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2008 Kyushu Basho
Post-basho Report | Pre-basho report Meet Japanese girls here.
Rusty pocket knife, Japanese politician speech, church sermon, two-month old razor, MLS soccer, paint drying, NHK Educational channel, Kyushu basho, and reader who can't associate these items. Fukuokans aren't known for packing the Kokusai Center even in a good year, but after the Sumo Associaiton continued to shoot itself in the foot in 2008 and after Asashoryu's no-show became apparent, this tournament had lost its luster during pre-basho keiko. To make matters worse, on day 12 when it became clear that Hakuho and Ama were working together, any final speck of suspense had been removed from the basho. In fact, for the first time ever, I didn't watch the senshuraku bouts first thing before updating the site and posting the comments for that day. I didn't need to watch 'em. I already knew how everything would unfold.
I understand that yaocho is a sensitive topic for many because no one wants to think that something is going on before their very eyes that they can't discern, and people may feel betrayed if the sport they're watching is not 100% clean, but to deny the fact that rikishi collaborate with each other is simply foolish. The key to remember is that the Sumo Association is not scripting anything, but rikishi have scratched each other's backs from the beginning and will always do so despite what Wakanoho says...or doesn't say depending on who's paying him.
And as long as we're on the subject of Wakanoho, his recent press conference actually confirms that yaocho exists, and that he knows it does even though he denied it. In his written statement he said that three oyakata who wanted to clean up the sport sent a Mr. X to approach Wakanoho to make some yaocho claims in exchange for money. If yaocho didn't exist in sumo and Wakanoho had no knowledge of it to begin with, exactly what in the sport needed to be cleaned up then that Wakanoho could assist them with? If Wakanoho actually thought there was a chance he'd be reinstated within a week, then he'd have to expose something in sumo that the elders desperately want to keep quiet. Something he knew existed or why take the chance?
It's like someone approaching me and saying "we'll give you 2.5 million yen in exchange for photos of Clancy in bed with his gay lover." If Clancy isn't gay to begin with, what's the point of that bribe? Now, if you want to pay me for photos of Clancy in bed with those two sisters who always bug us at the hotel under the guise of wanting to learn English...you have my email address. I've got a long flight to Dublin coming up in about 10 days, so that will give me the chance to churn out my next blog entry, which will be aptly titled "The Final Word on Yaocho."
And as long as we're on the subject, the following bouts were yaocho during the Kyushu basho, and you were warned about them:
|| Martin went public well before the bout on several sumo forums and prophesied the yaocho. While I agreed that Martin's argument was plausible at the time, I didn't think Hakuho would buy into it. I was wrong and props to Martin
Mike's Day 12 report: "I don't think Kotomitsuki cares about the yusho at this point, and if he does give Chiyo the win tomorrow, the Pup is guaranteed to return the favor by losing to stablemate Kotooshu."
Mike's Day 12 report: "With the loss, Hakuho is still tied for the lead with Ama, but he owns the tie-breaker (Ama returning the favor in a playoff if it comes to that)"
And if you're wondering about the red flags in the yusho kettei-sen, Clancy pointed one out in his senshuraku comments saying the bout went WAY longer than we're used to seeing from these two. Id' say...it went about 30 seconds longer than any previous bout between them. Also, consider the number of successful maki-kae attempts where neither rikishi went for a move straightway after getting it. The point of a maki-kae is to secure the
advantageous position and charge before your opponent can adjust, not get the maki-kae and stand around a bit longer.
NostraMartin had the stones to publicly call the Hakuho - Ama fix before it evened happened, but he erred in his day 14 report by suggesting that Ama would lose to Baruto. Ama couldn't afford to lose that bout on purpose because that would have kept him at 12 wins, a number that might have earned him promotion, but a mark that would have
invited controversy as I said in my pre-basho report. The whole reason that Hakuho and Ama collaborated was to give Ama the best shot possible at ending with 13 wins. Ama didn't care about the yusho; the 13 wins and participation in the playoff bout for the yusho were credentials that could not be
denied. That's what he wanted, and that's what he got.
But enough talk of bout fixing as we saw no more of it in Kyushu than we see in any other basho. I just thought I'd start with it because there wasn't much else to talk about. Let's turn our attention to the rikishi now starting with Yokozuna Hakuho who picked up his fourth yusho of the year and third straight.
