Post-basho Report | 2006 Kyushu
Well, I guess the Kyushu basho didn't necessarily end with a bang, nor did it really set any stage of excitement for January. But before I review the actual sumo, I must touch on Clancy's ridiculous claims that Simon was killed, and that I replaced him with a look alike. I mean, let's just review the possibility of this anatomically. Sure I can search among those dudes who model for Abercrombie and Fitch to find someone whose body sort'uh looks like Simon's. Sure I can scour the drummers of all those Genesis tribute bands to find someone who looks like Simon from the neck up. But where in the hell am I gonna find someone whose...well...whose...you know...whose...well, who can do Simon any justice from the waist down? Think of how ludicrous your allegations are, Mr. Smartypants Kelly. It's always been tradition for us talkers to pop a few cold ones before hitting the hotel's onsen after the day's bouts. I noticed the usual sideways glances from everyone trying to subtly catch a glimpse at that...thing floating there. And tell me...did or did we not have that cage with 15 small rats in it in Simon's room so all 8 of us could be fed during the basho? Your claims just don't make any sense. Australian dudes who are packing like Simon? That'll be the day.
And furthermore, your allegations that I left secret messages in my reports to relieve my guilty conscience is preposterous. Anyone can take any piece of text, manipulate the order, read it vertically or diagonally or upside down, run it through a supercomputer to get new messages, etc. and find exactly what they're looking for. Don't you ever watch the History Channel and those Nostradamus programs? Take a look at the first letters of the paragraphs in all of your reports. Line them all up and then eliminate every other letter and you get the following message:
Hot pickles I suck dreamin, I love Kitazakura, oh!
I saw you and Sherlock McManus at the computer on day 14 taking Simon's blog picture, blowing it up 800%, and flipping it upside down to see if you could find any hidden messages in the garbled pixels. Give me a break. I did the same for your own blog picture just for fun, and I could swear I found the following message on that shiny new suit of yours: "John 3:16". Clancy Iscariot quoting Bible scriptures? That'll be the day. In short, anyone can take anything...a literary work, an event, a chapter from the Bible that tells of President Kennedy's assassination, the US 20-dollar bill when folded just so forecasting 9/11 and make up any sort of conspiracy they want. The only question I have is if these things are so prophetic, why don't people come up with them BEFORE the actual events happen? It's just lunacy. Conspiracy theorists should concentrate more on meeting people of the opposite sex in my opinion.
Okay, enough of the funny bidness, let's talk some shop starting with Yokozuna Asashoryu, who waltzed to the yusho at 15-0. Asa's perfect run was easy to predict, but I wasn't overly impressed with his sumo. I thought that bout against Chiyotaikai on senshuraku was a good microcosm of the Yokozuna's performance. Got pushed a little, was never in any real trouble, but never did show that unbelievable flash. That tsuri-dashi move that capped the tournament off lacked any real punch causing the Association to determine it a yori-kiri win in the end. But, so what? Asa's smart enough to take an ugly 15-0 yusho any day. Now just because I've said all of that, it doesn't mean that Asa is losing a step nor does it mean that his dominance is fading. I just don't think he had any real motivation this tournament, so we didn't see the emotional sumo from him. All is well at the Takasago-beya, and Asashoryu should pass Takanohana for sole possession of fourth place all time on the yusho list by this time next year. In closing, allow me to take another shot at that useless group known as the Yokozuna Deliberation Council. I should have seen it coming...their harsh criticism of his keta-guri move against Kisenosato on day 8. It's unbelievable what comes out of the YDC's collective pieholes sometimes. You have a Yokozuna who just ran the table besting the next legitimate contender by five whole bouts, and they complain. Token female member of the YDC, Makiko Uchidate, even went as far as to criticize the Yokozuna for turning sharply and slapping his fanny on the left side just before he graps that last handful of salt prior to his bouts. "Mittomonai" was the expression she used. Hey honey, before you start calling anyone ugly or unbecoming, take a look in the mirror. In conclusion, I think Asashoryu can be beaten these days for the yusho, but it's going to take a perfect run from one of his peers.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai had a very good basho in my opinion despite finishing 9-6. He still has the pop in his attack to manhandle those elevator dudes who float between the Komusubi rank and the upper Maegashira, but he's old enough and rickety enough to falter in week two against the players. He'll never yusho again, but I love this guy's attitude of late. Just look at the content of his sumo. I can't recall any bouts this basho where the Ozeki ran at the tachi-ai and skirted his way to a pull down win at the edge. Only two of his 9 wins were by hataki-komi, but those were set up by good, forward attacks. The Ozeki even managed a coupla tsuki-dashi wins (against Aminishiki and Kisenosato) for good measure. Ever wonder what the difference is between oshi-dashi and tsuki-dashi? Oshi-dashi means you just pushed your opponent out; tsuki-dashi means you just kicked his ass. And then look at his performance against Asashoryu. Usually Chiyotaikai just drops the mawashi and grabs his ankles, but this basho he let the Yokozuna have a few tsuppari to the head that actually drove him back for a moment. I like everything Chiyotaikai is doing these days, and I don't think he needs to post 11 or 12 wins to be considered fighting well at this stage of his career. Keep it up my man.
