takanohana and Chiyotaikai, he will be rewarded with more rank and filers than normal--a group he has totally dominated this year, and a reeling sanyaku. But take NOTHING away from Asashoryu. His sumo has been sensational. One of the most important factors this basho is he's finishing off his opponents in a matter of seconds. Saving up his energy for the final run could be the key in his quest for a perfect basho, not to mention his first yusho. I think the yusho is a given at this point; I'm just hoping to see him win out.

 

If Asashoryu does win, he will be up for promotion to Yokozuna. With all of these injuries occurring to the top wrestlers, I don't think we can expect a strong field for the Hatsu basho in January. I think Asashoryu has an excellent shot to seal the deal and become the first Mongolian to be crowned Yokozuna. If Asashoryu DOES make Yokozuna, that puts a lot of pressure on Takanohana to perform as the only Japanese Yokozuna. Nobody will ever mention the fact in the mainstream press, but it will be a hard pill for the Sumo Kyokai to swallow if Takanohana retires and the sport is left with two foreign Yokozuna at the top. This could provide for a major storyline in the next few basho to come.

 

As far as the day's bouts, Asashoryu was fantastic in his win over Gojoro. It's not a question anymore of "can he win? but "how is he going to win today?". It's the only thing left to keep anyone interested...that and Takamisakari. In another bright spot, Tochiazuma held on to topple the Barometer (Wakanosato) to seal his fourth win in a row. At 5-4 Tochiazuma looks assured of holding on to his Ozeki status. If he had the four top guns who have withdrawn and Asashoryu left, I wouldn't be so sure; but this string of withdrawals is exactly what the doctor ordered.

 

The third remaining Ozeki, Musoyama, fell into the same trap we've seen Takanonami spring for years. When is anybody going to figure it out? Takanonami gives you the uwate, let's you drive him back to the tawara, then he puts one foot on the tawara for leverage, wraps his arm over the top of his opponents arm and catapults him out. It was a costly loss for Musoyama as it gave him his third loss of the basho and all but eliminated him from the race.

 

Both Sekiwake lost inching them one step closer to a deserved demotion to Komusubi, and both Komusubi would have probably lost too if they didn't have to fight each other. Kyokutenho came out on top putting a big chink in Takanowaka's impressive run this basho. Takanowaka looked too rushed, and when he resorted to the hiki maneuver to try and pull Kyokutenho down, his opponent wasn't buying it and easily forced Takanowaka out.

 

Um, let's see here...I'm still trying to find something newsworthy to write about...oh yeah, Takanonami deserves mention with his respectable 7-2 record so far. His two losses are to Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu, so he's beating everyone he's supposed to. Takanonami has faced everyone ranked higher than him except Takanowaka, whom he faces today. Takanowaka's height may pose a problem, but if Takanonami can topple him, his only other serious roadblock is fellow M1 Tosanoumi. If Takanonami could somehow manage to maintain a perfect record here on out--highly unlikely--he has a slim chance of running Asashoryu down.

 

The only other rikishi with a 7-2 mark is the old veteran Akinoshima fighting to stay out of Juryo. I would have been a little more excited about the former Sekiwake if he hadn't lost to Asanowaka today.

 

In reading over previous daily reports, it seems that this basho has taken some crazy turns every other day. Unfortunately, they have all been for the worse. Tune in to see what can go wrong in the next few days. Until then, enjoy Asashoryu's sumo along with the rest of the empty seats at the venue because it's been fantastic.

 

Comments through Day 5

The jobansen (first five days) are in the bag, and this basho is beginning to take shape. Ozeki Asashoryu leads the pack with a perfect 5-0 record; however, fellow Ozeki Chiyotaikai and Musoyama are right on his heels as is Yokozuna Musashimaru all with 4-1 records. I see the yusho coming down to a battle among these four heavyweights. Hopefully, they can provide enough drama in the end to offset the disappointing withdrawals of Takanohana and Kaio, and the sub par performances being displayed by Tochiazuma and Wakanosato.

 

Starting at the top, Kenji's prediction of Asashoryu's first yusho is looking more and more like a reality. Not only is he off to a 5-0 start, but he has looked so solid in doing it. While he hasn't faced anyone ranked higher than Komusubi yet, he has toppled three rikishi with wins over his fellow Ozeki. Asashoryu is keeping is opponents directly in front of him and just overpowering them with his bulldog sumo. He has a relatively big test on day 6 when he faces Maegashira 1 Takanonami, who is hot off his win over Musashimaru. While major props are due for the sophomore Ozeki, he still needs to prove himself in week two--something he failed to do last basho.