Hakuho's basho got off to a horrible start thanks to a day 1 loss at the hands of Aminishiki. Not only is losing to Aminishiki in a straight-up affair embarrassing, but Hakuho showed poor effort in the bout and only began to counter when his face was a few centimeters from the dohyo. Following the loss to Sneaky, Hakuho was a bit unsure of himself the next few days showing poor footwork and rushed tachi-ai that were the result of his half-assed preparation heading into the basho, but
thankfully those bouts came against the likes of Futenoh, Wakanosato, and Hokutoriki because by his day 6 bout against Kotoshogiku, he had reopened his can of whoopass cruising the rest of the way. Hakuho is actually in a rut. He's so far above the rest of the field that he can yusho at will, but without a healthy Asashoryu, there is nobody to push him to be better or even to keep him in peak form. Ama could force that hand here in the next year, but Hakuho can't go 15-0 again unless he knows he has competition starting on day 1...as strange as that may sound.
Let's move onto the jun-yusho rikishi hAruMAfuji. Like Hakuho, Ama wasn't exactly on top of his game in Kyushu, but he didn't need to be for the same reason as Hakuho. Simply put, Ama is the number three guy in sumo right now, he knows it, and he knows there's a big enough gap between him and number four that he can recover from a 2-2 start and run the table the rest of the way. What's scary about Ama the last few basho is he has had to rely less and less on his incredible technique to get himself out of trouble. You look at his 13 winning kimari-te and they are all run of the mill forward moving techniques characteristic of a Yokozuna. His two oshi-dashi wins over behemoths Miyabiyama and Baruto at the end of the basho show that he knows exactly who he's fighting each day and how to beat them. I guess you could also apply that to Kotomitsuki. Knowing he can't beat him in a gappuri yotsu contest, he beats him with speed. Chiyotaikai? He lunges straight into the slower Ozeki at the tachi-ai and forces him out before the Pup can fire off a single thrust. We've seen some spectacular comebacks from Ama over the years, but he hasn't needed them of late, which tells you just how potent he will be in the short-term.
Ama, the hardest working guy in sumo, has arrived. Do I have a problem with his collaboration with Hakuho? Not a bit. Ama's the number three guy, and I could even argue that he's the number two guy, so why shouldn't he be ranked at Ozeki? My expectation of an Ozeki is that at least once a year he
re-qualify for the rank by winning 33 bouts over three basho. None of the other four clowns can do it, but Ama can and will. I have a bigger problem with guys like Chiyotaikai, Kaio, and Kotooshu trading wins down the stretch basho after basho to keep themselves in a rank they don't deserve. Ama adds a new element to sumo because he is the next legitimate threat to steal the yusho away from the Khan.
Speaking of the current Ozeki, let's climb back up the ranks and get 'em out of the way. Kotomitsuki hasn't been the same since the death of Kotozakura. There's no one at the Sadogatake-beya to ride his ass the way the Boar once did, and it's shown. It also doesn't help that he's 32 and slowing down. Kotomitsuki had two wins over kachi-koshi rikishi: Aminishiki and Baruto. The days are gone of Kotomitsuki threatening for the yusho.
Ozeki Kaio is in deep trouble. At 36 he cannot recover from a serious leg injury in just two months. His only contribution in Kyushu was to ruin Goeido's basho with his patented Kaio-nage throw of the Komusubi on day 2.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai had a decent basho. Yeah, I know he needed help to pick up his eight, but he didn't lose to a single make-koshi rikishi. Furthermore, all of his wins were by either oshi-dashi or tsuki-dashi save the hataki-komi gift from Kotomitsuki. You can't ask more than that. Problem is...the Ozeki took full advantage of a weak banzuke. Won't happen in January. Like Kaio, he's in trouble next month.