Kotooshu fans must be feeling frustrated right now. The Ozeki manhandled the other three active Ozeki this basho, but he let some careless losses get to him and derail him of any momentum. This basho it was Futenoh and Tokitenku, two rikishi the Ozeki should beat 90% of the time. Then against Roho, of course Ugly went for a sly side step, but Kotooshu's gotta be able to handle that move. Kotooshu looked great once he grabbed the uwate, but he's gotta learn how to get it every time from the tachi-ai. How many bouts can you think of where Asashoryu doesn't get the position he wants? Three a year? Kotooshu's got to learn this same trait. There's really not much more to say beyond that. Kotooshu doesn't have that attitude that propelled him to the Ozeki ranks a year ago.
Tochiazuma gutted out a 10-5 performance. After an 8-1 start, the Ozeki was slapped down by Dejima on day 10 and apparently injured the meniscus in his left knee. He kept quiet about the injury and actually put Homasho in his place on day 12, which shows just how real (or not) that yusho threat from Homasho was. Tochiazuma's injuries are piling up so quickly, I just can't account for them anymore. 10-5 is a decent performance from him this basho, but why is that ruthless henka of Miyabiyama on day 8 the biggest thing that stands out in my mind?
Rounding out the Ozeki, my attitude towards Chiyotaikai applies to Kaio as well. We couldn't have asked anymore out of him than we got. Kaio did show flashes in that first week, but against the younger, tougher guys like Kotooshu, Kisenosato, and Miyabiyama, it wasn't really close. And then the difference in power was readily evident against Asashoryu. As we saw two years ago, Kaio would frequently win the yotsu-zumo contest against the Yokozuna, but now the Yokozuna can bully him with just an inside grip. To Kaio's credit, he showed us a renewed strength this basho, something we haven't seen in more than a year. We have been calling for the Ozeki's retirement this entire year, and it was justified the first five basho this year. How so? The Ozeki had just 30 wins coming into the tournament all year, numbers that aren't even good enough for promotion to the rank if you had all year to do it. If Kaio continues to maintain his strength as he did in Kyushu, he can stay, but like Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai, he's done impacting a yusho. The Ozeki has indicated that he'd like to continue fighting until Haru 2008 to make it a 20-year career atop the dohyo. That's pushing it a bit, but you had to have enjoyed Kaio's comeback in Kyushu.
We've pointed out that Miyabiyama was on the wrong end of more henka this basho than anyone deserves, but despite those losses, the Sekiwake just didn't have the game he did in the first half of the year that started all of this Ozeki promotion monkey business in the first place. Sumo is such a mental game, and Miyabiyama appears to have lost the confidence in his tsuppari attack that had most of his peers fearful when facing him. Prior to Kyushu, the Sekiwake did break up with his long time girlfriend, but he claimed that it would not affect his sumo this tournament. I don't know...I was talking to a female source in Japan and this somebody told me that she had a boyfriend that looked like the girlfriend that Miyabiyama had in February of last year. Deduct your own conclusions. Miyabi had some solid wins against the likes of Kotooshu, Kotomitsuki, and Kaio, but I really think all those henka against him took him out of any rhythm this basho. I still like the guy but wish he'd go back and watch some video tape of the first three basho this year.
