Post-basho Report | Pre-basho Report
For every step that sumo has taken forward this year, it has ultimately ended up taking two steps back, and the Kyushu basho was no exception. We finally had not only one but two Ozeki candidates step up as legitimate yusho contenders providing a helluva yusho race through the first fourteen days only to have one of them not show up on the final day and the other one henka Hakuho in the day's final bout watering down the yusho. For as much excitement as Hakuho, Chiyotaikai, Kotomitsuki, Baruto, and Ama generated throughout the tournament, it all went for naught when Chiyotaikai failed to show up for work on the final Sunday.
I don't care if Chiyotaikai's arm was severed, you cannot just walk away from a yusho race that you're in the middle of and give the championship away by default. Tape the sucker up, step in the ring, and give Kaio the bout for free just like some of the other guys did. You don't even have to conspire with Kaio prior to the bout to say "I'm gonna throw it...go easy on me." Tape your wing up from wrist to shoulder; Kaio would have taken one look and gotten the message and guided you out to a soft yori-kiri loss instead of throwing you back down on your elbow. You just can't leave the fans hanging as you did on senshuraku, especially when the public opinion of sumo this year has been about as popular as the VISTA operating system. Because Chiyotaikai failed to show up, the yusho was awarded by default for the first time ever in sumo's modern era. The Sumo Association just can't afford more bad publicity like this when it was totally avoidable. I don't doubt a bit that Chiyotaikai's right elbow was injured, and doctors even estimated a month of healing time, but tape the sumbitch up and get in the ring. If Asashoryu can play a game of charity soccer with a bad elbow, you can strap on the mawashi and throw your bout with Kaio. But hey, I'm not hired to run the sport; I'm only here to comment on it, and judging by the reaction of the Kyushu crowd when they announced Chiyotaikai's absence and the lack of positive press surrounding the basho afterwards, the first 14 days of Kyushu went to waste. Way to go Sumo Association.
As for Kotomitsuki's henka of Hakuho, I can see the dude working. He was cruising until he was greased by Tokitenku suffering his second loss; he gets Ami-sneakied to another cheap loss; then he gets his ass kicked by Chiyotaikai; and then he sees Chiyotaikai withdraw on the final day handing the yusho to Hakuho. He had to have been thinking "well, I got screwed here, so I'm gonna get me some in the way of a fistful of kensho money" because he beat Hakuho the only way he knows how, which is to step to his left at the tachi-ai and grab the cheap outer grip. I didn't have a huge problem with the move since the yusho was already in the bag, but it just didn't invite any positives afterwards, especially when Hakuho admitted that he probably wasn't into the bout as he should have been since it didn't count for anything. The ending in Kyushu was not as bad as the ending to the Haru basho, but it wasted an opportunity for the Sumo Association to actually enjoy a bit of positive publicity to end a terrible year for them.
Let's review the performances of the rikishi starting with the champion, Yokozuna Hakuho. I was disappointed that Hakuho didn't come out with a bit more desire in Kyushu, but then again, he didn't have to. This trend of losing a bout early each week is a bit disturbing, but it goes back to what I said after the Aki basho: without Asashoryu around, Hakuho doesn't have to raise his game. I was encouraged when after losing to Ama, Hakuho began using his tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai. Kumagatani-oyakata needs to point that out to the Yokozuna and make sure he sets things up with the push attack from day 1 in Hatsu. It also says something about a rikishi who can come from behind and take the yusho, especially when he trails at any point in week 2. Hakuho has done it twice in a row now, and it's no coincidence that you never see Ozeki pull off the feat. Also, as Clancy pointed out early on in the basho, there are no "ifs" in sumo. Namely, you can't say that Hakuho wouldn't have won in Kyushu if Asashoryu had been there. Asa wasn't there, and Hakuho did what he had to do to yusho. Had Asa been there, I'm convinced you would have seen Kublai with more focus. You can already read such focus between the lines now when asking Hakuho about the Hatsu basho where Asashoryu will be back. Hakuho is 22 years old and has 5 career yusho. The kid's already great and will force Asashoryu to keep the standard of sumo skyhigh in the next few years. Let's only hope that the press and Japanese public can accept this instead of further trying to tear one of the Mongolians down.
Let's move onto Ozeki Kotomitsuki, who had a solid basho. You could tell that Mitsuki was half a step slow, though, by analyzing his two big losses. Both were to tsuppari guys in Ama and Chiyotaikai who jumped on top of him from the tachi-ai and had him out in mere seconds. Kotomitsuki normally bests Chiyotaikai and Ama, but the ankle injury and gallstones had to have slowed this guy down in Kyushu. His giving up the sneaky uwate to Aminishiki was also likely a result of his wounds, but he can't complain about Aminishiki's tachi-ai...Kotomitsuki implements them all the time. The loss to Tokitenku doesn't count nor does the gift to Kaio, so for all intents and purposes, Kotomitsuki's performance can be pro-rated to about a 12-win basho. Let's hope that Asashoryu's return doesn't break his will because Kotomitsuki will the key from the Ozeki ranks to keeping sumo exciting in 2008.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai had a fantastic basho in his terms. I've already said my peace regarding his senshuraku act, so let's focus on the first 14 days. As Martin hinted in his day 14 report, Chiyotaikai gave us his best this basho, but his best just wasn't good enough to take the yusho. It's just a hard reality that hopefully Chiyotaikai doesn't let get him down. The bright spot of course for Chiyotaikai in Kyushu was his constant forward moving sumo. When was the last time none of Chiyotaikai's wins were by hataki-komi? We can't ask any more than that from the Ozeki, and how sweet was that win over Baruto? I've said it once, and I'll keep saying it, but Chiyotaikai gets it in terms of protecting the turf of the top rikishi. His inspired performances against Baruto this basho and Goeido last basho is what old-school sumo is all about. And, for the first time in a long time, I think all of us talkers were actually sorta rooting for Chiyotaikai as we watched the basho progress. Yeah, he takes a lot of crap from us, but he demanded our respect in Kyushu the first fourteen days. He's still a valuable presence in sumo.