Rounding out the Ozeki, Kotooshu was pathetic yet again. His resume was basically the same as Chiyotaikai's, but there are a few differences: he's a helluva lot younger than the Pup, and he has the ultimate sumo body. I can't remember seeing worse tachi-ai day in and day out from a single rikishi, and that includes Kimurayama. At least Kimurayama has a plan each bout and sticks to it. Kotooshu's tachi-ai were painful to watch. He aligned his feet everyday, he never lunged forward, and he looked lost out there. You go back to his yusho in May where he went forward hard in every bout until he henka'd Kisenosato on day 7 and Hakuho in week 2. The rest of the year, however, he has been horrible. It's red flags such as these that lead me to believe he bought that yusho. If you know your opponent is going to lose to you, you have no problem charging straightforward. Anywho...
Sekiwake Baruto had a solid basho. It was nothing flashy, and his 1-4 finish was a bit disappointing, but his 9-6 record was good enough for a tie for fourth place among the jo'i rikishi. Baruto improved this basho by beating two of the three Ozeki, and other than that fluke day 1 loss to Hokutoriki, his other losses were to rikishi who had nine wins or more. Baruto's results are perfectly indicative of where he's at in sumo right now. He's good enough to take advantage of an average banzuke; he's started to dominate the Ozeki whose shikona don't rhyme with
hockemaloogie; but he's not quite to the point where he can consistently score upset wins. Still, I love Baruto in the Sekiwake ranks because you know nobody wants to face this guy.
In the Komusubi ranks, Goeido simply stunk, but we've seen more than our share of rikishi who were on the wrong end of a Kaio kote-nage
throw never to recover for the rest of the tournament. Goeido's sumo is to charge hard and low, latch onto the front of his opponent's belt, and then lift up as he mounts a force out charge. With no left arm to work with, no wonder he started out 1-9 with that lone win coming against Ama. Go figure. Actually, the win over Ama was proof of just how good Goeido's tachi-ai is. If anyone needs to storm a castle in the next few months, you've got yourself a walking battle ram in this Komusubi. In my pre-basho report, I talked about how Goeido needs to learn how to win. His bouts against Aminishiki and Hakuho in particular were perfect examples. He had both rikishi on the ropes only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Thanks to the bad competition a Komusubi faces in week 2, Goeido was sorta able to salvage things finishing up 5-10. The beauty in that is he'll only drop to M3 or so for Hatsu, which means he'll fight among the jo'i again. With a healthy left elbow and a sparring partner in Asashoryu, damn well bet Goeido will be back soon.
Counterpart Aminishiki had his typical basho oiling his way around the dohyo and using timely henka to his advantage. The strange thing about Sneaky's tournament is he had the most marquee wins of anyone yet he lost to guys like Wakanosato, Futenoh, and Tochinoshin. Regardless, he is your West Sekiwake come January, and like Baruto, he should make most of the jo'i sweat when they face him. I only wish it was for the right reasons.
Let's drop to the Maegashira ranks where we see Toyonoshima leading the way in rank and in performance. His overall tournament was overlooked a bit due to his 5-3 start that allowed other pretenders to dominate the early headlines, but he pasted all four Ozeki, he gave Hakuho his usual scare, and then he dominated Dejima, who was in the lead, on day 7. Toyonoshima did all of this in the first week of the basho, and then he took care of business in week 2 cleaning up the scrubs as he should. His only losses came to kachi-koshi rikishi who had solid basho themselves. You can't say enough about a guy like Toyonoshima who has a terrible sumo body but works his ass off basho in and basho out. If Kisenosato is able to jump the Geeku into that final Komusubi slot for January, your sanyaku will look like this
Toyonoshima Komusubi Kisenosato
Ain't a slouch in that bunch, and the Yokozuna/Ozeki who don't hail from Mongolia are in deep trouble. Counterpart Futenoh actually did well to finish at 5-10 from the other M1 slot. Just shows how weak the banzuke was this time around.
I loved Wakanosato in the M2 slot, and while his 6-9 finish doesn't look great, he had a good basho. He led off the basho with three straight wins against Ozeki, and then he kept other good rikishi honest like Aminishiki and Goeido. The Crocodile dropped a few no-nos to guys like Futenoh, Hokutoriki, and Takekaze, which led to his make-koshi, but this guy has some great sumo left in him. It's unlikely with the current crop that will occupy the sanyaku in January that Wakanosato can also break into the mix, but he should hang around the jo'i for the next year or so. Gotta love this guy in this position on the banzuke because he can still beat anybody.