I was just torn on senshuraku before the Kotomitsuki - Roho matchup. On one hand, I wanted Hit and Mitsuki to miss as usual remaining stuck on 8 wins after that 7-1 start, but on the other hand, no one deserved to have their ass kicked more this basho than Roho. I guess justice prevailed as Kotomitsuki finally got off the snide and finished a basho 9-6. Still, eight wins or nine wins...finishing that poorly every basho for over a year means two things: first, you're better than everyone ranked below you, and second, nobody is afraid of you at all. Kotomitsuki is simply a non-factor these days because he never threatens for the yusho, and he never pulls off that big win down the stretch. Never.
As excited as I was to have four Komusubi on the banzuke, collectively they all looked terrible and were extremely disappointing. Starting from the top, Kisenosato managed to win his eight, but he was in more of a funk than Miyabiyama...without taking the cheap shots. Kisenosato beat those ranked below him for the most part, and then nutted it up against against the likes of Miyabiyama and Kaio to eek out his kachi-koshi. As bad as he looked the whole tournament, it says something that the Kid was still able to win his eight. And that bout against Kaio was just a foreshadowing of the change of guard that will occur in the Ozeki ranks once Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Tochiazuma are cleared out. And unlike Kotomitsuki, Kisenosato can and will continue to win the big one(s) down the stretch.
Komusubi Kokkai just stunk this basho. And his sumo was bad too. I know that first week schedule was brutal where the only rikishi Kokkai fought ranked below him was a fellow Komusubi, but dude's gotta win at least two or three of those. He owned the Ozeki last basho, but it tells you what kind of shape he was in this basho when looking how the Ozeki roughed him up this time around. He was mercifully paired against Iwakiyama on day 10 to pick up his first win, but Kokkai's lower body was completely absent this basho. I don't recall a single awkward, double tsuppari with that wingspan of his the entire basho. Kokkai's gotta work out his problems in the keiko ring as he did prior to Aki. He should have plenty of punching bags in January after his drop through the ranks.
Aminishiki checking in at 6-9 is actually damn good, especially considering his knee problems this basho. Without that extra step, the Komusubi was unable to outquick his opponents as he did in September; thus, the less than stellar record. Do you think it's coincidence that the only rikishi he was able to topple with a nifty leg trip was Miyabiyama? It was just a tough break for the Ajigawa leader, who hopefully comes back completely healthy in January.
I really thought Roho got slighted coming into the basho when he was put in the final Komusubi slot, but who cares now? Did you ever see that Jackass movie where that guy walked into a hardware store and took a dump in one of the toilets on display? As sick and wrong as that was, it was actually more pleasant than Roho's sumo this basho. I can't come up with enough negative adjectives to describe the Russian this basho. Previously, I've used words like cowardly, girly, gutless, despicable, classless, and criminal. Just roll all of those into one and that's what you got from Roho this basho. I really do believe that the guy thinks he's entitled to something. He was forced to sit out three bouts in July, so when he entered senshuraku at 7-7, he used the henka to steal that 8th win. Now, heading into this basho, there was no doubt that Roho was slighted on the banzuke, but chickinshit sumo is not the way to get what you think you deserve. Can you imagine the discussion in the room on Tuesday when the new banzuke was drawn up, and the oyakata knew that they couldn't demote Roho from the sanyaku? You have guys like Kotoshogiku, Tokitenku, and Dejima who all deserve to get in for January, but they've got to keep this undeserving guy around. Roho did not make any new fans this basho; in fact, he's losing them, especially the people who really count. So much for trying to redeem his stupidity in July with good sumo. To hell with him.
Dropping down to the Maegashira ranks, Ama finished right where you'd expect him to with 6 wins. He just can't deal with that brutal week one schedule; thus his 2-9 start. He did have two sweet wins over both Sekiwake, but there's a reason in boxing and other forms of wrestling that weight classes exist. I think the trial Ama has to face now is nobody is taking him lightly anymore. They know how dangerous he is, and they're prepared for it. Ama's counterpart, Iwakiyama, was just terrible. If it wasn't for two acts of charity on the Association's part (i.e., pairing him with the Zakura brothers, who he should have never faced), Iwakiyama would have posted an o'fer. I loved Chiyotaikai's comments after day 3 regarding Iwakiyama when he said, "the dude can't move laterally." That sums it up. I don't want to see Iwakiyama this high on the banzuke again.
In the M2 ranks, Kotoshogiku did exactly what someone ranked this high has to do, and that's beat everyone ranked below you while picking off a few guys above you. The Geeku received a break in that he was exempt from fighting one Ozeki and one Sekiwake, but he made the most of it. He cleaned house against the Komusubi, he pasted Homasho, and then don't forget that win against Baruto. His Ginosho award was completely deserved. If there was a negative aspect to his performance, I wish he would have picked off an Ozeki or two, especially since the three Ozeki he did face were beatable.
