What an interesting three weeks of sumo. Yes, I know that the tournament is only two weeks long, but the happenings prior to the basho, the basho itself, the rikishi who retired this basho, and the recent announcement of eight new Juryo rikishi for next tournament have all made for some good headlines. Perhaps generating more ink than Tochiazuma's surprise yusho was the announcement by former Yokozuna Akebono that he is leaving the sport to join the K-1 ranks. I've posted my comments regarding Akebono's situation on our soundoff page in response to an email received from one of our viewers, so please check out those comments there and send in your own take if you'd like. This is an interesting topic of discussion for sure.
As for the basho itself, we learned a number of things: first, there really is an Ozeki hiding somewhere in Tochiazuma's body; second, Musashimaru was never going to regain his former ability; third, abolishing the kosho system really did decrease the number of injuries; and fourth, Wakanosato is just like most of the other rikishi when it comes to handling first-time pressure.
Giving the winner his props, I'll start with Ozeki Tochiazuma who came out of a two-year hibernation to display the most solid all around sumo from anybody in picking up his second yusho and first in nearly two years. Just two basho ago I had written this guy off, and I was honestly hoping he would be demoted from his rank because I was just tired of seeing an Ozeki display such listless sumo. What a difference two basho can make for someone. I think the turning point for Tochiazuma was his victory over Yokozuna Asashoryu on day 13 of the Aki basho. At the time he was struggling yet again to reach his eight victories, but he overpowered the Yokozuna off of the dohyo for the upset. Ever since then, Tochiazuma has been fighting as if he is the top dog and not the other way around.
Tochiazuma's sumo this basho can be characterized by a solid tachi-ai where he drives up into his opponent thus raising them up and throwing them off balance. His opponents were constantly fighting on the defensive and that's why you saw so many failed pull-down attempts against the Ozeki. Furthermore, Tochi's two losses were at the hands of the two rikishi who were capable of neutralizing the Ozeki's attack with an even stronger tachi-ai than himself: Tosanoumi and Chiyotaikai. The key for Tochiazuma was that he stuck to his guns the entire 15 days and didn't distract himself with any cheap tachi-ai henka or defensive-minded sumo that's been his forte the last two years. The sky's the limit for this guy IF he can bring it every basho. That's something he hasn't done yet since obtaining the Ozeki rank. Tochiazuma is up for Yokozuna promotion next basho, and if he fights with the same intensity and mindset as he did in Kyushu, there's no reason why he can't achieve it. The problem is, you just never know which Tochiazuma is going to show up.
Runner-up this basho was Yokozuna Asashoryu, who couldn't overcome Tochiazuma on senshuraku to capture what would have been five of the last seven yusho. Simply put, Tochiazuma was the better rikishi in Kyushu although Asashoryu did keep this basho exciting. There's not much new to say about the Yokozuna: he continues to struggle against certain rikishi (Kaio, Tochinonada) and now you can safely add Tochiazuma to the list. He's one of the few who can boast a two-bout winning streak against the Yokozuna. The fact that I'm still talking about Tochiazuma here just shows what a fantastic performance he delivered. Getting back to the Yokozuna, I expect him to be perfectly healthy for January and to be the favorite for the yusho. The last time Asashoryu failed to win in Tokyo was Aki of 2002. Asashoryu has the best all around package of any rikishi, but he's forced into difficult situations due to his small stature. We'll see if he can stop his losing streak at one as he's done since becoming Yokozuna.
In the Ozeki ranks, we saw a typical basho from Chiyotaikai: good overall sumo where you think he's one of the favorites only to have him lose some head-scratching bouts. Haven't we seen this before where he's dominated by his fellow Ozeki and the Yokozuna (1-3 this basho) leaving him just out of arm's reach of the yusho? I really love the fact that Chiyotaikai has not implemented the tachi-ai henka for several basho now, but the reality is that his one-dimensional style will bring him one yusho a year on average.
Ozeki Kaio staved off a consecutive make-koshi and possible retirement with a surprising ten wins. Kaio's last bout on senshuraku against Chiyotaikai was telling of his overall condition. He won the bout, but the pain in his tailbone wouldn't let him stay on his feet after the struggle. It really impressed me that he had the nads to fight that last one out to the finish. Like Chiyotaikai, this was a typical basho for Kaio where he dominates the elite (3-1) but can't beat the likes of Toki or Tochinonada to give himself a shot at the yusho. To Kaio's credit, it was clear that he was not 100% healthy in Kyushu, which was a disappointment for the home-town faithful. Nevertheless. considering his condition 10 wins was an outstanding feat for the Ozeki. I'm glad he won't retire although I'm afraid his nagging injuries will keep him from the top.
Ozeki Musoyama pulled out nine wins to keep himself from Ozeki demotion. His 0-2 start and a crucial loss to M3 Aminishiki spelled doom for the Ozeki, but he nutted up and pulled out some big wins to keep himself at his current rank. That being said, this guy is still underachieving. Maybe, I just can't let go of the memories of this guy's sumo in the mid-90's and briefly at the turn of the century.
Moving onto the sanyaku, nice showing fellas. Nary a kachi-koshi to be found, even from Sekiwake Wakanosato, who as you may remember was up for Ozeki promotion. It was over after his 1-3 start. It's not that he was injured nor that he was not on his game; the pressure just got to him as it has to so many others. Asashoryu is the only rikishi in current memory who didn't falter under the first-time pressure and look where he stands today. As for Wakanosato, his sumo this basho was just plain uninspiring and boring. I fully expect him to win in double digits in January, but his make-koshi wipes the slate clean in regards to any Ozeki hopes. And what's the deal with fellow Sekiwake Kyokutenho who obviously can't handle this high rank? Two wins over fifteen days? Sorry, Tenho, but those cheap henka wins against Miyabiyama and Asasekiryu over the last three days don't count. The Sumo Association would do well to never allow Kyokutenho to occupy the Sekiwake rank again. I'm baffled as to why these guys (Kyokutenho, Takamisakari, Toki, Tosanoumi, Tochinonada) can't kachi-koshi from the sanyaku even though they're fighting the same competition they faced as upper Maegashira.
Our two Komusubi had fair basho considering the circumstances although neither produced any spectacular wins. Takamisakari only managed to beat one rikishi ranked higher than him, and I attribute this to the sudden departure of his mentor, Akebono. Sakari looked lost in his day 1 loss to Musashimaru and never could put together two wins in a row after that. I refuse to pile on this guy because he fights as hard as everyone every day. Let's hope he can get back to his winning way in January. He should as he'll be ranked in the Maegashira. Iwakiyama got off to a terrible start going 0-7, and then when he did pick up his first win it was by default. You know how there's always one guy who faces the Yokozuna, Ozeki, and other sanyaku members consecutively in the first week? Iwakiyama was the victim this time, and while he didn't pick up a win during that run, he did finish at 6-9. I was impressed with him throughout despite his early losses. He'll be back.
Sliding down to the upper-Maegashira are four rikishi primed to take over the sanyaku slots for January. M2 Tosanoumi was the most impressive winning ten and manhandling the eventual champ in the process earning him a Shukunsho award. Tosanoumi performed just as he should have in not losing to anyone outside of the sanyaku or above. I'd love nothing more than a repeat performance in January from that dangerous Sekiwake rank. M1 Tochinonada had his typical 8-7 basho picking up some big wins in Asashoryu and Kaio and losing to his fair share of lower-ranked rikishi. Still, he picks up the other Shukunsho award for his efforts after two wins against the Yokozuna, and will likely find himself at Komusubi in January.
M2 Toki proved once again that he deserves to stick at the top posting a good 9-6 record from his rank. Though he had only one win against the Yokozuna and Ozeki, he's a pain in the ass because you know what's coming, but you just can't stop it. M3 Tamanoshima picked up a well-deserved Kantosho award for his 10-5 effort. Was it enough to vault him into the Sekiwake slot for January? Tamanoshima jumped out to his typical fast start going 6-1. However, contrary to past performances, he managed to go 4-1 over the last five days to cement a great basho. He's one of the few who can absorb a Chiyotaikai tachi-ai, which shows in his frequent victories over the Ozeki.