I was genuinely glad to see M3 Kotoshogiku post a winning record. On paper, his loss to Goeido may look bad, but it isn't. Then you look at the remainder of his losses and they were all to sanyaku and above rikishi except for Miyabiyama...who was no slouch himself in Kyushu. I can't help but to bring it up again, but the Sadogatake-beya lost it's toughness with the demise of Kotozakura. You can see it in all three Makuuchi rikishi. A new Sadogatake-beya rikishi made news last week in Kotokuni being promoted to Juryo. It was the first sekitori that former Kotonowaka produced in this three years running the stable. Of course he didn't recruit Kotokuni...the Boar did, and this trend of the Sadogatake-beya maintaining a crapload of sekitori is over. It's just so interesting how you can see the culture promoted in a stable rub off on the rikishi.
The Geeku's counterpart, Hokutoriki, did well himself to tally five wins from this slot, and some of those scalps included Baruto, Goeido, and Wakanosato. I'm thankful that Hokutoriki didn't resort to any tachi-ai henka the full two weeks, but I'd really like to see him try and win and not just give up half the time. Futenoh tried to win every bout but doesn't have the game anymore to
finagle more than five wins. Hokutoriki does; he just doesn't show it this high in the ranks.
M4 Kisenosato was robbed of a special prize in my opinion. In fact, I think he had the best performance of anyone in Kyushu. He finished 11-4, he pasted Ama, he faced the three healthy Ozeki and beat them, and he also clobbered Baruto. He fought the hardest schedule of anyone, but I guess that day 4 loss to Takekaze was what done him in. We didn't find out until the Kyushu basho that Kisenosato was so sickly during the Aki basho that he actually commuted to the Ryogoku Kokugikan daily from a hospital bed. Granted, in Japan you can be hospitalized for a week for just breaking your arm, but without sufficient keiko during the basho, of course you're not going to be fresh. Kisenosato and Goeido are the future for Japan, and from what I saw from the Kid at least in Kyushu, there are still a lot of good things to come. He better be a Komusubi in January because he deserved it more than anyone else.
Counterpart Tochinoshin was just too soft in Kyushu to make any sorta impact. He's actually lucky he got three wins, but he had to be paired against Kakizoe and Takekaze to get them. Like the discussion surrounding the Sadogatake-beya, there is definitely a culture of gentleness that pervades the Kasugano-beya as well:
TochiNoShine, the Gentle Giant himself, and Tochiohzan. Need I say more?
While Tochinoshin's bad basho was expected, M5 Asasekiryu's 5-10 finish wasn't. What the hell was that? Sexy did have to face some of the top guys due to withdrawals, but he was anemic the entire fortnight needing wins over Kakizoe, Tochinoshin, Futenoh, and Tochiohzan to at least get his record to 5-10. Asasuckiryu was just that in Kyushu.
Good ole Dejima...a 6-0 start followed by an 0-9 finish. That had to have tasted below average, but when you pile up the wins against no one but softies early on, you're gonna get the meat in week two, especially when you actually occupy a share of the lead. Dejima necessarily wasn't injured and he didn't run out of gas. He padded his record early on and then was simply unable to handle the jo'i guys they threw at him the rest of the way. By the time Futenoh came around on senshuraku, the life had already been sucked out of the
Degyptian. No problem though...he'd much rather fight from the M8 range compared to the jo'i. It's all for the better.
Where M6 Kakuryu once threatened the sanyaku, there just isn't any more room for him at the top. He's done nothing to improve his sumo the last six months, and his work ethic seems to have gone by the same wayside as Asasekiryu's. Counterpart Kyokutenho is yet another guy who no longer puts forth the effort, but the funny thing is he can post a 10-5 from M6 and not even have to wash his armpits at the end of the day. He will vault up to the jo'i in January, but expect him to come down with a bout of Hokutoriki-itis.
M7 Miyabiyama was solid at 10-5, and unlike Kyokutenho, he'll actually try and win all of his bouts in Hatsu. You'll remember that Miyabiyama had sole possession of the lead on day 7 and managed to stay at least tied for the lead as long as day 10, but he was never a serious
contender for the yusho. The banzuke was such that you couldn't avoid the veteran rikishi taking advantage of the guys around them, specially when you're a former Ozeki. Except for a misstep against Chiyotaikai, the Sheriff's losses were all at the hands of rikishi who won in double-digits. Good effort.