Just ask counterpart Futenoh, who stuffed three Ozeki scalps in his akeni. Too bad he only managed two other wins the rest of the way. Futenoh is one of my favorite rikishi in the sport right now, but he's so frustrating. He's just got to come with the same intensity against rikishi ranked lower than him as he does against the Ozeki. Back to the drawing board in January.
M3 Tokitenku was a big surprise this basho finishing up 9-6. The Mongolian deserves a slot in the sanyaku for January in my opinion due to his wins over Kotooshu, Miyabiyama, and two Komusubi, but I'd be shocked if the Association actually put him there. Tenku's 1-6 start is attributed to his brutal week one schedule, but this guy used a wide array of techniques to slay his opponents going 8-0 down the stretch. Tokitenku has enough experience under his belt now to constantly threat for the sanyaku.
And as good as Tenku was, how about Dejima? 10-5...are you kidding me? It could have been even better too had he not been jellied by the Phantom of the OpeRoho and had he held on a fraction longer against Homasho. Dejima was spared the rod by not having to fight Asashoryu, and his biggest win on paper was Tochiazuma, but it will be tough for the Association to deny him a Komusubi slot come January.
No real comments on M4's Takekaze and Kakizoe who both finished 6-9. These two guys surprised a few rikishi, but lack of size and style just can't cut it in terms of kachi-koshi this high on the banzuke.
M5 Hokutoriki may find himself in Juryo after and 0-9 start followed by 6 days off due to a fake injury. When someone withdraws, and you see the time for recovery estimated at 2 weeks, it's fake.
M6 Kyokutenho had a very quiet 10-5 performance. After his 2-4 start against average rikishi, he just took himself out of a nice basho. He'll be at M1 or so in January and should take over for Kyokushuzan in handing the jo'i the easy wins. Counterpart Baruto had the exact basho that I expected. Normally, the guy is a yusho candidate this low, but with his knee injury and lack of keiko, he's only as good as Kyokutenho. I'd say the two key bouts for Baruto this basho were losses to Homasho and Kotoshogiku. Baruto will never lose to these two if he's 100%, but the fact that he was quickly forced out by both tells you that he was injured. Baruto's 10-5 will move him up to M1 or so for January, but he's got to recover his health, and he's got to work something out prior to the basho in terms of keiko opponents. The smartest thing Baruto could do is take up Hakuho on his offer a couple of basho ago to practice with him all the time. I really appreciated Hamanoshima's efforts on the dohyo when he was an active rikishi, but the current Onoe-oyakata has got to take better care of the golden goose. Don't move your stable clear across town (especially when it's Tokyo!) taking your guys away from any legitimate keiko partners. Find any temple or shrine near Ryogoku, ask them to lend you a corner of their property three times a year (anyone of 'em would do it), have a few scrubs scratch a dohyo in the sand, and then rent an apartment nearby and call it your stable. Problem solved. You gotta keep Baruto in the middle of all the action or he will continue to underachieve.
M7 Tamanoshima's "injury" falls under the same category as Hokutoriki's. Two weeks of recovery time, please. Counterpart Kasugao managed a kachi-koshi, but what's he doing losing to Kitazakura? It's those lapses of concentration at the tachi-ai that keep him from being great.
M8 Toyozakura wasn't necessarily ranked too high this basho, he's just not a quality Makuuchi rikishi. The dude's style is the oshi attack, but Toyozakura's lower body is as stable as a Hollywood marriage. Counterpart Kakuryu had a fine debut in my opinion. I think this guy will stick in the division a la Tokitenku. Just what the Japanese needed...another Mongolian rikishi in the sport's top division. It's really hard to pinpoint Kakuryu's style at this point. I liken him a lot to Aminishiki, in other words, a damn pest who has good quicks and flies all around the dohyo. Kakuryu really didn't have any great wins this basho, and his competition sucked. Still, I think he can stick in the division.