Not so hot at the top was M1 Kotomitsuki, who somehow managed a 6-9 record after a 1-8 start. Just when you were sure he was going to break back into the sanyaku, his unpredictability shows up again. He didn't look injured this basho, rather uninspired. M4s Miyabiyama and Asasekiryu also stuck up the arena with 6-9 and 3-12 records respectively.
Other noteworthy performances were contributed by M7 Hokutoriki who went 10-5. Good start, but I won't be impressed until he does it from the upper-Maegashira. M11 Takekaze posted a good 9-6 record in his first full basho in the division. You gotta love a guy who overcomes size--or lack of it--to keep himself in Makuuchi. And finally, as expected M14 Dejima had a good basho at 11-4, but what do you expect? I liked how the Sumo Association stipulated that the winner of the senshuraku bout between Dejima and Tamanoshima would received the Kantosho. I like even more the fact that Tamanoshima won, not because I dislike Dejima, but because Tamanoshima's effort from his rank was a lot more impressive.
That wraps up another year of sumo. I don't expect things to pick up as far as the sport's popularity goes until another Takanohana comes around. Takamisakari can grab some attention, but the savior has to be an icon that people can actually fall in love with and not just laugh about. The Sumo Kyokai would do well to pay David Beckham a truckload of yen to don a mawashi and join the sport. That's what it's going to take to bring the fans back.
It doesn't get any better than the yusho being decided by the musubi-no-ichiban, or final bout, of the tournament, and that's exactly what we'll have on senshuraku. The Kyushu basho has been a solid tournament so far, and it's only fitting that the two best performers, Yokozuna Asashoryu and Ozeki Tochiazuma, will duke it out for the title.
In the final bout today, Asashoryu and Ozeki Chiyotaikai treated us to a free for all brawl between the two feisty rikishi. Asashoryu neutralized Chiyotaikai's tachi-ai by grabbing a firm left inside grip. With Asa so deep inside, Chiyotaikai could not push his opponent further, so he moved laterally and set himself up for a perfect kotenage throw. Chiyo's inexperience at yotsu-zumo showed as he completely whiffed on the throw attempt. Asashoryu rewarded him with a fierce jab to the jaw that razzled the Ozeki to the point where Asashoryu easily pulled him down for the win. Asa moves to 12-2 with the victory and officially eliminated Chiyotaikai from the yusho race with the victory. Chiyo stands at 10-4 heading into the final day.
In the penultimate bout, the action wasn't nearly as exciting, but attribute that to a solid solid performance from Ozeki Tochiazuma as he downed Kaio to keep himself even with Asashoryu at 12-2. Tochiazuma dominated the tachi-ai leaving Kaio no choice but to attempt a pull-down maneuver. Azuma's position and momentum were just too good, however, as he easily drove his compromised opponent out of the ring. Kenji and I love to harp on the rikishi who lose due to a failed pull-down attempt, but Kaio was beaten so badly in this bout, he had no other choice.
Ozeki Musoyama sealed his kachi-koshi with an easy win over M5 Kyokushuzan. Musoyama couldn't have asked for a better opponent today. We all know what Shu did at the tachi-ai, so it was a matter of the Ozeki simply driving straight and hard bulldozing his opponent along the way. As much as I hate to say it, Kyokushuzan's mistake today was that he moved straight back after the tachi-ai and not laterally. Nonetheless, Musoyama has that coveted eighth win, which keeps him at Ozeki for at least two more tournaments. I'd love nothing more then to see this guy give a damn during pre-basho keiko and then carry out over to the Hatsu basho. Kyokushuzan falls to 8-6, but he's had a decent basho. Usually, his sumo is just plain crap, but he's actually impressing me with SOME of his bouts lately.
In the battle between our two struggling Sekiwake, Wakanosato easily forced out Kyokushuzan for his seventh victory against seven losses. Wakanosato secured morozashi from the tachi-ai and it was over in three seconds. Waka has to overcome Musoyama tomorrow to pick up his kachi-koshi. If he loses, that will mean all of the Sekiwake and Komusubi will have losing records. Just plain pathetic. I can't believe that anyone actually picked Wakanosato to yusho this tournament. Kyokutenho drops to 3-11 on paper, but his cheap pull-down win against Miyabiyama doesn't count.
Komusubi Iwakiyama picked up a win against M4 Miyabiyama by withstanding his opponent's tsuppari before evading him with the inashi move and pulling him down. Both rikishi stand at 5-9. Iwakiyama's record is understandable, but shame on Miyabiyama for only posting five wins at the M4 position.
And rounding out the sanyaku, Komusubi Takamisakari picked up a rare win as he absorbed M1 Tochinonada's tachi-ai before backing up and pulling the larger Nada down for the win. Not exactly the way I want to see him win, but those robot arms ala C3PO he displayed after pulling down Tochinonada was worth it. Sakari improves to 5-9, but he still can't overcome that sanyaku jinx. Tochinonada stands at 8-6 and faces Tosanoumi tomorrow; these two rikishi may be our Sekiwake for the Hatsu basho.
In one other bout of interest, M14 Dejima overpowered M7 Kotoryu to keep himself in the yusho hunt until both Tochiazuma and Asashoryu won an hour later. At 11-3, Dejima has no shot at the yusho as the yusho line is guaranteed to stand at two losses. Good basho for Dejima, but I would stop short of awarding him a special prize. Dejima doing well at M14 and expecting a special prize is akin to me playing on my five-year old son's football (soccer for our US friends) team and expecting to be named league MVP.
Day 12 brought few surprises after the shake-up day we had yesterday. Today, all of the Yokozuna and Ozeki won with the exception of Musoyama who lost to Yokozuna Asashoryu. In the final bout of the day, Musoyama exhibited another good tachi-ai that actually drove Asashoryu back to the tawara, but Asashoryu moved laterally allowing him to get his left arm deep inside of the Ozeki. Musoyama continued to press, but Asa never gave up that inside posture and finally used it to throw Musoyama down with a scoop throw. The Yokozuna stays tied for the lead at 11-1 and has to be the favorite to win this basho. Musoyama falls to 6-6 and must win two of his next three or face demotion. Musoyama continues to have trouble when his opponents evade him laterally.
Keeping pace with Asashoryu at 11-1 is Ozeki Tochiazuma who used a combination of power and speed to overwhelm Komusubi Takamisakari. The Ozeki never did grab the belt, but his tachi-ai was hard enough that it drove Sakari back from the start. As he has done so well this basho, Tochiazuma drove upwards into his opponent never letting him grab a belt hold. Excellent tachi-ai, excellent de-ashi, and an excellent display of power sealed the deal for Tochiazuma. Can you believe this is the same guy we've been watching for the last two years? Takamisakari falls to 4-8 and has yet to kachi-koshi while in the sanyaku.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai survived a scare from M2 Tosanoumi, but managed to pull out the win keeping his slim yusho hopes alive. Tosanoumi won the tachi-ai, but a slight pull down attempt gave the Ozeki the momentum. Tosanoumi regained the momentum by driving Chiyo across the ring with some solid tsuppari, but he just couldn't finish the Ozeki off. You knew Tosanoumi would go for the pull down, and when he did, Chiyotaikai slipped away and turned the tables pushing Tosanoumi out for the win. Chiyotaikai stands at 9-3 and still controls his own destiny. Tosanoumi falls to 8-4.