 

Musashimaru suffered his first loss on day five to Takanonami, the same rikishi who beat him on day one of the last basho. Takanonami's speed, or Maru's lack thereof, was the difference as Maru just couldn't keep up with his opponent. Perhaps Musashimaru's bad wrist neutralized the coveted uwate (outer grip) he had on Taka's belt from the tachi-ai. We've seen this before from Maru, however, and he should be right in the thick of things up to the end.

 

Two impressive rikishi up to this point have been Ozekis Chiyotaikai and Musoyama. Both are 4-1, and both suffered fluke losses when they were sidestepped at the tachi-ai. No one has yet to go toe-to-toe with either one of these rikishi and beaten him. You can bet they both have Asashoryu in their sites for week two. The other storylines going on have kept these two out of the limelight, but they look for real.

 

One unfortunate storyline developing this basho is the struggling performance of Ozeki Tochiazuma, who is coming off a major injury. Tochiazuma has lost three bouts in a row and has not looked good doing it. Several times he has had his opponents at the edge of the ring, but has been unable to finish them off. The same eerie silence that accompanied Taknohana's losses last basho exists after each of Tochiazuma's losses in Kyushu. He is really going to have to dig down deep to keep his Ozeki rank. At 1-4, he must go 7-3 the rest of the way to prevent his demotion. Don't put it past him, though, because all it takes is one big win to get his confidence back, and Tochiazuma is a warrior.

 

As long as we're talking about disappointments, "where have you gone, Wakanosato? A lonely nation turns its eyes to you." Let's hope our Barometer is suffering from an unreported injury because he looks down right uninspired.

 

As for noteworthy performances so far, Takanonami deserves mention at 4-1 with big wins over Yokozuna Musashimaru and Ozeki Tochiazuma, but we've seen his act before: impressive record the first week followed up with a magical disappearance in week two.

 

Comments through Day 3

We're three days into this basho, and both Asashoryu and Musashimaru lead the pack at 3-0. Musashimaru has had a relatively easy path so far; however, the Yokozuna's schedule gets tougher and tougher day by day. It's still far too early to tell anything at this point, but two troublesome stories are beginning to play out in the Ozeki ranks.

 

The biggest news of the day was the injury to Ozeki Kaio, which will probably force him to miss the rest of the tournament. Medical reports show that Kaio ruptured the bicep in his upper right arm in his bout with Tosanoumi. It was apparent during the bout that something was wrong as Kaio virtually gave up midway through the contest. Tosanoumi deserves his props, however, as he had the Ozeki back peddling from the tachi-ai. Kaio has still not officially announced that he will sit out the remainder of the tournament; however, the doctors estimate three months for a full recovery. This is perhaps a bigger blow to the Kyushu fans than the 11th-hour withdrawal of Yokozuna Takanohana as Kaio is the hometown favorite.

 

The other story regards Tochiazuma who suffered his second loss of the tournament falling to Takanowaka. Tochiazuma is kadoban, which means if he loses 8 or more bouts this basho, he will be demoted from Ozeki. Pre-basho reports were positive regarding Tochi's condition; however, as Kenji mentioned after day one, it appears he still doesn't have his "sumo-no-kan," or 6th sense in the ring. It's only going to get tougher for Tochiazuma in the second week, but weren't we saying this same thing about Takanohana last basho?

 

Chiyotaikai looks solid despite his early fluke loss to Takanowaka. He can't afford any more early losses, though, because the second week is going to be a huge test. Fellow Ozeki Musoyama suffered his first loss to Kotomitsuki, and I predict he gets his second loss today against Tosanoumi. Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Asashoryu looks as good as ever. His counter-attack to defeat Tosanoumi on day 1 may be the most memorable moment thus far.

 

In the Sekiwake ranks, Wakanosato (the Barometer) has all but ended his quest for Ozeki with two uninspiring losses in the first three days. He looks unmotivated so far. His counterpart, Kotomitsuki, should play a major role in the days to come when he faces the Ozeki and Yokozuna.

 

Other notable performances so far are Takanowaka, who has already toppled two Ozeki; Tochinonada, who is 3-0 at Maegashira 6a rank that may exempt him from facing all of the big boys; and Aminishiki, who is also 3-0 and on track for the Ginosho prize.

 

Finally, those who viewed NHK's telecast early Tuesday morning got their first glimpse of Koto-oshu (see newsflashes page), the newest and tallest rikishi to join the ranks. Koto-oshu showed brilliant technique in defeating his opponent with the shitate-hineri move. Stay tuned to sumotalk.com as we will track Koto-oshu's rise up the ranks.