As expected, M9 Takamisakari had a good basho with the horrible competition this low on the banzuke. They should have just dubbed the ranks M11 on down as Juryo north. All of Takamisakari's losses were to kachi-koshi rikishi, which tells you as he climbs the banzuke in January, he's going to have a tough time of it. Counterpart Asasekiryu shot out to a great 6-0 start that included a perfect dismantling of Baruto, but his 4-5 finish--against stale competition--ruined it all. That loss to 0-6 Tamanoshima on day 7 just derailed him.
Let's move onto M11 Homasho, who had his breakout basho actually picking up jun-yusho honors (this basho, that's like saying you won a cheeseburger at McDonald's in one of their scratch 'n win campaigns). Homasho really didn't do anything different this basho; I just think his experience in the division and the lack of competition surrounding him contributed to his run. His first loss was just a pull down fluke, but you look at his last two losses (Tochiazuma, Kotoshogiku) and it puts Homasho's current place in this division in a bit more perspective. The biggest positive for Homasho is that he faced virtually the same competition he saw his first three basho in the division; now, he's learning how to win. He should find himself ranked at M2 in January, which means he gets every one of the top dogs. I like this kid, though, and think he can become a lightweight Tochiazuma.
I normally don't comment on a an M11 guy who finishes 4-11, but Kitazakura was so bad this basho I can't contain myself. This guy served up uwate to his opponents with the precision that women serve the tea and coffee (and probably other goodies) in the Japanese workplace. I imagine his conversation with Toyozakura prior to the basho went something like this:
Kita: "Hey, little bro. I won't use my lower body at all this tournament if you don't."
Toyo: "Gee, that sounds like a plan. No wonder you attract all those guy fans. Let's do it!"
And speaking of Kitazakura's guy fans, I was somewhat encouraged that those lining up in Kyushu to slap hands with the duck after his bouts were a little bit older than what we saw in Osaka, but can I suggest a new hobby to those of you who line up to slap hands with Kitazakura? It's called girls. Dudes aren't supposed to be groupies for dude wrestlers.
Let's move onto M13 Asofuji, our other Makuuchi rookie. I guess there was a reason that so much hype was placed upon the fact that Asofuji was Aminishiki's older brother because his sumo is just not Makuuchi caliber. With Juryo extending about five ranks up into Makuuchi, Asofuji still couldn't get it done and will find himself in Juryo proper again in January. I mean, he was okay, but against that crappy competition, you gotta be more than just okay.
Let's conclude with M14 Hakurozan, who almost stunk as bad as his older brother. After an 0-8 start that showed what he is really made of, Hakurozan reeled off seven wins in a row with nothing but pull down crap...against a majority of Juryo rikishi. When the Sumo Association starts giving you Juryo rikishi because they feel sorry for you, it's time to leave the division and work a few things out. Problem is, there aren't enough guys in Juryo to come up to replace the greater number who will fall out of Makuuchi, so it looks as if Hakurozan stays one more basho. Forgive me if I set my VCR to record the bouts in January AFTER Hakurozan fights. And so much for all of that useless pre-basho hype about the three sets of brothers in the division. Only one of the 6 secured 8 wins, and that was Roho. Thanks for nothing Japanese press. Apology accepted.
Well, that does it for another year of sumo. 2006 was a mediocre year if that. Around the time the next banzuke is released (Dec. 21), I'll post my usual year in review where I comment on the "best of" for 2006. In the meantime, Simon will chime in in a few days with a report of his own focusing on his "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" awards. Gee, I wonder who gets ugly this basho? Until then, see you all in December. Nja.
The Japanese press is just killing me these days. We have the strongest banzuke of the year, and here's all of the information we've gleaned prior to the Kyushu basho: Asofuji and Aminishiki are brothers, Hakuho had an operation on his toe, and there was actually a keiko session where 11 sekitori showed up. God forbid we find out who's fighting who and the results. Since neither myself nor my posse are in Fukuoka right now loitering around the sumo stables, I have no idea what's going on nor what kind of shape anyone is in.
I do want to congratulate Asashoryu, however, on his career 19th yusho. And this one was in the bag even before Hakuho and Baruto took sudden downturns. Follow my line of thinking here. Take a look at the ranks M2 on up to Yokozuna...those are your top 16 rikishi, or the jo'i. With a few exceptions, these 16 rikishi will all be fighting each other. There isn't a slouch in the group. All but Kotoshogiku has sanyaku experience, but the Geeku's day will come. In essence, this basho will be a huge battle royal where the best guys in the sport sans Baruto will club each other day after day. Someone has to absorb all those losses. Where are Tamakasuga and Kyokushuzan when you need them? I just don't see any 2-13 or 3-12 performances from any of the top 16. I think it will be a more compact range where everyone finishes between 5 and 10 wins. Well, everyone but Asashoryu. The Yokozuna fights the best of the best every basho, so this will be nothing new. I just see everyone wearing each other out while Asashoryu skates to an easy yusho. I say 15-0. As for Asashoryu's condition, how the hell do I know? I've read exactly one keiko report that mentioned his name, but it didn't mention who he fought or the results. Dunt matter. Asa stares yusho number 20 in the face starting in January.