There's not much to say about Ozeki Kotooshu. He seemed extremely positive shortly after dislocating his right knee about 10 days before the basho started. He said that he'd be practicing with sekitori again in days, but it just didn't happen. Kotooshu didn't have a chance in Kyushu due to the injury, and it was evident early. We can only hope that he has his strength back in January because he'll have two Yokozuna to deal with and a feisty jo'i again with Ama, Kisenosato, and Toyonoshima, rikishi who give him trouble. It was the right move for Kotooshu to withdraw to give that knee rest.
I've already given my thoughts on Ozeki Kaio throughout the basho. Namely, I'm tired of seeing him receive this charity to keep his rank. If Kaio is fine with dropping from Ozeki and prolonging his Makuuchi career, I'm his biggest fan, but what point is he trying to prove to everyone these days? There is not a single person who watches sumo that actually thinks Kaio is doing all of this on his own. Even the biased fans in Kyushu know what's going on. When I said on day 13 that Kotomitsuki would throw his bout against Kaio the next day, it wasn't even a prediction. Making that statement was akin to saying "the sun's gonna rise in the East tomorrow morning...just watch." And this is not belittling Kaio nor detracting from his storied career. I'm just saying that no one is fooled by any of this, so what's the point? We'll see if Kaio lasts even five days in Hatsu.
The Sekiwake this basho were garbage. And was anybody surprised that Aminishiki snuck his way to eight wins? That was nearly as predictable as some of Kaio's bouts. Aminishiki's evasive sumo is not something anyone wants to see from the Sekiwake rank. Counterpart Asasekiryu was just too soft this basho. He constantly gave up position from the tachi-ai and was lucky to win even three bouts in my opinion.
The Komusubi were key once again in Kyushu. What can you say about Ama? The dude has racked up 20 wins over the last two basho from the rank and has a better record against the Yokozuna and Ozeki than anyone else over that span. The only problem? He loses too often to rikishi ranked below him or rikishi he should beat. If only he could have that loss to Asasekiryu back, and if only he wasn't jobbed in his bout against Chiyotaikai...he'd have 12 wins and would be a strong Ozeki candidate in Hatsu needing only 11 wins. 13-2 in January is too much to ask at this point. Ama's gotta realize that he doesn't have to push for 13 wins in Hatsu. Shoot for 11 and then maybe go for 12 in Haru. Get those tough-luck bouts back over the next few tournaments, and 33 wins over three basho is a reality. Regardless, Ama is the last person that any of the rikishi want to face at this point. His nodowa tachi-ai fueled by the lower body was the best technique employed by anyone this basho. The biggest change for Ama this last half year is his confidence.
Komusubi Kotoshogiku was no slouch either handing Hakuho a day 1 loss and cruising to a 5-3 first week, a great feat for a Komusubi. And all this coming after a supposed bad lower back prior to the basho. Besides that win over Hakuho, the Geeku had great wins over Ama, Kisenosato, and Toyonoshima. Dude deserved his Ginosho, and it's good to see him with a little confidence again.
M1 Homasho just didn't have it this basho. He showed up on senshuraku with his left arm heavily taped, so let's hope that's the reason. From what we know of Homasho so far, he hasn't gone Futenoh on us. See ya around M9 in Hatsu where a healthy Homasho will win 10. Counterpart Miyabiyama didn't impact the basho. For an M1 to do so, he must pick off at least one rikishi ranked Ozeki or higher. He started out 0-5 against that competition, and while his 7-3 run to finish the basho was intriguing, the Sheriff's gotta impose his will early on. He'll get that chance again in January.