Counterpart Tochinonada has got to do better than 5-10 from this rank. I can't remember any of his bouts, so what's the point commenting on anything?
It was nice to see M8 Takekaze come away with nine wins from this rank considering how far he'd fallen since getting body-slammed out of the Komusubi rank. Takekaze is in the same boat as guys like Kakuryu or Kokkai. They've all had a sniff of the jo'i...they may have even made the Komusubi rank...but they have made zero adjustments to the younger, better rikishi who are filing into the division. I really don't see Takekaze scoring a kachi-koshi from a rank higher than this. Counterpart Kakizoe (5-10) showed why he needs to be ranked in the lower third of the Maegashira rank these days.
Nothing new to say about M9 Tochiohzan. How in the hell does he start out 3-9 facing the likes of...the likes of...well, the likes of nobody? Oh needed some serious charity down the stretch to finish 3-0 and actually keep himself in the division! He's just too soft; end of story.
Counterpart Tokitenku managed to make it six for six in 2008. Make-koshi basho that is. Incredibly he will probably fall no further than the M10 rank come January. I guess you can lump Tenku in with those other semi-veterans who have failed to make any adjustments to the landscape and are now paying the price of mediocrity.
The M10 rank housed our two rookies in Bushuyama and Aran who each managed to kachi-koshi at 8-7. Both got off to very slow starts, which can be attributed to being thrown into the mid-Maegashira level from the beginning and having to face some wily veterans.
It's no coincidence that their combined 2-10 start (they faced each other on day 1) produced just one win that came against Koryu. In Bushuyama's case, the dude just needed to gain confidence in his sumo. After his 3-0 spurt mid-basho, you could just see it in his tachi-ai that he trusted in his beefy thrusts to give him control of the bout. His best win came against Homasho on day 13. Homie was gripping the entire basho but managed to even his record at 6-6 thanks to a 3-0 spurt of his own, but come day 13, Bushuyama wasn't intimidated and completely controlled the bout handing Homasho a costly loss. I don't think Bushuyama has what it takes to stay in the top half of the division, but he's big enough to hold his own in the lower half. Good start.
As for Aran, like Bushuyama you could just see him gain confidence mid-basho, only in Aran's case it wasn't confidence in his sumo...it was the confidence to actually win. Early on Aran was straight up in his charges, but he got burned by the likes of Tokitenku, Miyabiyama, and Dejima, so he regrouped and started to make his opponents chase him. There really wasn't anything cheap from the Russian, but he couldn't wait to retreat to a corner of the dohyo and then quickly evade to either side as his opponent lunged for him. To the Russian's credit, he did come hard from the tachi-ai in a few bouts...like day 9 against Takamisakari, but overall, he succeeded in cat and mouse sumo. I didn't really have a problem with it, but it's not a formula for success higher in the division. Aran's got potential, though, just as Roho had early on in his Makuuchi career. Let's hope Aran chooses a different path.
Like Takekaze, it was nice to see M10 Kokkai actually kachi-koshi again from somewhere other than the bottom rung of the division. The problem for the Georgian, however, is that he has yet to recommit to a certain style. You'll remember he was purely an oshi guy early on only to shift gears and try his hand at yotsu-zumo, a move that was actually working, but you look at a list of his winning techniques, and there's seven different
kimari-te in his nine wins. No, that doesn't mean he has great technique as some of the Mongolians. It means he's all over the dohyo and will continue to struggle until he settles back into a certain style. Counterpart Koryu did very well to finish 6-9 after a horrible debut a couple of basho ago. Like the rookies Bushuyama and Aran, something seemed to click for Koryu this basho where he started figuring out how to win, but the problem is he's just not strong enough to sustain a solid Makuuchi career...kinda like his stablemaster (Hanaregoma-oyakata) being able to sustain any sort of presence in the head judge's chair.