Slipping down to our Ozeki, I think Chiyotaikai rightly deserves the prestigious Eastern slot. His sumo hasn't necessarily improved the last couple of basho, but his attitude has. Chiyotaikai has the redass of late, and it stirs up that old school pride to where he forgets his skirt sumo and usually tries to slap his younger opponents silly. I only expect 9 wins from the Ozeki, but he should show a little pride as he protects his territory.
Kotooshu has to be the wildcard this basho. Nothing has really gone right for the Bulgarian since he secured Ozeki promotion a year ago in Kyushu. Sure, he did have those injuries to his knee and then ankle, but I think it's more of a confidence issue with this guy. Remember 7 or 8 basho ago how we were slobbering all over ourselves talking about Kotooshu's nifty adjustments in the ring, his brilliant escapes at the edge, and his incredible coordination? Is it me, or have we just not seen any of that the last six months? Go back to the Haru basho this year when Kotooshu was hobbling around on that bad leg. He really dug down and somehow scraped out a kachi-koshi he had no business obtaining. I thought that was a defining moment of his career, but he's done nothing since then. And I don't see anything changing in him this basho. We all know the potential is there, but I don't think Kotooshu picks up more than 11 wins...still, that will be good enough for the jun-yusho.
Tochiazuma is one of those guys who always seems to be on a swell winning streak or a bad losing streak. Last basho he started out 0-3 only to finish 9-3 as the competition picked up. The basho before that he started out something like 8-1 only to lose his last seven. You get the point. Sticking to my general theme this basho, I think the banzuke is too tough for Tochiazuma to make one of those swell runs. 10 wins.
If you've been scavenging for any sort of pre-basho news, then you've had more than your fill of Hakuho's situation. I won't rehash any of it here although can I ask why it's necessary that somebody be hospitalized an extra three days because he's waiting to get stitches taken out? Oh yeah, he's in Japan. I just hope when Hakuho gets released, they give him plenty of those packets of powdered medicine to take, but since this isn't japan-hospitals-committing-insurance-fraud-talk.com, let's get back to the sumo. The current discussion surrounding the Ozeki is will he actually participate this basho? His mentor, Kumagatani-oyakata, is advising against it, but the Ozeki seems hellbent on competing. I think Hakuho is going to win this argument. If this was a neck, back, or knee injury, I'd say sit it out, but he suffered a hairline fracture in the bone in his big toe, and they put a screw in it to hold it together. Shoot that sucker up with some cortisone and hop up on the dohyo. I think that Hakuho at least wants to test his toe out, so expect him to fight for a few days. What the hell...eight wins.
Rounding out the Ozeki ranks is Kaio, who is probably number 16 out of the top 16 at this point. It seems the Ozeki is having a decent pre-basho run in the keiko ring, but he's opting to practice with old school chums Chiyotaikai and Tochiazuma who know better than to jeopardize their peer in the practice ring. I think a couple of Eastern European ass kickings will spur him in the right direction, which is to call it quits at the end of this basho...even if he wins more than eight. With that bad lower back of his, I don't see how Kaio can kachi-koshi especially when a lot of guys at the end will have kachi-koshi on the line as well and can't afford to take one for team Japan. Seven wins.
This Ozeki run by Sekiwake Miyabiyama has gone on now about as long as the careers of Aerosmith. The Sumo Association has put the magic number at 13 wins this basho, but you'll see Clancy in a suit and tie before that ever happens. Miyabiyama was red hot the first three basho this year. He had a swagger about him, and his confidence was sky high. The last two basho, however, he's gone back to cautious sumo. It hasn't been any of the crafty pull down garbage we see from some, but that all-out kick-ass tsuppari attack has been missing. I say it's absent again in Kyushu to the tune of 9 wins where this Ozeki run is put out of its misery.