Where the M1's didn't succeed in Kyushu, the M2's did. Kisenosato had a great basho, especially when you look at the rikishi who beat him: Kotomitsuki, Chiyotaikai, Hakuho, Dejima, Kotoshogiku, Ama. Everyone one of those rikishi except for Kotoshogiku were yusho contenders, and everyone of those rikishi except for Kotoshogiku posted 10 or more wins. Unlike Ama, Kisenosato beat the guys whom he should regularly beat, and unlike Miyabiyama, Kisenosato padded his performance with wins over two Ozeki. what's even better is that you look at the list of his kimari-te...everyone win except for one (oshi-dashi) was by yori-kiri. You can't ask for more than that from Kisenosato, and let's hope for a similar performance from the M1 rank in January. Yes, the M1 rank because counterpart Dejima will leap over the Kid into the vacant Komusubi slot after his 10-5 outing in Kyushu. It was Dejima who handed Chiyotaikai his crushing first loss after having carved two other Ozeki scalps earlier in week one. In fact, you go down the list of rikishi that Dejima lost to and it's just as impressive as Kisenosato's: Kotomitsuki, Hakuho, Ama, Baruto, Toyonoshima. The only problem for Dejima (and the reason why he can never realistically yusho again) is that his sumo is one dimensional, so guys on their toes like Kotomitsuki and Ama can stick and evade to gain the advantage. Then bigger guys like Hakuho and Baruto can actually absorb Dejima's tachi-ai and turn the tables. And finally, a tactician like Toyonoshima who knows exactly what's coming will find a way around it. But let's keep it positive. Dejima rocked in Kyushu, and sumo could sure use his presence in the sanyaku for the next year if he continues to fight with such spirit.
After showing a glimmer of hope in September, M3 Kakuryu had his ass handed to him in Kyushu...literally. The Kak just could not gain any advantages at the tachi-ai against the high caliber rikishi we saw on the Kyushu banzuke. To his credit, he did try and dig in more instead of going Aminishiki on his opponents, and in the long run, that's gonna ultimately be to his advantage. He's learnin' how to fight. I wish I could say the same about counterpart Tokitenku. We should take a vote: who did you want to kick in the jewels more this basho...Tokitenku or Roho? Both dudes are despicable. The lowlight of Tokitenku's basho came on three straight days when he henka'd three Ozeki in a row. Two of 'em were atop the leaderboard when he did it, and the other one was Kaio. Then, what was worse for us who watch the live feed, we had to bear three consecutive interviews and watch his smug face as he tried to worm his way out of his actions. I actually think a lot of it was taking one for team Mongolia and assisting Hakuho in the yusho race, and if that's the case, then the Sumo Association is going to have to work out that problem. Regardless, you cannot call what Tokitenku is doing on the dohyo "sumo" these days. Take away those three lube-jobs of the Ozeki, and four of his remaining six wins were by pull/slap down techniques. And the thing that's frustrating is he had a great yori-kiri win over Kotoshogiku. Tokitenku has skills, he's just resigned himself to wuss sumo of late. Makes my blood curdle to even think about him, so let's move on.
While I'll put an end to the rumours now and say, yes, I am in love with Goeido, M4 Toyonoshima is a close second (I like my men short). I just enjoy great tacticians in the ring...among other places...and then when you have a guy who is smaller than all of the competition, watching him work his craft as Toyonoshima does makes me light up everytime afterwards. Kotoshogiku was awarded the Technical Merit prize this basho due to his win over Hakuho and his rank in the sanyaku, but Toyonoshima is a legitimate candidate for the award every basho. He suffered a stinging loss to Kyokutenho on day 2, but other than that he was solid picking off the likes of Goeido, Ama, and Dejima. The greatest aspect to Toyonoshima's sumo is that despite his size, he attacks straight-on every basho. You just have to admire what he's doing right now in the sport. Counterpart Kyokutenho was as soft this basho as a fine piece of chewing gum. Mmmmm...chewing gum. I don't think there's any question right that Tenho is in it now just for the caish. Watch him do well next basho from lower in the ranks as he plays the Kyokushuzan game of keeping himself in the division for as long as possible collectin' them checks signed by the Association
No comments really on M5 Takekaze. Dude can't handle a strong banzuke. Counterpart Kasugao has the tools to handle a strong banzuke, but there's just gotta be something mentally there that keeps him from rising above the M5 rank. Kasugao is strong as an ox, but I think what happens is the higher rikishi just pick him apart with strong tachi-ai and quick attacks that disallow the Korean from getting into his favored kote-nage position.
M6 Tamanoshima was worthless this basho, even at the the M6 rank. I could spend time breaking his sumo down, or I could try and hurry and get this report posted so we no longer have to see Frank's mug on the front page with his missing chicklets. Onward we go.
Counterpart Goeido was solid this basho. I know, I know, he only finished 8-7 after a slick 6-1 start, but trust me on this kid. And look at some of his losses:
Hokutoriki via tsuki-dashi -- one in a million
Tosanoumi via hataki-komi -- one in a million
Roho via tachi-ai henka -- it'll happen maybe once more, but the problem is Goeido will be out of reach shortly
Miyabiyama via hataki-komi -- prolly won't happen again
Those are called flukes, my friends. We frequently see sophomore rikishi struggle after great debuts, but Goeido overcame it with a kachi-koshi...beating none other than Kotoshogiku to get it. Due to his placement on the banzuke, Goeido missed most of the heavy hitters and had generally weak competition, but the key for the kid right now is to study his opponents. Learn whose gonna henka him...learn whose gonna go for cheap outer grip...study the tendencies of his opponents. If Baruto couldn't make a huge splash when he was first placed among the jo'i, then nobody can, which means Goeido is going to have a tough go of things in January from the M3 rank, but as I've stated several times previously, there's something about him that separates him from the others. As an aside, I'm working on a new theory that applies to Goeido that we'll have to watch over the next few basho. With Ryuo, I said that he couldn't beat an opponent if his bout went more than 8 seconds. With Goeido, it's the opposite. You have to beat Goeido in the first 8 seconds or you won't beat him. Let's see how that plays out. This rikishi is worth all of the bandwidth we spend analyzing him.