Ozeki Kaio played it safe against M5 Kyokushuzan by not committing himself at the tachi-ai and slowly but surely backing his opponent up and out of the ring with some solid pushes. Not an overly impressive win, but it got the job done and secured Kaio's kachi-koshi. Kaio's stable master had said that if Kaio was demoted from Ozeki, he'd have to retire. I'm happy to see Kaio hang around because he's still got a shot at Yokozuna promotion, especially now that one of the slots has been vacated. I'm looking forward to his match with Musoyama; not because I'm expecting good sumo, but because I want to see if Kaio will throw the bout for his good friend. Both Kaio and Kyokushuzan stand at 8-4.
In other sanyaku bouts, Sekiwake Kyokutenho fell for M2 Toki's trap (why bother explaining what happened) to fall to a paltry 2-10. This is even worse than his debut basho as a Sekiwake. Toki clinches a kachi-koshi at 8-4 with the win and a likely return to the sanyaku for January.
Sekiwake Wakanosato continued his underwhelming basho by falling to M4 Miyabiyama. The Sekiwake had his opponent pushed back to the tawara, but he couldn't finish him off. Credit Miyabiyama for some well-timed tsuppari to Wakanosato's face, but now at 5-7, Wakanosato is in danger of keeping his current rank much less worrying about Ozeki promotion. Miyabiyama also stands at 5-7 keeping his slim kachi-koshi hopes alive.
In one other bout of interest in the Maegashira ranks, M11 Takekaze scored a win over M4 Asasekiryu after the latter was disqualified for pulling Takekaze's hair. This one was an obvious call and just adds another page to Seki's frustrating basho.
Tomorrow's bouts of interest are Asashoryu vs. Kaio. Normally, Kaio has the edge, but this basho Asashoryu should overcome. Tochiazuma has Chiyotaikai, which should be the best bout of the day. A loss for Taikai and he's out. And finally, don't forget about M14 Dejima hiding out with a 9-3 record. He has Takekaze tomorrow.
The only real noticeable change day 10 brought was the pronounced beard growing on Tochiazuma's chin. As many rikishi have their superstitions, I guess Tochiazuma is not going to shave until he loses. I'd kind of like to see the guy in a full beard by the end of the basho. Today we are one stop closer to that reality as Tochiazuma pulled out his tenth win in a row against fellow Ozeki Musoyama. This was a solid bout with a solid tachi-ai from both rikishi who traded tsuppari for a few seconds before Tochiazuma moved laterally and pulled the charging Musoyama down. It's obvious that Musoyama gets into trouble when his opponents move to the side on him, so anyone would have to be crazy to go toe to toe with this guy. Tochiazuma remains perfect at 10-0. Musoyama suffers his third loss in a row to fall to a dangerous 5-5. That loss to Aminishiki three days ago is going to come back to haunt him.
On the heels of Tochiazuma at 9-1 is Yokozuna Asashoryu who fought a very conservative match against fellow-countryman M5 Kyokushuzan. We all remember what happened between these two the last two times they met, and no one was more aware of it than Asashoryu. Instead of charging hard at the tachi-ai, he simply reached out and grabbed a firm left uwate on Shu's belt. Using the grip he pushed Kyokushuzan to the edge of the ring before throwing him out. Asa put his right hand on the back of Shu's head as he threw him making sure that the palm of his hand was wide open and not tangled in Kyokushuzan's hair. Easy win for the Yokozuna who stays one off the pace. Kyokushuzan falls to 7-3.
Two behind the leader at 8-2 stands Ozeki Chiyotaikai after yet another pull-down win over M3 Aminishiki. Once again, I'll ease off of Taikai for the method simply because he set it up with some powerful offensive pushes, but he really should win moving forward instead of going back. He's going to pay the price down the line if he keeps resorting to this bad habit. Aminishiki drops to 3-7.
As Kenji mentioned yesterday, those Maegashira rikishi who were still mathematically in the race are doing their best to pile up consecutive losses, so it's safe to say that the yusho is narrowed down to of three rikishi: Tochiazuma, Asashoryu, and Chiyotaikai. With Chiyo two losses behind and not displaying hard-charging sumo, I'd say he is out of it too.
In other sanyaku bouts, Ozeki Kaio displayed one of my favorite moves against Komusubi Takamisakari to pick up another good yotsu-zumo win. Sakari had prime position with his patented migi shitate on the right and uwate with the left hand; however, Kaio's size and strength helped him push Sakari back. As the two neared the edge of the ring Kaio jerked the right side of Sakari's body up causing him to lose his uwate in a move called "uwate wo kiru." The excellent technique allowed Kaio to easily walk his disabled opponent out of the ring. Kaio stands at 7-3 and has shown some excellent sumo after about five straight days of awful sumo. Sakari falls to 4-6.
Also at 7-3 is M2 Tosanoumi who is quietly having a good basho. He scored a big win today over M3 Tamanoshima who lost this bout a second after the tachi-ai when he tried to pull Tosanoumi down. Bad move as Tosanoumi bulldozed him out of the ring. Tosanoumi gets a crack at Tochiazuma tomorrow while Tamanoshima is fading yet again after a brilliant start.
M14 Dejima and M7 Hokutoriki both stand at 7-3 after the former easily beat the latter. Hokutoriki also attempted an unsuccessful pull-down move to give Dejima the upper hand. Both of these rikishi are having good basho, but Hokutoriki is fading fast with three losses in a row now. M9 Kasuganishiki and M15 Yotsukasa are also standing at a quiet 7-3 mark.
Finally, to round out the sanyaku ranks, Sekiwake Wakanosato had his best day of the tournament so far forcing out M1 Tochinonada with an uwate and brute strength. At 5-5 it's too little too late for Waka who still has to worry about his kachi-koshi or Tochinonada at 6-4 may gladly take his place. Fellow Sekiwake Kyokutenho just stinks this basho. He was manhandled by M1 Kotomitsuki, who added insult to injury by throwing the Mongolian down by the neck. Both rikishi are 2-8. Komusubi Iwakiyama lost yet again to M4 Asasekiryu; both of these rikishi also stand at 2-8.
I don't think we'll see much change the next few days. The round robin among Tochiazuma, Asashoryu, and Chiyotaikai on days 13, 14, and 15 will be the highlight. Look for Kaio to play the spoiler and knock one of these guys out.
It's official. Yokozuna Musashimaru has retired from sumo as an active rikishi leaving, I'm pretty sure, zero Hawaiian-born rikishi left on the banzuke. To Maru's credit, he gave it his best shot in Kyushu, but he was clearly never going to regain half of his former ability. As painful as it was for him, props to Maru for making the correct move. Kintamayama (the guy who's kicking our butts in Fantasy Sumo) has provided a translation of Maru's press conference on the news page. His personal comment regarding Maru's statement that he would never leave Japan is worth the read itself. Stay tuned for more on Maru's retirement and Akebono's shenanigans after the basho end.
Onto the basho itself where Ozeki Tochiazuma finds himself alone at the top with a spotless 8-0 record after easily pushing out M1 Tochinonada to obtain a kachi-koshi after eight days. Tochiazuma won, it seemed, for the third day in a row after his opponents attempted misguided pull-down maneuvers. That's what the rikishi resort to when their getting their asses kicked, and currently, Tochiazuma is doing some major kicking. His sumo this basho has been excellent and hasn't been at this caliber for two years. His only remaining roadblocks are Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu, which should make for an exciting day 14 and 15 as these three face off. Tochinonada falls to 5-3.
Yokozuna Asashoryu stands one loss behind Tochiazuma at 7-1 as he defeated M1 Kotomitsuki with a well executed scoop throw. Kotomitsuki actually came out as if he cared in this bout, after all, he and Asashoryu are rivals. However, Kotomitsuki's movements in the ring were uncontrolled and erratic giving Asashoryu a relative easy pathway to Mitsuki's inside. Asashoryu looks solid and should be in the yusho hunt at the end of the week. Kotomitsuki is as rotten as the dead fruit hanging in my fruit trees this basho managing a measly 1-7 record up to this point.