Kotomediocrity checks in at his usual Sekiwake West position. I sense a coupla Komusubi that are hungry for his rank. Seven wins.
And speaking of Komusubi, how nice is it to see such solid sumo from the top of the banzuke that the Sumo Association has no choice but to add ranks to the sanyaku? I love it. Kisenosato leads this foursome occupying the East slot for the second basho in a row. I've read one keiko report that had Kisenosato locking horns with M1 Ama in a fierce keiko session. You gotta love the youth. I think Kisenosato's energy propels him this basho to nine wins. There's nothing but upside to this kid who has Asashoryu's respect in my opinion. I've yet to read of any reports where Asa paid a visit to the Naruto-beya to rough up the rikishi who beat him in September.
Kokkai maintains that first west slot after a surprise showing in September. I think Kokkai's best chance of survival this basho is getting a few of the lame Ozeki early. I'll say seven wins.
For those of you who like to prognosticate the banzuke prior to its release, I'm sure you were all as surprised as I was that Aminishiki was actually ranked ahead of Roho. At least we now know the criteria that is used to determine the banzuke:
1. Record at previous basho
2. Rank at previous basho
And maybe not in that order. If I were Roho I'd be pissed. Here he is trying to make an honest living and those around him are stealing his rank. Roho should seriously consider consulting with the Russian embassy in Tokyo to explore his options if this kind of theft doesn't stop. Regardless, I expect him to finish with one of the best five records this basho. I really thought Roho deserved a Sekiwake ranking after his solid basho in September, but they can't deny him forever. That incident in July where he bitch-slapped a couple of deserving photographers is turning out as a positive in my opinion. It's waken the Russian up and forced him to redeem himself with solid sumo. He hasn't disappointed, and I expect another great run from him in Kyushu. 9 or 10 wins.
Getting back to Aminishiki, he exhibited some brilliant sumo in September, but I also though he was quite evasive in a few bouts. He seems to have the number of the Ozeki, so if he can go .500 or so against his peers, he has a great shot to kachi-koshi. I think those hints of an Ozeki run we've been hearing from the Ajigawa camp is going a bit far, but I love Aminishiki at this rank because he will keep the rest of the jo'i honest. 7 wins.
And the same goes for M1 Ama. I really like Ama's choice of sparring partner this basho in Kisenosato, and I think these two guys will feed off of their pre-basho keiko and make good runs in Kyushu. With Ama's win over Baruto last basho, I think he proved that there's nothing he can't overcome, but with all the losses someone has to accrue this basho, I think Ama gets saddled with 8.
Counterpart Iwakiyama hasn't seen these parts in awhile, and I think the new youth and power will be too much for him to weather. Five wins.
Kotoshogiku checks in at M2, and if he was ever going to make a statement for a sanyaku berth, now's the time to do it. He's exempt from fighting one Ozeki and one Sekiwake, and I can only assume he has had quality keiko opponents prior to the basho, but I think the Geeku gets schooled a bit more this high up in the ranks. I'll say 6 wins.
Rounding out the top 16 is counterpart Futenoh, who has been so quiet for over a year now. Futenoh should surprise a few members of the jo'i, but overall, I don't see that fighting spirit in the guy, which is not good enough for a kachi-koshi in Kyushu. I'll say a disappointing 5 wins.
Turning our attention towards the rest of the field, M3's Tokitenku and Dejima find themselves in familiar territory having only fallen half a rank after 7-8 performances in September. I don't see a change, especially with Baruto lurking below. 6 or 7 wins for each.
Takekaze is ranked too high at M4, and while it is to a lesser degree, I think Kakizoe is also ranked among company that will make it difficult for him to score a kachi-koshi. 5 and 6 wins respectively.
Well, look who's back at M5...Hokutoriki. This former Sekiwake is going to get thrashed. 4 wins maybe. Counterpart Tochinonada used to belong in the top 16, but those days are gone. 6 wins.
Another former Sekiwake who no longer makes an impact is M6 Kyokutenho. He'll just give up on day 1 against Baruto, but he looks to be one fo the stronger guys in the mid-Maegashira and should win an uneventful eight. If Kotooshu is the wildcard this basho, then M6 Baruto is definitely the dark horse. I'm not quite sure what to think of the Estonian at this point, so first the good news. The good news is that Baruto's surrounding competition sucks. Go up a couple ranks...say up to M3. Then follow that down to M9, the range where the bulk of Baruto's opponents should come from. No one in that range has beaten Baruto. Let me just throw out a few names: Takekaze, Hokutoriki, Kyokutenho, Toyozakura, Kakuryu, and Takamisakari. Baruto is going to shred those guys like a politician ridding himself of the paper trail just before a scandal breaks. Hell, even Richard Simmons could go .500 against that competition. Baruto is a man among boys in his current place on the banzuke.