 

 

Pre-basho Report

November 4, 2002 -- I can't remember when I've ever been so excited for a basho to start. I echo Kenji's thoughts about the sentimentality of the Kyushu basho as this is where I personally came in contact with the sport and rikishi themselves. That aside, the biggest reason to get excited over Kyushu this year is the fact that everyone should be healthy. We've got a top-heavy Makuuchi rank that has been unseen since Akebono and Wakanohana retired.

 

I'll start with the best of the best-the Yokozuna. Musashimaru comes in as the higher ranked Yokozuna after his dominating victory over Takanohana on senshuraku last basho. At the end of last basho, I felt that Takanohana would take over the Higashi slot in Kyushu, but I'm not so sure now. Reports in Japan have mentioned that Takanohana has been practicing lightly, so I'm not convinced that he's 100%. Taka at 80-90% is still better than anybody else EXCEPT fellow Yokozuna Musashimaru. Maru proved last basho that you have to be in top form to topple him, so I'm picking Maru to prevail in Kyushu again. Maru definitely doesn't command the headlines, and there will be so many other storylines heading into Kyushu, that I think Musashimaru will lurk in the shadows with maybe one early loss and then show his prowess in the final week. I know this is a rather boring prediction, but I see a mirror of the last basho with the two Yokozuna dueling it out on senshuraku for the yusho. Maru wins again.

 

The Ozeki should be outstanding this basho. All eyes will be on Tochiazuma who is coming off of a major injury. Early keiko reports have mentioned that Tochiazuma is practicing as if he never got injured. If he and the other Ozeki are all in top condition, 13 wins guarantees the yusho, and 12-3 should be good enough. Tochiazuma will probably be in the spotlight for the first few bouts, but I suspect the Sumo Kyokai will not overburden him with fellow sanyaku match-ups during that time.

 

Kaio will also receive major attention as Kyushu is home, and the crowd will be behind him all the way. Ironically, in the past Kaio has never lived up to the expectations placed on him for the last basho of the year. I don't see anything different for this basho, especially since Kaio looked good last basho, and he rarely puts two solid basho together in a row. Look for him though, to hand out costly losses to the rikishi in the yusho hunt.

 

Asashoryu is the dark horse this basho. He is no longer shin-ozeki (new ozeki) and with his below average performance during the final week of last basho, there are no expectations for him in Kyushu. As much as I would like to see Asashoryu holding the tenpai in the end, I still feel that he is about a year away.

 

Chiyotaikai is a major player in the Makuuchi division, and I would not be surprised to see him yusho. You usually know with Chiyo in the first 5-6 days if he's on or if he's just taking this basho off. I don't think Chiyotaikai is mentally strong enough to be crowned the next Yokozuna at this point. It seems that an early loss to a rank-and-filer ruins him for the rest of the tournament.

 

Musoyama never performs well in Kyushu. Back in '94 when he was up for Ozeki promotion for the first time, he proceeded to lose his first four bouts to no-names. I'll be happy if he can win 9 this time around.

 

We couldn't ask for two better Sekiwake than Wakanosato and Kotomitsuki to mix things up in the sanyaku ranks. Both rikishi should become Ozeki some day, and you have to bring your absolute best to beat them.

 

Kyokutenho and Takanowaka both come into Kyushu ranked as Komusubi. These two rikishi have decent all around sumo and nearly identical builds; however, they're still a step or two short of avoiding that revolving door that will throw them back down into Maegashira.

 

Besides Dejima, I think we have the cream of the Maegashira crop all in the upper ranks. I love Tosanoumi in that number one slot because all of the elite have to face him. Tosanoumi is famous for toppling all of the big names and then evening things out by losing to the lower-ranked Maegashira. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tosanoumi get his 8 wins and move back up to Komusubi where he belongs.

 

Takanonami as the other number one Maegashira has also been performing well as of late. He poses problems to the elite as well, but you never know day to day which Takanonami you're going to get-the former Ozeki or Kotonowaka's partner in crime.

 

Finally, a relative newcomer to Makuuchi in Hokutoriki will get his first huge test at Maegashira 2. He will probably face most of the elite, but this is where you have to get your feet wet if you have any intentions of making the sanyaku some day.

 

Prediction:

 

Musashimaru gets his 13th yusho with a 13-2 record; Takanohana settles for runner-up; Tosanoumi wins the Shukunsho

 

Nov. 9, 2002 (Update) Since I published my pre-basho report, Takanohana has withdrawn from the tournament, and reports reveal that the other Yokozuna, Musashimaru, has a sore wrist. Therefore, Im changing my prediction line to:

 

Kaio wins his fourth yusho in front of the hometown crowd going 13-2; Kotomitsuki is runner-up at 12-3 putting him on track for ozeki promotion next January; and Tosanoumi still gets the Shukunsho.

 

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