Tied with Asashoryu in second place at 7-1 is fellow Mongolian (wait a minute, let me check my notes to clarify this) Kyokushuzan. Shu has had his bright moments this basho, but his sumo has not been worthy of his record. Today he beat M6 Kinkaiyama by, you guessed it, retreating from the tachi-ai and pulling down his opponent. Kinkaiyama did give a solid effort forcing Shu to test his vertical leap at the ring's edge jumping up to keep himself from touching down outside of the ring before Kinkaiyama hit the deck. Kinkaiyama falls to 4-4.
Two rikishi whose 7-1 records are worthy of their sumo this basho are M7 Hokutoriki and M12 Kotonowaka. The two squared off today with the veteran Kotonowaka gaining the victory after forcing the bout to yotsu-zumo. That was the key to this bout. The rikishi who controlled the pace today (yotsu-zumo for Kotonowaka and oshi-zumo for Hokutoriki) was going to win. These two remain in second place, but only Kotonowaka has a serious shot at the yusho. His current rank is due to an injury. He's fought the big boys his whole career, and unlike most of the rikishi, he has two wins under his belt against Asashoryu this year.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai kept himself two losses behind the pace manhandling Sekiwake there goes my Ozeki promotion Wakanosato. Chiyo pushed Wakanosato back at the tachi-ai a few steps and as the Sekiwake tried to resist, Chiyo pulled him down hataki-komi style for the victory. While I'd rather see Chiyotaikai win moving forward as he's capable of doing, I have no problem with today's pull-down win. He controlled the tachi-ai, he provided the offense, and he set his opponent up nicely to be pulled forward and down with a sudden change of direction. Chiyo stands at 6-2 while Wakanosato falls to .500 at 4-4.
M3 Tamanoshima, who has been outstanding so far, stands beside Chiyotaikai at 6-2 after losing to Ozeki Kaio. I would have bet the farm that Tamanoshima would have won today, but Kaio executed a strong tachi-ai, excellent de-ashi, and brute strength all combined to easily forced out his opponent. What happened to Kaio overnight to allow him this kind of performance? He completely dominated his opponent, and that's something that hasn't happened to Tamanoshima yet. With the victory, Kaio improves to 5-3.
M14 Dejima also keeps himself two behind the leader with an easy victory over M13 Tamakasuga, who's right on track to fall back into Juryo.
Also keeping pace in the Maegashira ranks at 6-2 is M2 Tosanoumi who is quietly having a great basho. Today, Tosanoumi pulled down the under-achieving M4 Miyabiyama for the win.
In other bouts of interest, Ozeki Musoyama WASTED a chance to improve to 6-2 as he went for an ill-advised pull down move against M3 Aminishiki. Musoyama dominated the tachi-ai, but when Ami showed the slightest amount of resistance, Muso went for that dreaded pull down and paid the price. This was a bad loss for the Ozeki who now stands at 5-3. Aminishiki "improves" to 2-6.
It looks as if the Musashimaru saga will continue at least until next basho after the Yokozuna scored a huge win today against M1 Kotomitsuki. The win wasn't impressive, but it was important because Maru reaches .500 again at 3-3. Kotomitsuki, who resembles a rag doll in the ring this basho, hit Maru straight up at the tachi-ai and seemed to think he could out muscle the Yokozuna chest for chest. Maru just leaned his body on Kotomitsuki and slowly forced him back wrapping his arms around his opponent in a bear hug. Kotomitsuki desperately tried to grab Maru's belt, but the fat rolls from Maru's stomach actually covered the seam between belt and flab rendering Kotomitsuki's attempt useless. Maru was able to force the M1 out at the tawara after some brief resistance. It seemed at the end of the bout that Kotomitsuki was just standing on the tawara waiting to be pushed out, but nothing happened for about two seconds. I thought it strange until I saw the replay, which showed that Maru actually had the uwate with his left hand. That explained the lack of force exerted by the Yokozuna at the ring's edge. He couldn't use his left hand to apply significant pressure against his opponent, so he just leaned on him until he stepped back.
Musashimaru should hang it up now. His three wins have been against opponents with a combined 5-18 record over the first six days. I know he his aiming for that eight-win mark, but he's not a shin-Komusubi; he's a Yokozuna for pete's sake. I'm guessing the Musashimaru camp's thinking goes something like this: "we need five more wins. We'll have three more Maegashira rikishi in the next three days, and we also have a good shot at beating Iwakiyama and Kaio. Let's just accept the ass-kicking from Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, Tochiazuma, and Wakanosato and try and win the other five." All I can say is have fun storming the castle. I'm expecting to go through this all over again in January. Kotomitsuki falls to 1-5 with the loss and is hapless this basho.
Yokozuna Asashoryu exhibited his best performance of the basho so far with a dominating win over M4 Miyabiyama. I actually thought Miyabi had a chance coming into today, but Asa came with a quick harite followed by an inside grip that happened so fast, Miyabiyama could get nothing going. Asa immediately drove Miyabiyama back and out of the ring. This basho is shaping up to be a two horse race between Asashoryu and Tochiazuma. Asa now stands at 5-1; Miyabiyama falls to 3-3.
Ozeki Tochiazuma was flawless again today as he easily defeated Sekiwake Kyokutenho after Tenho hit at the tachi-ai and then tried to pull Tochiazuma down. There were actually several failed pull-down attempts today that all resulted in losses. Tochiazuma looks sharp in the ring, and this win streak can only build his confidence. He now leads the pack at 6-0 (along with Hokutoriki); Kyokutenho falls to just 1-5 and can't seem to get anything going when ranked at Sekiwake.
Ozeki Kaio was defeated easily by Sekiwake Wakanosato today after perhaps the worst tachi-ai I've seen between two sanyaku guys in memory. Kaio stood straight up and Wakanosato didn't necessarily charge as much as he leaned into the Ozeki. With no one taking the advantage at the tachi-ai, the two hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position with no one having an uwate. The yotsu-zumo position highly favors Wakanosato this basho, who took his sweet time forcing Kaio to the edge and out. This was Kaio's first yotsu-zumo bout this basho, and it showed why he has been avoiding it. Kaio still maintains a 4-2 record with the loss, but he looks terrible. Wakanosato improves to 3-3 and barely keeps his Ozeki hopes alive.
What happened to Musoyama between day 2 and day 3? Today the Ozeki looked impressive yet again in defeating the larger M1 Tochinonada in a good yotsu-zumo bout. Tochinonada actually drove the Ozeki back a few steps after the tachi-ai, but Musoyama was able to get both hands inside on his opponent to stop his momentum, which allowed Musoyama to force the action back to the center of the ring. Musoyama found himself with the right uwate grip, which he used to throw down Tochinonada for his fourth straight victory moving him to 4-2. Tochinonada also stands at 4-2.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was neutralized at the tachi-ai again today that resulted in another loss. M3 Tamanoshima is flexing his muscles this basho. Chiyo came out with his trademark tsuppari aimed at Tamanoshima's throat, but the M3 was unfazed as he stood his ground and timed an evasive move perfectly to throw Chiyotaikai off balance. Tamanoshima pushed the Ozeki out to pick up his fifth win against one loss. Chiyo falls to 4-2 and hasn't had much luck against larger opponents whom he can't bully from the start.
In the dual between Komusubi, Takamisakari showed his defensive and yotsu-zumo prowess against Iwakiyama. Iwakiyama took charge from the tachi-ai and actually drove Takamisakari back with a solid uwate grip, but Sakari maneuvered himself into the moro-zashi position, which gave him control of the action. He used the grip and his surprising strength to wrench Iwakiyama out of the ring. Sakari rises to 3-3 while Iwakiyama fails yet again to get that first victory. At 0-6, Iwakiyama will have a much lighter load in week two.
In the Maegashira ranks, M5 Kyokushuzan suffered his first loss this basho to M2 Toki. I was curious to see the tachi-ai on this one as both rikishi like to put two hands to their opponent's throat and retreat hoping for the cheap pull-down in the process. Today, Toki realized that he's the one who actually packs a punch and showed some cautious de-ashi as he backed his opponent up with some good tsuppari before easily pushing him out. No real surprise here other than it's Shu who now stands at 5-1 while Toki climbs to 3-3.