Now the bad news. The bad news is that I think Baruto is a mess right now. His injured left knee is keeping him from any keiko prior to the tournament. He got worked last basho when paired against the real players in the division. His recent stable change has removed him from the core of the sport in terms of closeness to friends and other viable stables. And finally, his sumo fundamentals are bad, a fact that was manifest in September. You may recall a blog entry I wrote awhile ago on why I think the sumo fundamentals of the Eastern European rikishi (besides Kotooshu) are subpar. Then, I was singling out Roho, Kokkai, and Hakurozan, but everything I said then certainly applies to Baruto now. So the question is, which will prevail...the good news or the bad news? Unless Baruto comes out teetering on that bad leg like a...well...like anything engineered in North Korea, I expect Baruto to cruise to a 7-1 start and then find the going rougher as the Sumo Association begins pairing him with the fellas in the top 16. If anything, Baruto's condition has worsened since last basho when the upper echelon thrashed him about, so I expect a rocky week two. 10 wins if he fights the whole 15 days.
M7 Tamanoshima is in that perfect territory to pick up another special prize. He's got the same lame competition as Baruto, and he's a rikishi who always seem to capitalize when he's lower in the ranks. I expect 10 or 11 wins. Counterpart Kasugao is one of those guys who is strong enough to make it to the sanyaku, but he's too slow and makes too many poor decisions in the ring to sustain any momentum. 6 wins.
M8 is certainly a curious rank because two guys sit there who were in the Juryo ranks last basho. Due to the whacky happenings with the lower half of the banzuke in September, we have two guys who don't deserve this rank. Toyozakura should get his ass kicked, and Kakuryu will probably share the same fate although I have never seen him fight. 10 wins between them?
M9's Takamisakari and Asasekiryu stayed put after 7-8 performances in September. This difference this basho is that the guys who beat them last basho are all higher in the ranks, and the new guys replacing them have all come from Juryo. It will be a shame if these guys don't easily waltz to kachi-koshi performances. 19 wins between them.
M10 Kyokushuzan should be able to fool enough of the new blood at this rank to the tune of 9 wins. Too bad no one will be watching. M11 Homasho keeps his same rank as last basho even though he finished 7-8. Same rules apply to him as Takamisakari and Asasekiryu. 9 wins. Kitazakura's M11 rank should keep him in the division for the next two basho, and M12 Ushiomaru makes his return to the ranks after a long stint in Juryo and Makushita. Could get ugly, and that's not the first time anyone has mentioned ugly and Ushiomaru in the same sentence. 6 wins.
M13 Asofuji makes his long-awaited Makuuchi debut. Hey, did anyone out there know that he's the older brother of Aminishiki? I've never seen the dude fight, and even though the lower Makuuchi division this basho is just an upward extension of the Juryo ranks, I don't see how Asofuji survives after just an 8-7 record in Juryo in September. I expect a lackluster debut. Shame on counterpart Tochinohana if he doesn't win eight this basho.
I didn't expect Tamakasuga to get booted all the way down to M14 considering his competition last basho, but in reality, this is where he belongs. 8 wins. Counterpart Hakurozan is on the brink now, and I think the Sumo Association won't let him stay in the division with a make-koshi, even if it's a 7-8 record. Of course I've read no reports on his condition, so I'm clueless. If he has recovered from his injury fully, he'll win 12. If he's still gimpy, he should at least scrap 8 wins.
And finally, the bottom rung of the banzuke moves up a rank to M15 with the extra Komusubi. Otsukasa and Katayama populate this rank, which just encourages me that much more to set the timer on my VCR to start recording the bouts around 5 PM Japan time each day. Don't be surprised if the zen-han (first half) bouts this basho get about as much attention as that honey to the right receives on the pole.
Here are my predictions:
Yusho: Asashoryu (15-0)
Kantosho: Roho (10-5)
Ginosho: Ama (9-6)
Now, where did I put my one-dollar bills?