What are we gonna do with M7 Toyohibiki? For the second basho in a row now, he's entered day 12 at 7-4 only to lose his last four bouts and suffer a make-koshi. He is so reminiscent of Kisenosato in the Kid's early days when he'd have his opponents on the brink only to find a way to blow the bout in the end. You all know my suggestion for him. And if I could add one more it would be don't go for a pull down under any circumstances. I don't see anything changing for Toyo the Hutt in the near future until he fixes that tachi-ai. Counterpart Tochinonada really had a solid basho even if he did just finish 8-7. He pasted Goeido on day 1, he put Wakanosato's 4-0 start into perspective on day 5, and he bested Toyonoshima on day 14 in one of the better bouts of the basho only to follow that up with an epic contest where he went chest to chest with Baruto falling in the end after two minutes. The Gentle Giant is always welcome on my banzuke because he's an honest fighter that keeps everyone else honest too.
Nothing to say about M8 Wakanosato other than he could start a basho out 13-0, and he still wouldn't be a threat to yusho. Once his fast start earned him better competition the rest of the way, dude only managed a 4-7 mark needing a win over Kasuganishiki on day 13 to avoid an 0-6 finish. Counterpart Takamisakari showed some nad by coming back from injury and a kyujo to win two bouts and keep himself in the division. Nothin' more to say than that.
This was a great basho to determine just where M9 Futenoh stands these days. He finished 6-9 while counterpart Tamakasuga went 8-7. Shame, shame, everyone knows your name dude. How does he let himself be bested by KingTama? If I'm going to take the time to read Japanese stuff on the internet, it won't be Futenoh's blog where he attempts to explain himself. There's no excuse.
There are a couple words in the English language that make me laugh everytime I hear them regardless of the context. "Lube" for example is one of them, and then there's "penetration", "fartknocker", etc. So when it comes to the rikishi, for some reason I always grin when I read M10 Hokutoriki's name. On one hand, he's about as harmless of a foe as you'll ever run into, but then on the other hand, he has this badass quality to him where every two years or so, he'll go on this streak and just look phenomenal. We witnessed a little bit of that in week two where the Jokester left Goeido, Roho, Hakurozan, and Toyohibiki in his wake with a surprisingly potent push attack, but just as soon as we get aroused, someone will henka him back into reality (enter Kokkai and Wakakirin).
Let's skip down to the M12 rank where we find the Bee Rees, or Brothers Ro. How deplorable is Roho? When you look back on it, he actually got off to a decent start. He beat Wakanoho by tsuri-dashi in a good match and then he pounded Yoshikaze, but something must have struck a nerve with him on day 4 when Wakakirin kicked his ass because he was nothing but cheap after that. Here are the kimari-te of his last 8 wins: hiki-otoshi, hiki-otoshi, okuri-dashi, hataki-komi, hiki-otoshi, uwate-nage, hataki-komi, and okuri-dashi. Don't get too excited by that uwate-nage...it was set up after a tachi-ai henka against Goeido. He henka'd a yusho candidate in Baruto, and then henka'd a guy going for kachi-koshi on senshuraku. Fortunately, grandmothers using walkers weren't around or he'da kicked those out from under them. Any kids nearby with candy would have had it stolen from them, and anyone in a wheelchair woulda been pushed down the stairs. The comment of the basho came on day 14 when they showed Roho's info prior to his bout and Fujii Announcer noticed the 8-5 record and proclaimed, "Hmm, the content of Roho's sumo this basho certainly hasn't given the impression of a rikishi with 8 wins already." Good ole Fujii Announcer. Roho is a disgrace to sumo, and I guarantee you that when the NSK scratches their checks to pay these guys, they have the hardest time giving anything to Roho. I mean, sure, there are guys like Hokutoriki who can get pretty cheap sometimes, but Roho actually has game. Remember after he assaulted those two cameramen 18 months ago and came out with a chip on his shoulder? He was among the jo'i and won something like 10 bouts with inspired sumo. This guy has all the tools to be a Sekiwake at worst, yet he mocks the sport with his gimmicks. I'm tired of him and that mess he staples to his head and calls a face. And good riddance to Hakurozan, who at 3-12 will have a tough time succeeding even in Juryo with his pansy sumo.
I was genuinely happy to see M13 Kokkai grab nine wins from this rank. The dude has been surpassed of late by young-up-and-comers, but at least Kokkai is out there trying with honest sumo. It's no coincidence that the double wingspan tsuppari attack that Kokkai implemented daily when he first entered the division as gone by the wayside along with his positioning on the banzuke.
Rookie Wakanoho fits right in there with the other Russian rikishi. Namely, he's strong as an ox with poor sumo skills. I don't care how fast this kid rose up to the division, he showed us nothing in Kyushu to get excited about. He already reminds me of a young Roho. I think the potential is there, but I'm far from impressed at this point and can't comment further until he settles down with his sumo.
Take my first two sentences about Kokkai and paste them here for M14 Kakizoe (9-6). Counterpart Kaiho (6-9) is trying to survive, but it was a lot funner to root for this guy when he wasn't dancing left and right at the tachi-ai.