M7 Hokutoriki remains in the lead at 6-0 after easily pushing out M4 Asasekiryu. Seki, trying to get anything going this basho, went to the pull-down form the tachi-ai. Hokutoriki wasn't fooled and easily pushed the compromised Asasekiryu out of the ring. Seki stands at the opposite end of the spectrum at 0-6.
Finally, M12 Kotonowaka is making some noise down among the bottom feeders. His 5-1 record may just get him a date or two with the big boys if he's not careful.
Kenji and I will flip-flop turns today and tomorrow, so I will provide today's comments. This will give me a chance to eat a little crow for having basically put a fork into Musashimaru yesterday and declaring that he would lose to Aminishiki and then retire. The giant proved me wrong (as if I've never been wrong before), but I'm still convinced of nothing. Maru's defeat of Aminishiki only delayed the inevitable for a few more days in my mind. There is a huge contrast between bulldozing a rikishi almost half your size out of the ring and piling up wins against the sanyaku in week two. I'd love nothing more than to have Musashimaru back at full strength again; I just don't want to see him disgrace his rank by sticking around too long.
As long as we're on the topic of Musashimaru, the Yokozuna won in convincing fashion today besting M3 Aminishiki with a surprising display of de-ashi. Aminishiki was welcomed at the tachi-ai by a stiff right shoulder from Maru and an accompanying left tsuppari. The impact drove Ami back several steps and Maru was right on top of him the whole way pushing the smaller rikishi out before he had a chance to get away. Well done for Maru, who improves to 2-2. He must kachi-koshi this basho or retire in my opinion, but who wants to see a Yokozuna continually go 8-7? Maru gets the other M3 Tamanoshima tomorrow, which will be a telling bout as to whether or not Maru's back. Tamanoshima is fighting well and packs considerably more bulk than Aminishiki, who drops to 1-3 with the loss and gets a bout with Asashoryu tomorrow for his efforts.
Speaking of M3 Tamanoshima, he suffered his first loss today against Yokozuna Asashoryu. Asashoryu came with the nodowa from the tachi-ai, which didn't drive Tamanoshima back, but it did force him to bring his arms up to fight off the move. Asa seized the opening and went for the belt, which he grabbed and used to force his opponent back. Tamanoshima fought off the grip, but the Yokozuna used his momentum to push his larger opponent out for the victory. Both rikishi now stand at 3-1.
Kaio began the day for the Ozeki with a good win over Sekiwake Kyokutenho. The winning technique was hataki-komi, but Kaio was just simply taking what the Mongolian gave him. Kaio actually exhibited a strong tachi-ai that kept Tenho completely away from the Ozeki's belt. In an effort to grab Kaio's belt, Kyokutenho over reached leaving his body dangerously off balance and too low. Kaio capitalized on the mistake by pulling the leaning Tenho down for the victory. Not an overpowering win for the Ozeki, but his best win of the tournament so far. Kaio moves to 3-1 while Tenho falls to 1-3. After the bout Kaio limped a bit on his right leg, which did have some taping on the foot. The extent of the injury is unknown, but Kaio has no choice but to continue.
Ozeki Tochiazuma continued his roll as he dispatched of Komusubi Iwakiyama in the best bout of the day. After a mediocre tachi-ai from both rikishi, Tochiazuma attempted a pull-down that failed and took the momentum away from him. Iwakiyama returned the favor with an unsuccessful pull down attempt of his own. The two rikishi pushed and grappled for 10 seconds before finally hooking up in the migi-yotsu position. From there, Tochiazuma's experience and condition prevailed after he was finally able to force his opponent out. It wasn't an easy win, but the Ozeki finds himself atop the leader board at 4-0.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai suffered his first loss of the day after being manhandled by M4 Miyabiyama. Miyabi stood the Ozeki up at the tachi-ai and used his size to push Chiyotaikai back to the ring's edge. Chiyo braced his foot against the tawara for the coming onslaught; however, Miyabiyama used Chiyo's forward momentum against him by pulling him down from the back of the neck. Chiyo stumbled a bit before finally being pushed out. Both rikishi now stand at 3-1. This bout was a perfect example of how Chiyotaikai becomes a mediocre rikishi when he doesn't dominate at the tachi-ai.
In the final Ozeki bout, Musoyama picked up a huge win against M2 Toki. I would have bet anything that the Ozeki would fall into Presley's trap, but Musoyama was able to execute a well-timed shove just as Toki attempted his pull down maneuver. The result was Toki's being pushed off of the dohyo into the front row. Musoyama picks up an important win to reach .500 at 2-2. Toki falls to 1-3.
Sekiwake Wakanosato continued his slide today with another devastating loss to Komusubi Takamisakari. Sakari grabbed the early mae-mitsu with his left hand from the tachi-ai, but the Sekiwake was able to fight it off and seemingly gain the upper hand with a deep migi-sashi. Sakari, however, continued to press and seemed to have his way with the heavier Wakanosato. As the two neared the ring's edge, Wakanosato attempted a misguided maki-kae, which left his left arm raised straight up. Sakari took full advantage and threw Wakanosato down with an inside grip. Waka's 1-3 record has all but eliminated him from Ozeki contention, but it's just as well; he looks completely lost in the dohyo right now. Sakari improves to 2-2.
In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Tochinonada continued to shine as he pounded fellow M1 Kotomitsuki to the dirt to improve to 3-1. M5 Kyokushuzan is still perfect at 4-0 after downing M6 Tokitsuumi. Shuzan is forgetting that it's not 1997 anymore. M7 Hokutoriki is also perfect after downing the hapless M8 Buyuzan. Other Maegashira standing at 3-1 are: M6 Kinkaiyama, M9 Shimotori, M9 Kasuganishiki, M12 Kotonowaka, and M14 Dejima.
Today was a very revealing day in Kyushu. First and foremost, Musashimaru is done. You know it's bad when a Yokozuna loses a bout and not a single person throws a zabuton. That's a sign of pity, and no one should ever take pity on a Yokozuna for a poor performance in the ring. Maru, it's time to retire because this is getting ugly, and no, I'm not talking about your stomach, which looks as if it's carrying septuplets. In Kenji's pre-basho report, he said that Maru would be finished by next March. Why don't we move that date up just a bit to say Day 5 of this tournament? I'm already waiting for the 9:00 AM press conference Wednesday morning Japan time for Musashimaru to officially announce his retirement. I know that nobody wants to go out like this, but it's just plain time to go. Besides, you've now ruined two out of our last three Fantasy Sumo tournaments.
The ironic thing is I don't think that Maru's problem is his left wrist anymore. He's just out of shape and too slow to handle the upper echelon of Makuuchi rikishi. Today it was Tochinonada who made the Yokozuna look bad by slamming into him at the tachi-ai and easily forcing him out in two seconds. Maru looked close to tears as he sat back down on his zabuton at ringside. I think that he realizes that it's time to go, and there's no problem getting emotional about a wonderful career that began with a brilliant zensho-yusho in Nagoya back in 1994. Maru is the last link to those stellar basho back in the mid-to-late 90's where seemingly every basho came down to the Hanada brothers and the two Hawaiians. Maru at 1-2 may stick around for one more day thinking that he can beat the pint-sized Aminishiki on day 4, but he will lose that bout too. Say good-bye to a true champion. Tochinonada jumps to 2-1 and tallies his second kinboshi of the tournament tying him with Tosanoumi for active rikishi with the most kinboshi at 10 apiece.