M12 Yoshikaze's 11-4 performance was certainly nothing to get a stiffie about. You wanna know why? Wait until next basho when he's ranked just outside of the jo'i. I mean, the dude deserves props for outhustling his peers, and it was nice to see Yoshikaze exude the confidence to run
roughshod through the lower ranks, but how do you give a special prize to him and not to Kisenosato? Yoshikaze was never a threat for the yusho, but as long as we're on the subject of the occasional yusho (as in once a decade) you'll see from a Maegashira bottom-runger, I don't like it because inevitably you'll have someone in the jo'i who finishes maybe one loss off the lead in the end but did so fighting nothing but the best while the Maegashira scrub pads his record against nobodies. I shouldn't detract from Cafe's performance though. It was prolly a once-in-a-lifetime basho. Counterpart Kasuganishiki was not missed after withdrawing four days in.
M13's Masatsukasa and Tamanoshima are really not persons of interest, especially when they both finish 6-9.
Masatsukasa looks legitimately injured, so let's hope he can come back to the level he was at in his debut last July.
All of sumo won with M14 Takamisakari's 10-5 performance. As I've said in the past though, it's a shame that people can't look past the circus surrounding him and appreciate his excellent technique. Counterpart Kitataiki was awful again going just 2-13, but this dude has a serious knee injury in his left leg. Juryo's the place to rehab it with the smaller, less powerful rikishi, but from the way Kitataiki has looked the last two basho, he may be better served slipping down to Makushita where he doesn't have to fight every day. Dude'll be back someday.
Looks as if we can finally wash our hands of M15 Kimurayama (6-9)...at least for a season. No sense in rehashing his henka ways. Counterpart Homasho prolly survived demotion to Juryo finishing at 7-8, but like Kitataiki, if you have a serious injury, Juryo is the place to rehab it. You'll remember that Homasho missed the Aki basho due to wrist surgery, and the joint has obviously not healed. It was nice to see Homasho scrap for what he got, but his only win against a kachi-koshi guy from the Makuuchi division came against Aran. He'll likely be the caboose come next basho, so let's hope he's healed up. A healthy Homasho is someone everyone looks forward to watch fight.
And finally, both M16's looked good posting their 9-6 records. No comments on Tosanoumi other than he's the most likeable guy in sumo, and I love to see him pull a Makuuchi paycheck. No one shows more respect to the sport, and no one has been more straight up about it than Tosanoumi. Chiyohakuho seemed to regain the form he displayed in his Makuuchi debut last January. In true Kokonoe-beya (same stable as Chiyotaikai) style, his winning techniques consisted of 3 hataki-komi, 3 tsuki-otoshi, 2 oshi-dashi, and 1 hiki-otoshi for good measure. Too much pulling there for my taste, but as long as he keeps the tachi-ai clean, it's all good.
I will chime in once more towards the end of the year and post my usual year in review report. It's been another tough year for sumo, but the sport goes as Asashoryu goes, which raises the question "why are so many people eager to see him leave?". See you in a few weeks.
2008 Kyushu Basho
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One glance of the Kyushu basho banzuke and you can see that the wealth
is spread evenly throughout. That should provide for watchable bouts in the entire division, but it also poses several problems. First, if tough rikishi are spread through the ranks evenly, it also means that the
softies are scattered evenly as well, and you never want to see guys among the jo'i who don't belong there. It makes the sanyaku less challenging, it makes it easier for the Ozeki to kachi-koshi, and it weakens Ama's challenge a bit as he makes his Ozeki run. The other problem I see is really more of an annoyance, which is you'll have quality rikishi low in the division who will dilute the leaderboard in week two because of their crap competition. In the end, it's fantastic to see Baruto and Goeido in the top nine of the banzuke, but without a healthy Asashoryu, we'll be grasping throughout the fortnight to find storylines to keep our interest.
Speaking of Asashoryu, since no one else can seem to leave him alone, I guess I'll start with him too. I find it extremely interesting that oyakata within the Association and members of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council are already hinting that Yokozuna Asashoryu should retire because this will be the third consecutive basho where the Yokozuna has gone kyujo (he fought in the two previous tournaments before withdrawing mid-way). And I use the word "hinting" because how can one really be sure with the
exaggerated headlines we see in the Japanese press each day? According to the media, people are demanding that Asashoryu perform well in January or retire. Why? Isn't it a Yokozuna's right to take as much time as he needs to heal an injury?