M15 Tochiohzan is a mess. How does someone with as great of potential as Tochiohzan allow himself to lose by pull down to Otsukasa and Tamakasuga? You look at his losses, and a majority of them to are kachi-koshi rikishi, but the names on the list are guys like Wakakirin, Kokkai, Wakanoho, and Tamakasuga. Are you trying to tell me that those guys are better than Tochiohzan? No way. It's just that Oh is in a serious funk right now and lacks self confidence. His inability to even kachi-koshi this low in the ranks reflects that. Hopefully, the newcomers to Juryo in Tochinoshin and Kimurayama will inspire Tochiohzan to want to be the man of the house again at the Kasugano-beya, but as far as I'm concerned now, Kasugano=soft.
Counterpart Wakakirin like Wakanoho needs to settle down a bit in his sumo before I can get a good read on him. The biggest problem I have is the kid scored 10 wins yet the only one I can recall was his win on day 1 against Tochiohzan. That means I wasn't impressed. Furthermore, a Makuuchi newcomer that gets 10 wins and doesn't win a Kantosho is a rarity. It's an easy call here, though, as the Sumo Association didn't want to award Wakakirin anything for his sumo that contained tachi-ai henka and a lot of evading. My gut reaction to Wakakirin is that he won't make an impact in the division whereas Wakanoho does have that potential with a little coaching.
And finally, M16 Baruto is a breath of fresh air right now. The guy still has horrible sumo basics, but that grin is so infectious, and how great was his bout with Tochinonada on senshuraku, especially after he won when he did that fist pump out of sheer excitement? I know some people frown on that sorta thing taking the old school view that it shows up your opponent, but I disagree. I recall a fist pump or two from Takanohana after a spectacular bout back in the day. Baruto had as solid of a basho as he could've hoped for. Sorry Kakizoe fans, but Baruto's loss to your dude on day 6 was a flat-out fluke. And then even after Roho greased him the day after, Baruto dug in winning his next five that concluded with a pounding of Dejima, a fellow yusho contender to that point. But reality set home hard the next two days when Chiyotaikai and Ama made Baruto look as if he wasn't even standing there. That's the problem. Baruto can throw the rank and filers around like rag dolls, but he needs to work on his speed and tachi-ai if he hopes to even kachi-koshi from the jo'i. He won't quite make it there in January, so expect another 11 wins or so form the M8 rank. Interesting ,though, how we have such a presence in Baruto, but the dude has never graced the sanyaku. Staying low in the ranks and rehabbing that knee is good for the Estonian right now.
Well, that does it for another year of sumo, and what a terrible year it's been. The sumo itself wasn't awful although the rise in tachi-ai henka and evasive sumo is alarming. You watch, someone will rewrite the Old Testament and make the tachi-ai henka one of Pharaoh's plagues. The bigger stories of course occurred off the dohyo with the bout-fixing allegations, the lynching of Tokitaizan, the attempted cover-up by the Sumo Association higher-ups, and oh yeah, did I forget to mention Asashoryu? Dude'll be back tomorrow, so consider this report the opening act.
I'll chime in once more in December with my year in review, but I promise it won't be pretty.
I am sensing a bit of normalcy returning to sumo with the onset of the Kyushu basho, but that doesn't necessarily bring hope for a good tournament. I mean just look at the jo'i rikishi who will be participating:
Hakuho - unparalleled
Kotomitsuki - sprained ankle, gallstones, little practice with sekitori
Kotooshu - dislocated knee, little practice with sekitori
Kaio - bad left leg, no practice with sekitori
Chiyotaikai - Chiyotaikai
Aminishiki - fast start last basho put into perspective down the stretch
Asasekiryu - not powerful enough to win more than 10
Ama - not powerful enough to win more than 11
Kotoshogiku - bad lower back; thrashed by Baruto pre-basho
Homasho, Miyabiyama - one on his way up; one on his way down; but neither can impact a basho right now
And on and on. Besides Hakuho, the only rikishi who has a snowball's chance at taking the yusho is Baruto, but the last time he was among the dregs of Makuuchi, Tosanoumi roughed him up on day 1 and sent him back down to Juryo. At the end of the Aki basho, I said to go ahead and pencil in Hakuho already as the yusho rikishi in Kyushu, but that was before we even knew what sorry shape the jo'i would be in. I will be shocked if Kyushu generates even a glimmer of excitement the entire fortnight.
Starting at the top, the news surrounding Hakuho is that he hasn't done any de-geiko and is staying at home to practice with Juryo rikishi. I don't really see the problem. He can't go to the Sadogatake-beya as their three Makuuchi rikishi are nursing injuries; he can't visit Kaio; and Chiyotaikai turned him down due to a cold. Then you have the two Ajigawa boys, Aminishiki and Ama. Hakuho used to practice with these two all the time, but I think he's taking the stance that Asashoryu took with Hakuho once he became a threat: why practice with them and make them better? It's like trading away a star player in team sports. Do it if you have to, but trade him to a team as far away as possible. With none of the Ozeki able to practice against sekitori at the moment, there's certainly no reason to think that it's hurting Hakuho to just stay home and pound on Juryo rikishi. Hakuho has entertained Juryo newcomer, Sagatsukasa, the last few days, a rikishi who stands only 167 cm. At first you wonder what's the point, but Hakuho stated that he was burned by Toyonoshima last basho, so he wants to be ready this time around and prepare for the type of sumo a short rikishi will bring. Hakuho's covering his bases, and he knows what he's doing. With everyone further weakened around him, I don't see him losing a bout until 2008. Not only will he go 15-0, but I wouldn't be surprised if he bested the jo'i rikishi by at least five wins this basho.