In the final bout of the day, Yokozuna Asashoryu took out his wrath on Komusubi Takamisakari. Holy nodowa! I was wondering how Asa would respond to his ugly defeat to Tochinonada on day two, and the answer came in one of the fiercest nodowa I've ever seen from the tachi-ai. Asashoryu literally carried Takamisakari back to the ring's edge by the throat before finishing him off with a half-hearted thrust. Sakari at 1-2 looked to actually be begging for mercy as Asa kept him from falling completely off the dohyo. The Yokozuna is now 2-1 and should focus on the nodowa tachi-ai instead of giving up the uwate in an attempt to gain morozashi. You'll recall last basho that Asashoryu fueled his outstanding start with tachi-ai that focused on the nodowa instead of a cautious retreat in attempt to get a grip on the belt. There's nothing like throwing your opponent off balance with a stiff paw to his throat. How do you think Toki can stick around in the division?
All four Ozeki won today and three of them deserve high praise for picture-perfect bouts. Kaio, however, should be flogged. Nice henka my man. I know nobody wants to absorb a Tosanoumi tachi-ai, but you can beat this guy straight up. At least move a little bit to your left to throw Tosa off balance; don't just jump to the side as if you were afraid. Kaio does move to 2-1 with the "win," but that's the ugliest 2-1 record I can remember. Kaio may hobble to the eight win mark, but he looks completely out of sync this basho.. Tosanoumi falls to 1-2, but what are you going to do when an Ozeki won't fight you?
Ozeki Musoyama picked up his first win with an nice performance against Sekiwake Kyokutenho. Both rikishi exhibited a solid tachi-ai, but Musoyama bulldozed his opponent out of the ring before Tenho could even get a grip on the belt. I think the difference in this bout was the fact that Kyokutenho went toe to toe with the Ozeki. Musoyama has one of the best tachi-ai in the game, but he gets into trouble when his opponents strike and evade his charge. He usually keeps his head too low and loses his balance along the way, but today Kyokutenho made the mistake of going chest to chest with Musoyama. The Ozeki looked good today, but how is he going to handle a rikishi who makes him move laterally from here on out? Both rikishi are now 1-2.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was solid again today in defeating Komusubi Iwakiyama. Chiyo came out with his signature tsuppari and nodowa that backed Iwakiyama up a few steps from the tachi-ai. As the Komusubi desperately tried to get anything going, Chiyo pulled him down by the back of the neck for the victory. Sure it was a pull-down win, but setting up your opponent for the move after a brilliant offensive display is completely different from using the tactic defensively or from the tachi-ai. Chiyo's sumo this basho has been flawless and fun to watch. He has to be the favorite to yusho at this point, but there's still along way to go. Iwakiyama falls to 0-3, but there's no shame in losing to one Yokozuna and two Ozeki. The wins will come, but it would sure be nice to pull one out against an Ozeki.
In the first Ozeki bout of the day, Tochiazuma completely dismantled M2 Toki for the win and a spotless 3-0 record. Tochiazuma held back a bit after the tachi-ai not wanting to fall prey to the pull-down move that would surely come from Toki. The Ozeki just patiently fought off his opponent's thrust and picked his spot to charge, which resulted in any easy push out victory. My question for Toki is what happened to your de-ashi displayed on day 1 against Kaio? Toki showed then that when he actually charges and puts a little mustard behind his tsuppari, he can be extremely effective. Toki falls to 1-2.
Rounding out the sanyaku ranks, Sekiwake Wakanosato laid another egg today against M3 Tamanoshima. Waka at 1-2 has now lost two in a row, which spells trouble in regards to his promotion to Ozeki. I would normally say that it's over at this point, but we've definitely seen this kind of start from him before. Time will only tell if he can run off a string of wins mid-basho and somehow capture that elusive twelfth win. Credit Tamanoshima, however, for taking it to the Sekiwake from the start. Tama had his opponent forced out of the ring in seconds. Wakanosato seemed to get his arms trapped in close to his body at the tachi-ai and could only attempt a lame scoop throw as he was being shoved out of the ring. Tamanoshima is off to a great start, but we've seen this act before we he reels off a string of wins early only to finish slowly at the end.
Other Maegashira rikishi sporting 3-0 records are M5 Kyokushuzan, who is actually showing some life again and taking it to his opponents instead of retreating with the morote, and M7 Hokutoriki, who is taking full advantage of his rank as he should. Former sanyaku veterans Dejima, Takanowaka, and Kotonowaka all stand at 2-1 and look poised to regain their former statuses.
The Kyushu basho didn't exactly get off to a roaring start, but solid performances by the two Yokozuna and two of the Ozeki saved the day in the end. Beginning at the top, Yokozuna Asashoryu was nails in the final bout of the day as he executed the morozashi grip to perfection after giving up the uwate to Iwakiyama at the tachi-ai. The new Komusubi grabbed the uwate and drove the Yokozuna back a few steps, but just when it looked as if Asashoryu was in danger, he turned the tables securing his patented morozashi grip, which he used to drive the larger Iwakiyama back to the center of the ring. After a few unsuccessful attempts to force Iwakiyama back, the Yokozuna arched his back lifting the 180 kilo Iwakiyama off of his feet and most importantly off balance. When Iwakiyama's feet touched the dirt again he was in no position to attack, and Asa easily forced him out for the win. It was well executed sumo from the Yokozuna although giving up the uwate to a larger opponent in order to secure morozashi is playing a bit with fire. As for Iwakiyama's performance, I was impressed. He could have come out intimidated today in the face of Asashoryu and a new promotion to the sanyaku, but he took the initiative from the beginning and exerted a solid effort. Iwakiyama should have a good basho.
In the penultimate bout, I was waiting for those fingernails to scratch across the blackboard as Musashimaru approached the shikiri-sen, but much to my surprise, Maru looked impressive. He was aided by a horrible tachi-ai from the other Komusubi, Takamisakari, but today was vintage Musashimaru. At the tachi-ai today, Maru stuck to his guns by not necessarily going on the offensive, but taking what his opponent gave him from the start. Takamisakari looked undecisive at the tachi-ai and capped off the poor charge by hitting Maru on the left side of his body. This enabled Maru to grab the uwate with his RIGHT hand and lean his girth on the Komusubi easily forcing him out. It was an easy victory for Maru and one that didn't require him to use the left hand whatsoever. The jury is still out on that left wrist, but so far so good. Takamisakari looked shaken today after the bout. This whole Akebono K-1 affair may have completely taken Sakari out of this basho mentally.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was solid today as he pushed down the mammoth M1 Tochinonada. Chiyo didn't exactly blow his opponent off of the starting lines, but he kept his feet moving forward and his tsuppari focused on his opponent's upper body the whole bout. Tochinonada never could get inside to grab Chiyo's belt and was forced to retreat from the barrage of thrusts. In the past , this was the kind of bout where Chiyotaikai would get frustrated and resort to a pull-down method, but he hasn't succumbed to that bad habit for several basho now. Chiyo was rewarded with a solid win and a good start in Kyushu.
Ozeki Tochiazuma also looked excellent today in dismantling M1 Kotomitsuki. I would have bet anything that Kotomitsuki would have controlled the tempo of today's bout, but not so. Tochiazuma used strength and speed from the tachi-ai to refuse his opponent a grip on his belt and to eventually throw Kotomitsuki off balance. Tochiazuma charged hard from the beginning and pushed Kotomitsuki near the shoulder area with his left hand. As Kotomitsuki tried to evade the push, Tochiazuma worked his way in to where he had a grip on the back of Kotomitsuki's belt, which he used to push his opponent into the first row. Standing O for Tochiazuma's performance today.
Ozeki Kaio was victim to a ferocious attack from M2 Toki. Usually it's the morote at the tachi-ai and retreat for Toki, but today he actually chased Kaio around the ring delivering solid thrusts to Kaio's upper-body and head. Kaio had no shot whatsoever to get inside of Toki and was eventually pulled down. Kaio looked to be in agony as he lay on the dohyo; I'm beginning to wonder if the Ozeki will last the full fifteen days. I wouldn't call this a bad effort from Kaio, rather it was spectacular sumo from Toki. Why doesn't he perform like this all the time and charge instead of retreat? I saw flashes of Akebono in today's match from Toki. Very impressive.