Let's roll the tape back to Natsu 2001 when Yokozuna Takanohana clinched his 22nd yusho on senshuraku by defeating Musashimaru in a bout for the ages. The sumo itself wasn't as memorable as Takanohana's sheer determination was. The Yokozuna was hobbling on a bad leg going into the bout, and he clinched the yusho with a throw of Musashimaru that required him to plant on his bad leg to fuel the throw. He was able to topple Moose indeed, but he screwed up his knee and ended up missing the next seven basho. During that time, why was it that we never heard a peep from the Japanese press or members of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council calling for Takanohana's retirement? You have two Yokozuna...both have 22 career yusho...both dominated the sport for a stretch of three or four years...and both have an injured joint. In Takanohana's case it was a knee; in Asashoryu's case it is his elbow. So...why the difference in the way the two Yokozuna are/were treated? Well, everyone already knows the answer although there are those who will continue to deny it. It's yet another example that I should go copy and paste into my latest blog entry.
But enough of the obvious. Let's get to the not so obvious as in who is the favorite to take the yusho in Kyushu. Believe it or not, I'm picking Yokozuna Hakuho, who will seal his 9th career yusho by just showing up. Regardless of Hakuho's lack of de-geiko early on, he reaffirmed the gap that exists between him and the rest of the field when he showed up at the Isegahama-beya
on consecutive days recently and kicked Ama's ass right and proper. Hakuho doesn't need to make any adjustments to his sumo. He was ready to yusho in Kyushu as soon as he hoisted the
Emperor's Cup on senshuraku of Aki. Whether he can run the table or not, I think someone will manage to trip Kublai up. With Asa out from the start, Hakuho can let down slightly mentally knowing his rival in the ring is gone. I think that and his lack of consistent, quality keiko opponents won't have him as sharp as he could be. Make no mistake, the rest of the field is fighting strictly for kachi-koshi, special prizes, and Ozeki promotion in Ama's case. Hakuho takes the crown in Kyushu going 14-1 with that one loss coming in the first half.
Moving down to the Ozeki, Kotomitsuki should win 11 bouts by default. I mean, just look at the banzuke. With really no keiko reports to go off of and no report of the Ozeki's current condition, there's no use commenting further until the action starts this Sunday.
Next up his Kaio who has injured his leg quite seriously in pre-basho keiko. The Ozeki tweaked his hamstring about a week ago, and then the next day when fighting with Kotooshu, he musta compensated because he heard a popping sound in his knee and calf area in the same leg. Not good. Although Kaio insists he will compete, he'll have three opponents every day: the person the NSK pairs him with, a bum right leg, and Father Time. It's too much for the 36 year-old to conquer, so expect a lot of hataki-komi in place of his usual yotsu attack and an early exit from the
basho. Three wins his being nice. (Note to Martin: do no bet against this prediction).
Chiyotaikai checks in as our third Ozeki on the board which invites the obvious question directed at Kotooshu: how in the hell is he ranked ahead of you? All pre-basho the Pup has been fighting a cold (a big deal in Japan, trust me) and hasn't been fighting quality opponents as far as I've read. That doesn't bode well for the Ozeki, but Chiyotaikai hasn't occupied the Ozeki longer than anyone else because he doesn't know how to win. Look for the seemingly impressive ass-kickings against Futenoh and Hokutoriki, but Chiyotaikai is gonna struggle this basho. Still, don't bet against his getting eight wins.
Kotooshu rounds out the Ozeki ranks, and there's nothing new to say about the Bulgarian. With the recent scrutiny on yaocho (bout fixing) stemming from the current court proceedings in Tokyo, I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that Kotooshu doesn't compete for the yusho in Kyushu. Read into that what you want. I'm not saying Kotooshu doesn't have the tools to win it all; I just don't see him performing outstanding sumo in Kyushu. 10 wins?