Look at counterpart Yokozuna Asashoryu running free in Mongolia and doing whatever he wants. Is it me, or did I miss the press conference where Asashoryu's doctors declared him over his bout of depression...or acute whatever the hell it was. It thrills me to no end to see how the Yokozuna played the Sumo Association once they banned him from sumo for four months. Before the Tokitaizan thing blew up, the higher-ups in the Association were saying things like "if he's seen in public, he's out for good" or "if he goes out drinking, he's done". Now, however, Asashoryu is the one that's saying, "I tweaked my ankle, I need another month" and "I'm not coming back until I'm in fighting shape again; see you in December", and the Association's reaction is "OK". Clancy put it best in a conversation I had with him when he said that the Sumo Association has been "declawed".
Asashoryu deserves the free time though, and neither the press nor the Sumo Association can say anything about it because they opted to unjustly pile on the Yokozuna in the month of August instead of going OJ Simpson and looking for the real killers in the Tokitaizan slaying, even when both parties knew the details surrounding the kid's death. In fact, I know of only one person who was vehemently defending Asashoryu back in August while saying how appalled he was at "the fact that a 17 year old boy is slaughtered yet the Sumo Association makes no formal apology nor takes any responsibility, and the media and public at large don't demand answers nor give the manslaughter incident a tenth of the press that they [gave] Asashoryu's punishment." To everyone on the chat boards and forums who derided me for that stance back then, apology accepted. And to the Sumo Association, that was one of the weakest cover-up attempts I have ever seen. Oh yeah, and it was also criminal. On one hand, I say to myself, how are some of these guys not behind bars yet? But on the other hand, I have to remind myself of the oxymoron that is the "Japanese criminal justice system". Lacking hinkaku? How dare anyone say that Asashoryu lacks dignity in light of the Tokitaizan lynching and attempted cover-up? The Yokozuna has been exonerated, and I cannot wait for his triumphant return in January. In fact, I think I'm more excited than Roscoe P. Coltraine just before he was about to cuff and stuff the Duke boys. Coo, coo, coo.
Let's move onto the Ozeki, who are collectively in as good a shape right now as Konishiki running stairs. Kotomitsuki has taken his rightful place as the third best rikishi in sumo, but that's not saying much. This would be a great time for the Ozeki to break off one of his 13-2 runs, but he's only allowed to do that once every 8 basho or so not to mention that timebomb (gallstones) he has ticking in his gut, his sprained ankle, and his controlled diet which has the Ozeki admitting that his strength is down. Still, Kotomitsuki is one of those rikishi who seems better when the chips are down, so I see him hovering around 10 wins, which is probably good enough to earn him second best among the jo'i behind Hakuho.
If any of the Ozeki bests Kotomitsuki's effort, it will be Chiyotaikai, but the problem this basho is that there ain't a pushover on the banzuke until you get down to Tamanoshima at M6. I expect Chiyotaikai's usual bad finish, so if he doesn't jump out to an 8-2 start, he won't win 10. I'll give him another 9-6.
The last thing Kotooshu needed after that 8-7 debacle in September was a dislocated knee to worry about. Shortly after the accident, things looked positive with Kotooshu saying he'd be ready to bump chests with sekitori in a few days, but I've yet to read a keiko report stating that he actually did. You've got the mental struggles with this guy, you now have the added worries with the knee, and you have an Ozeki who is out of practice. I think Kotooshu will be a step slow in Kyushu and struggle to kachi-koshi. I think he gets it in the end, but he doesn't reach double-digits.
And finally, there's Ozeki Kaio who is still in such bad shape that he can't practice with sekitori prior to the basho. To further the problem, there isn't a string of softies that the Association can give him those first few days to help pad his record. Can anyone say Kaio - Kakuryu on day 1? Kaio is in deep trouble and will surely retire before the fifteen days are through.
Our Sekiwake ranks haven't changed, and like last basho, I don't expect either of them to impact the tournament. Aminishiki used some cheap tactics and some luck to jump out to that 8-0 start two months ago, but it doesn't happen this basho. Due to the ailing Ozeki and his experience, I think Ami captures 9 wins. Asasekiryu managed to keep himself at the rank last basho due to the weak banzuke, but it'll be tougher in Kyushu. Of the top 16 rikishi, Seki is no doubt near the bottom of the pile, so I see him dropping his rank for January. 7-8.
Komusubi Ama should be hot again this basho. He has the confidence coming off of his performance in Aki, and he's got even weaker Ozeki this time around. I don't see Hakuho allowing himself to get burned this basho by Ama, but the smaller Mongolian is one of the few jo'i rikishi who can provide a spark. Ama flirts with 10-11 wins, and dare I say becomes the favorite to replace Kaio in the Ozeki ranks over the next few years.