Ozeki Musoyama showed an excellent tachi-ai in his bout against Tosanoumi, but he followed up the good start with a lousy attack. After being pushed back a few steps, Tosanoumi used his quickness to step around Musoyama and grab the back of his belt allowing him to easily force the Ozeki out. I'm not sure how much Musoyama's elbow is bothering him, but he hardly put up a fight after Tosanoumi grabbed his belt. Musoyama is going to struggle mightily this basho.
In one of the most anticipated bouts of the day, Sekiwake Wakanosato looked completely unfazed as he overpowered the smaller Aminishiki and forced him out. From the tachi-ai, Waka got his left hand on the inside of his opponent and used it to drive Ami back to ring's edge. Aminishiki used his quickness to try and evade the attack, but Wakanosato's de-ashi were perfect as he stayed on top of his opponent the whole way before easily forcing him out. Wakanosato should win this match up 9 times out of 10, but he's known for losing these early bouts to the Maegashira rikishi. That was not the case today as Wakanosato showed no signs of nervousness in downing his day one opponent. It's one down and eleven to go. Waka's off to a great start.
And rounding out the sanyaku ranks, Sekiwake Kyokutenho was defeated by M3 Tamanoshima who showed excellent patience in the bout. Tamanoshima grabbed an early right uwate from the tachi-ai and never let it go. After a stalemate from the tachi-ai, Tamanoshima forced the action as he pushed Kyokutenho towards ring's edge with his belt grip. Kyokutenho, who owned a solid inside grip, attempted to use that grip to throw Tamanoshima out, but as is usually the case in yotsu-zumo, the uwate prevailed. This was an outstanding bout for Tamanoshima who bested one of the best yotsu-zumo candidates at his own game. Great start for Tamanoshima who looks for his first ever promotion to the sanyaku.
In the Maegashira ranks, M4 Miyabiyama showed great balance in outlasting M4 Asasekiryu; M5 Kyokushuzan looked very good in taking the initiative and manhandling M5 Takanonami; M12 Kotonowaka got his basho off to a good start by overcoming an uwate from former Sekiwake Takanowaka; and newcomer M14 Toyozakura remains undefeated in the Maegashira ranks by pushing M14 Dejima down to the dirt after a typical Dejima tachi-ai where he charges with his head too low.
The Kyushu basho is typically the worst basho of the year in my opinion. It seems as if many of the rikishi are all too eager to say "the hell with it, let's shut it down until next year" and then withdraw from the tournament. Last year, Yokozuna Asashoryu was simply unchallenged in Kyushu as he picked up his first yusho with one Yokozuna and three Ozeki missing in action, and I seem to remember another Kyushu basho a few years back featuring a tomoe-sen (playoff for the yusho) with four rikishi all tied at 11-4. Ugh!
This year should be different, however, as there are too many rikishi out there who have something to prove this basho. Wrapping up a lackluster year of sumo that included the complete absence of one Yokozuna (I'm in denial that Musashimaru even competed in Nagoya) and the numerous kadoban Ozeki, the Kyushu basho has huge potential to go down as the best basho of the year and project a positive outlook for the sport in 2004.
Starting at the top of the banzuke, I'll begin with Yokozuna Asashoryu. Last basho the Japanese press coined the headline "Dangerous! The next Takanohana" when referring to Asashoryu. Not because the Yokozuna has established himself as the most dominant rikishi in the sport, but because Asa refused to speak to the press for the first 12 days of the basho. Takanohana was famous for his interviews with the press where he said absolutely nothing other than a few clichés. I'll agree with the assessment that Asashoryu shows potential of dangerously becoming the next Takanohana (and not because he doesn't like the press), but one similarity that I've noticed between the two over the past year is complete dominance of the basho held in Tokyo and susceptibility at the three basho held outside of Tokyo. Yes, Asashoryu did win this tournament last year, but circumstances are different this year. Asashoryu has nothing to prove, he's already fighting a nagging injury to a muscle in his left ribcage area, and he's away from Tokyo. The result is an excellent basho for anyone else, but an average basho for the Yokozuna. I wouldn't be surprised to see Asashoryu lose four bouts in Kyushu--just enough to piss him off so that he comes out and dominates the Hatsu basho next January.
Yokozuna Musashimaru is finally back although not completely 100%. It now sounds as if his wrist will never be completely pain free, but what does he expect when he has Dr. Nick Riviera from the Simpsons perform the operation (Hi everybody!)? I doubt there's is ever a Makuuchi rikishi who goes into a basho without a little nagging pain in at least one part of his body, so Musashimaru should be good to go. A lot of speculation has been made over whether or not Maru can grab his opponent's mawashi with his left hand, but I think that point is moot. What is important is that he can execute an effective tsuppari with the left hand. Maru has never been a dominant yotsu-zumo guy when his opponent stops his forward momentum in the center of the ring. . Rather, he is most successful when he can keep his opponents on the defensive with his bear claw tsuppari before forcing them out of the ring with his giant mass. I expect Musashimaru to hover around the 9-10 win range, but I don't think he ever regains his prime causing him to retire sometime in 2004.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai comes into Kyushu as the top-ranked Ozeki, a position that he well deserves. Much focus of late has been on the Ozeki's steamy relationship with his girlfriend, Kawamura Hikaru, but since recovering from his injury sustained at last year's Kyushu basho, Chiyo has either won or been the runner up in three out of the last four tournaments. I am inclined to say that Chiyotaikai is the favorite in Kyushu, but he has yet to show dominance over his fellow sanyaku and Yokozuna in the same basho To his credit, he rarely loses to the scrubs from the Hiramaku, but I think he suffers two or three losses over the last five days to force him to settle for another runner-up performance.
Ozeki Tochiazuma surprisingly finds himself ranked in the first tier of Ozeki for the first time in four basho. Tochi is coming off of a 10-5 basho in September that saw him capture some huge wins over Asashoryu and Kaio, but that same basho also saw him suffer some overpowering losses to Chiyotaikai, Wakanosato, and Iwakiyama. Another 10-5 mark is not out of the question for the Ozeki, but the fire that helped propel him to the rank two years ago is gone. Tochiazuma goes with the flow again in Kyushu to produce another uninspiring performance for a rikishi of his rank.
Ozeki Kaio has come to a major crossroads. History has shown that he comes back with a vengeance the basho after exhibiting a pathetic performance, but history also shows that Kaio has never had a spectacular Kyushu basho. Something will have to give this time, and I think that Kaio's poor performance in front of the hometown fans is it. Kaio is just too good to lay a rotten egg in two consecutive basho. A good indicator of how Kaio will perform is his injury condition coming into the tournament. So far so good as there have been no reports of minor dings to the Ozeki. Kaio will best his fellow Ozeki in Kyushu but fall one win short of the yusho to the disappointment of the home crowd.
Ozeki Musoyama has his back against the wall yet again. Don't we say this every other basho? The good news is Musoyama was able to recover from his latest injury and participate in the regional exhibition tournaments in mid-October, but the bad news is he's still Musoyama. Like Tochiazuma, this guy seems to have lost any drive to actually contend for a yusho. Anyone who is content with his current rank will only produce an uninspired performance. Will Musoyama win his eight and once again save himself from the throes of demotion from Ozeki. I could care less...just like Musoyama.