Counterpart Kotoshogiku had a fine basho in September, but reports have him nursing a sore lower back in Kyushu. A healthy Kotoshogiku should be able to hold his own against Baruto in the keiko ring, but the Estonian has been dominating their sessions of late. This entire year, Kotoshogiku has struggled to put together a good performance, so I see his injury bothering him to the point where he can't keep his sanyaku rank come Hatsu. 7 wins.
Moving to the Maegashira ranks, Homasho checks in at E1. After an 8-7 performance from the M1 West rank in September, the question was would Homasho finally be promoted to the sanyaku. That hinged on the Association's placement of Ama who deserved the Sekiwake rank with his 10-5 performance. Ama was obviously denied the promotion, but I wonder how much of that had to do with the fact that the Association didn't want to award the Komusubi rank to Homasho after such an average performance. I've had my eye on Homasho for 3 years now, and there isn't a bigger fan of this guy than me, but I think a rikishi should be awarded his first sanyaku rank only after a brilliant performance from the jo'i...not a kachi-koshi that was largely obtained because Asashoryu was absent. So while it sucked for Ama, I have no problem with the lateral promotion of Homasho over to the East slot. Make the kid earn it. I haven't read any keiko reports touching on Homasho, but I think he gets 8 again based on heart alone. If he can rough up the Ozeki--as he should this basho--Homasho could reach as high as 10 wins.
I'd love to see an inspired basho from counterpart Miyabiyama, but I just don't think the Sheriff has it in him. Still, if he can somehow get off to a good start, he may realize the potential he has to do some damage this basho. The Sheriff from 18 months ago would challenge Hakuho for the yusho with the current state of the rikishi, so it's a matter of Miyabiyama digging down mentally and bringing the lumbering tsuppari every bout. I see a kachi-koshi in the stars for him.
I'm tired of getting excited for M2 Kisenosato and thinking "this is the basho where he re-establishes himself". If he couldn't kachi-koshi last basho (he finished 6-9) with that weak banzuke, what's he gonna do this time around? He may be able to capitalize early on some wins over Ozeki that could give him some energy and confidence, but I see another frustrating 8-7 performance. Counterpart Dejima will surprise a few rikishi who forget the punch he packs, but I see this former Ozeki getting worked for the most part by the younger, quicker crowd. Six wins in the end.
You gotta hand it to M3 Kakuryu for keeping himself among the jo'i this early in his Makuuchi career. Martin rode the kid early saying he couldn't win moving forward, and I quickly jumped on the bandwagon and had a bit of fun with it too, but I'm afraid to say that Kakuryu is turning himself into a legitimate, Makuuchi rikishi with some staying power. The difference with MOST of these Mongolian rikishi is that they're hungry, so despite Kakuryu's size, he's going to give the jo'i fits this basho, and I see him flirting with a kachi-koshi. The reason I said most Mongolians are hungry is because counterpart Tokitenku is not. Tenku is a lot like Kotooshu...a big body with tons of ability, but a rikishi who can't trust his skill and sumo basics the full fifteen days. Sure, I think Tokitenku will win eight, but I don't see him doing it with stellar sumo. Expect the usual henka and pull sumo this basho as this rikishi continues to unimpress.
M4 is the compelling rank this basho that rounds out the jo'i. At M4 you have the dangerous Toyonoshima who has proven the last two basho that he can pick off anyone on the banzuke. Normally, I would say watch out with this guy, but you have to wonder just how much shame is going to play a role with the Tokitsukaze guys this basho. I think a great debating point is how much responsibility the sekitori from the stable should take in the lynching of Tokitaizan. The sekitori weren't present when the kid was brutally killed over the two days, but they had to have at least known something. I found it interesting on the first day of keiko prior to the Kyushu basho that there was this pall surrounding the stable as the rikishi tried to get into practice. Why wasn't that same feeling there prior to Aki? The reason is because no one had been exposed yet. Normally I would say Toyonoshima would win around 9 on this banzuke, but I think he's going to lack some energy this basho and finish a few wins short of that.
Counterpart Kyokutenho is back where he belongs on the banzuke, and with the crop of wounded Ozeki, I expect Tenho to shine in Kyushu. I see him flirting with double digit wins as his stubborn yotsu zumo will be too good for his peers.
I like Takekaze in the M5 slot as long as he doesn't just role over as he did a few basho ago. He'll get the three Sadogatake boys, so that will be a good indication of his fighting spirit. I see him winning 7 or 8. I also really like perennial underachiever Kasugao this high in the ranks. This dude is a mule in a yotsu-zumo bout; the problem is he's too lazy from the tachi-ai to force belt sumo every time. Kenji commented in Aki that Kasugao was the most improved rikishi in the division, and I agreed with him. Let's hope that Kasugao brings some determination this basho because he can't be bullied around even at this level when he chooses to take a stand. I say 8-9 wins.
As I hinted earlier, I think M6 Tamanoshima is the first weak link in the banzuke. Not that the dude can't win 10 from way down low, but at this level and in his current physical condition, I think Tama's a pushover in Kyushu. I expect 5 wins.
Counterpart Goeido is anything but a pushover, and at the M6 rank, he could be exempt from fighting the top rikishi, which would translate into a similar performance that he had in September. I don't see Goeido getting off to that terrific start just because he's a marked rikishi now, but I see him consistently fighting at a pace where he wins 2 bouts to every loss meaning he'll end up with 10 wins. It will be interesting to see if the Association pairs him with any of the Sadogatake fish because I think he'll give 'em all trouble. What has impressed me about Goeido more than any other rookie who shined in his debut is that Goeido wasn't intimidated when in the final days of the basho he was thrown onto the big stage. He got his ass kicked, sure, but he wasn't intimidated. The kid's also as intense as they come. You can see it in his interviews, and you can just see it in the way he approaches sumo beginning with keiko. If a Japanese rikishi manages to reach Yokozuna in the next 10 years, it's Goeido. I don't see Goeido's name as one of the basho leaders heading into week two simply because of the difference in ability this high up the ranks, but I see a solid rikishi who should push his way into the sanyaku by summer of next year.
Goeido's stablemate, Toyohibiki, checks in at M7, and I think this guy has so much potential, but it doesn't seem to me that he's coached very well. You know how I feel about his tachi-ai where he starts two steps back. Rather than that gimmick, I think he should focus on a balanced oshi/yotsu attack. Pushing is his strong point now, but he could be deadly with even Musashimaru-like belt skills. I see him hovering around 7 or 8 wins again. Counterpart Tochinonada is in a great spot on the banzuke for him, and I see him contributing to some solid action the entire basho during the mid-Maegashira bouts. Give the gentle giant a kachi-koshi.
Wakanosato checks in at M8, but considering the number of quality rikishi above him, I think he slides even further in Kyushu. 6 wins. Counterpart Takamisakari is in the same boat. It'll just depend on how charitable the Association is in forming the matchups for these two veterans. Too little breathing room for the cop. 5-10.
Now we get to the cushy part of the mid-Maegashira where M9's Tamakasuga and Futenoh and M10's Hokutoriki and Yoshikaze are going to have to fight it out amongst themselves for a handful of wins. I don't see these guys having any sort of success, and I'd be surprised if any won more than 6.
Lump M11 Tosanoumi into that same group. The goin's too tough when you look at the Eastern European onslaught just below him. Counterpart ---------------------------- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------. And that's all I have to say about that.
The Bee Ree's check in at M12 with Roho in the East and Hakurozan in the West. Hakurozan has actually shown a glimmer of hope the last two basho, but he's still just hangin' around for that paycheck. Roho is too, but the difference is Roho has the ability to make it as high as Sekiwake, but he just dials the sumo in these days. 8 wins for Roho and 6 wins for Hakurozan.
It's good to see that M13 Kokkai is already preparing for life after sumo, what with his slow descent down the ranks and all. If you haven't heard, the dude is planning to open his own bikini waxing shop. The method he uses is to spread hot glue on the side of face, press it firmly to the woman's...well, you get the idea. Let me just say that triangular patches of black hair don't belong on the side of a dude's face. Kokkai's got some tough competition around him, so he HAS to wallop the softies like Kakizoe, Kaiho, Wakakirin, Kasuganishiki, Hokutoriki, etc. if he hopes to kachi-koshi. I think he gets 8. Counterpart Wakanoho is one of our Makuuchi rookies this basho. The dude hails from Russia, is just 19, and has reached the division the sixth fastest all time. To be honest, I have hardly seen any of his matches, but word his, he's all over the place with his sumo relying quite a bit on the henka. Since most rookies seem to do well in their debuts, I'll give him 9 wins, but stay tuned for more analysis on his sumo.
No comment on M14's Kakizoe and Kaiho other than to say Zoe has a shot at kachi-koshi while Kaiho doesn't
Tochiohzan should be embarrassed to be sitting at M15. Last basho at a rank higher, dude started out 7-3 only to lose his last five. It goes back to the intensity thing I was talking about with Goeido. Goeido has it for sure; Tochiohzan hasn't shown much. I really don't know what to think about this kid. I'm gonna give him the bendoubt for now and say he clean up on the Eastern Europeans on his way to a promising 11 wins. His counterpart, Wakakirin, is our other Makuuchi newcomer, and I have never seen him fight and I haven't read hardly anything about him in the press. I'll save the bulk of my comments on him for day 3 and only mention that as much as I love Oguruma-oyakata, the rikishi that come out of his stable aren't known for their toughness.
And finally, good ole Baruto is back at M16, a rank that he will kill from if he can keep his knee in shape. Here is your jun-yusho rikishi if he finishes the full two weeks. Baruto in Juryo equals 13 boring yori-kiri wins and maybe two exciting bouts, and M16 equals Juryo type competition, so if I remember my geometry postulates correctly, Baruto at M16 = 13 boring yori-kiri wins and a few exciting bouts to boot. Baruto goes 13-2 if he can stay healthy. While I generally frown on low Maegashira rikishi threatening for the yusho due to their weak competition, Baruto is so happy go lucky that I won't mind seeing his face around if it comes to that.
You can deduct from my report that I think Hakuho will go 15-0, Baruto will win 12 or 13, and everyone else will battle for mediocrity. I hope I'm wrong on that last part about mediocrity, but I don't see how it will be different. Here are my predictions:
Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)