Sekiwake Wakanosato has the spotlight shining full force upon him this basho. He must reach 12 wins to receive promotion to Ozeki--something he has never achieved in his career. Will he do it? I say yes, and his 12-3 record will be good enough to secure the Sekiwake his first ever yusho. Wakanosato is currently fighting at an Ozeki level. He is 19-5 in his last 24 bouts and that includes a dominating win over Yokozuna Asashoryu. I will even give Wakanosato two losses to the Maegashira scrubs and say he can still yusho if he's 6-2 after the first eight days. Am I crazy? Probably. But why will Wakanosato win? Asashoryu is a bit dinged and fighting away from Tokyo; Musashimaru is too slow, fat, and out of practice, to yusho; Chiyotaikai cannot conquer his sanyaku demons, especially with everyone healthy: Tochiazuma is uninspired; Kaio can't yusho in Kyushu; Musoyama is indifferent; Kyokutenho's last basho at Sekiwake was a disaster; Takamisakari, while exciting, is just too small to dominate everyone for 15 days; Iwakiyama will have the jitters fighting for the first time from the sanyaku; Tochinonada isn't diverse enough to yusho; and Kotomitsuki will be fighting all of the Yokozuna and sanyaku heavyweights for the first time in a long time. It will not be a solid ass-kicking by the Sekiwake, but he will perform better than the rest. The only other possibility for the yusho is Dejima way down the banzuke at M14, but if Dejima couldn't even kachi-koshi at M10 last basho, what's going to make the difference this time around? Call me crazy, but anything can and usually does happen in Kyushu.
Wakanosato's counterpart at Sekiwake is Kyokutenho who jumps up to the rank from the Maegashira 2 position. This will be Tenho's second go around as Sekiwake after a terrible debut at the rank back in July. Quite honestly, I don't see anything that sets Kyokutenho apart from the two Komusubi or both sets of M1 and M2 rikishi. It seems that this group is just taking turns rotating from the sanyaku one basho down to the upper Maegashira the next and then back up to the sanyaku. Look for Kyokutenho to finish around the seven-win mark being overmatched by the true heavyweights.
Coming in at the East Komusubi is everyone's favorite, Takamisakari All reports indicate that our cross-eyed friend is right on schedule showing no life whatsoever in pre-tournament keiko. Kaio has been dishing out the beatings as of late, but look for Sakari to come out flying once the basho starts. There's no reason why Takamisakari can't win nine again this basho. Fighting from the Komusubi rank and M1 rank is virtually the same, so I'd like to see Sakari capture a kachi-koshi from the sanyaku. One thing is for sure, the Kyushu fans will be cheering him on.
Making his sanyaku debut as the West Komusubi is none other than Iwakiyama, who first set foot on the dohyo as Makuuchi rikishi a year ago. This guy is solid, and it takes a lot of composure in the division to reach the sanyaku in one year's time. I don't look for Iwakiyama to make a huge impact this basho, and I'd be surprised to see him win even eight, but what's important now is for this mammoth to gain experience fighting as Komusubi. Iwakiyama should be a sanyaku mainstay in another year. He is a great story who prefers yotsu-zumo, but can also surprise his opponents with the tsuppari.
Leading the Maegashira ranks at M1 are Tochinonada and Kotomitsuki. Tochinonada should get his usual eight wins and sleepwalk to another Komusubi promotion. Kotomitsuki, however, looks to be making another charge for Sekiwake. Here's a guy who reminds me a lot of Takamisakari (bad eyesight and all) with the difference being Kotomitsuki's ability to throw his extra 20 kilos of weight around offensively while the thinner Sakari is usually forced to fight defensively. When Kotomitsuki is completely healthy, he can really make an impact on a basho. I expect him to be near the 10 win mark if his elbows are not giving him trouble.
Toki and Tosanoumi, our two Komusubi last basho, have fallen to the M2 rank as a result of their respective 7-8 marks. As is the case with Takamisakari, Kyokutenho, Tochinonada, etc. it's up one basho and down the next. I guess these two will be up for Kyushu, but don't look for either to win more than nine.
M3s Aminishiki and Tamanoshima are both coming off of solid basho in September and look to secure their first ever appearance in the sanyaku. Aminishiki has the advantage technique-wise, and Tamanoshima holds the advantage size-wise. Still, neither of these two have what it takes to last in the sanyaku.
Our M4 rikishi are very compelling in Miyabiyama and Asasekiryu. Miyabiyama falls hard from the Sekiwake rank with a horrible performance in September. If Miyabiyama puts forth a little effort, he could do some serious damage from this lower rank. He'll get a few of the sanyaku, but he'll get more than enough scrubs to pad his record. He's got to post double-digit wins from this position if he's serious about making another run at Ozeki. Asasekiryu may be my favorite rikishi to watch in the division right now. I love the undersized guys--like Kaiho, Aminishiki, etc.--who are forced to rely on superior technique to keep themselves in the high ranks. I've seen steady improvement from Seki throughout the year, and I think he's finally ready to kachi-koshi from the upper Maegashira.
M5s Takanonami and Kyokushuzan are has-beens who made the sport exciting in the late 90's, but have shown little of anything this century.
M6 Kinkaiyama is over ranked as he'll show in Kyushu, and his counterpart Tokitsuumi is right about where he should be. Tokitsuumi can post nine wins from this rank if he's on his game, but he's just too small to overpower the heavyweights.
M7s Hokutoriki and Kotoryu are two rikishi who have decent ability, but just can't put good basho together back to back. Hokutoriki can surprise you with the tsuppari--as he showed Chiyotaikai last basho, and Kotoryu is a bulldog at the belt, but both of these guys lack consistency.
M8s Buyuzan and Kakizoe are about as highly-ranked as they deserve to be. Eight wins for either will be a good basho.
M9s Kasuganishiki and Shimotori are two relatively newcomers who have still not lived up to their potential in my opinion. We may yet see great things from either of them.
M10s Jumonji and Tochisakae are perfect examples of rikishi who can hang around for a few years in the division, but won't leave any lasting memories.
M11s Wakatoba and Takekaze should be fun to watch. Both rikishi are competing in their sophomore basho as Makuuchi rikishi albeit Takekaze's first run lasted two days. It's still too early to tell with either of them, but the pint-sized Takekaze should be a fireball this basho. Takekaze thrashed the Juryo division last basho to pick up the yusho.
M12s Kotonowaka and Takanowaka are two former sanyaku rikishi who are vastly under ranked. Both rikishi are near the bottom of the Makuuchi division as a result of serious injuries, but look for them to dominate their counterparts and steadily rise back to the top where they belong. Takanowaka has experienced quite the roller coaster ride this year starting the year at Sekiwake and spending a couple of basho in Juryo. I know exactly what to expect from Kotonowaka, but it will be fun to watch Takanowaka's progress.
M13s bring us two rikishi who are stuck in that revolving door between the bottom of Makuuchi and the top of Juryo. Tamakasuga is actually a former sanyaku rikishi, but his time has definitely come and gone. Otsukasa has been around the division for several years now, but he doesn't have what it takes to charge up the ranks.
What is Dejima doing at M14? Shame on the Musashigawa rikishi for their underachieving. On one hand, you'd expect Dejima to go 13-2 and compete for the yusho, but on the other hand he was in a similar position last basho and stunk it up. It was only a few basho ago that Dejima was a strong Sekiwake; now he's in danger of falling down to Juryo. His counterpart, Toyozakura, is making his Makuuchi debut. He is the brother of former Makuuchi salt thrower Kitazakura making the duo the seventh set of brothers to be ranked in the highest division. Toyozakura's climb up the ranks wasn't exactly lightening quick, but give the guy his day in the sun--he's earned it. Just don't expect him to hang around too long.
And finally (yawn) Tamarikido and Yotsukasa bring up the rear at M15. Yotsukasa is caught in that same trap as stablemate Otsukasa where they just can't seem to keep themselves from falling into Juryo. Tamarikido, however, has shown a decent surge in Makuuchi this year. Two bad basho have dropped him down, but there's still hope for this guy. He's young and has a good sumo body, but it's now or never in Kyushu.
As for my basho predictions:
Yusho: Wakanosato gets his first yusho going 12-3.
Kantosho: Kotomitsuki puts together another double-digit basho at 10-5
Ginosho: Takamisakari gets the Ginosho at 9-6 because he's Takamisakari and always in the spotlight.