Let's move to the most exciting rank on the banzuke this basho...the Sekiwake. Ama has proven that he is Ozeki material, and the promotion will eventually come even if he fouls things up in Kyushu. I don't think that I've read a definitive number given by the Association in terms of wins Ama needs to seal the promotion, but 11 will not do it. He needs at least 12, and they might make him earn 13. The whole problem is Kaio and Chiyotaikai are clogging up the rank. Carrying five Ozeki on the payroll is not
something the Association wants to do, especially when two of them are useless and the other two enjoy the title of
underachievers. Ama is going to have to repeat his performance in Aki to seal the deal. There's no question he can do it, and that he deserves the rank. The key will be Ama not allowing himself to be upset by someone who has no business beating him. Ama is the hardest worker in sumo, so couple that with his extraordinary technique, and he will pump excitement into Kyushu. I think the scrutiny and the pressure of the situation, however, limits him to just 12 wins...and the ensuing controversy that will follow if they deny his promotion. And no...if Ama was Japanese, I don't think he'd be a shoe-in with 11 wins or maybe even 12.
Ama's counterpart is Baruto who sure took his sweet time in rising to this level in sumo. The problem with Bart's rise is that it wasn't really emphatic, so he can't be considered as a mainstay at this point. Watch for the Estonian to struggle to get his eight just as he has the last few basho. The key at this rank of course is a fast start as he'll mostly get rikishi ranked beneath him early on. Baruto has also got to do a better job against the Ozeki. He fought 'em all last basho beating only Kotooshu, so he's got to add Kaio and Chiyotaikai to that tally this basho as well. Enjoying a 6-0 stretch against rikishi ranked below him as he did in Aki is the exception not the rule. With
Asashoryu gone, I see Baruto achieving another unspectacular kachi-koshi meaning 8 wins.
Leading the Komusubi ranks is first-timer Goeido, who reached the rank 10th fastest of all time, a mark that puts him in a tie with Hakuho. It's probably a blessing in disguise that stablemate Toyohibiki has withdrawn from the Kyushu basho and hasn't been available for any keiko because Goeido probably got up every morning facing the following decision: Iwakiyama or de-geiko? Goeido hasn't received a lot of pre-basho coverage, but I've read enough reports that had him visiting the Tokitsukaze-beya on consecutive days and holding his own. As I've mentioned before, the key for Goeido now is to learn how to win at this rank. He's already the best Japanese rikishi in the world. Yes, Kotomitsuki is ranked higher and
consistently posts better records, but the Ozeki knows how to win. There is a tangible difference between being great and knowing how to win at a hon-basho. Kaio knows how to win even though he's not the superior rikishi in most cases. Chiyotaikai knows how to win like that. Baruto does not. Since this is not the first time Goeido has fought among the jo'i, he won't run into any surprises, so...has he figured out how to win at this level? I think he has and am optimistic that he'll score 8-9 wins.
Rounding out the sanyaku is Aminishiki, a rikishi who has been here before and who definitely knows how to win at this level. The problem there is it usually doesn't involve straight-forward sumo. They don't call this guy Sneaky for nuthin'. If Aminishiki would focus on good sumo as his stablemate Ama does, he would be a solid rikishi, but when you revert to
shenanigans to pad your win total, your opponents figure it out. I see more clown sumo from Ami
as he manages 7 wins.
Moving to the Maegashira, Toyonoshima leads the way after falling from his Sekiwake perch last basho. I love Toyonoshima in this position because he's entirely out of the spotlight and can focus on the upsets. I also like the fact that he comes from the Tokitsukaze-beya, the stable in Kyushu that seemed to draw the most de-geiko visitors. Toyonoshima should be primed to pick up at least eight and return to the sanyaku for next year. I enjoy watching counterpart Futenoh in the lightweight division, but he is going to be worked this basho. He'll be lucky to win four.
M2 Toyohibiki is out with eye problems, and while he would have been worked like Futenoh, you at least wanted to see him get the experience this high up in the ranks. His time will come. I absolutely love Wakanosato in the West M2 slot. For those new to sumo in the last two years,
Wakanosato used to be a perennial Sekiwake spending something like 18 consecutive basho in the sanyaku with most of them ranked as Sekiwake, but in mid-2005 in a bout with Ama, the Mongolian grabbed Croco by one leg and swiped the other leg with a kick that severely injured Wakanosato and sent him as low as the Juryo ranks. For him to make it back to the sanyaku three plus years later would be awesome, and I think he can do it. All Wakanosato needs is a sniff of an inside position, and he can still beat anyone on the banzuke except for Hakuho. My predictions is that Wakanosato will fall just short with 6-7 wins, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him pull some early upsets and actually kachi-koshi. I'm rooting for it.
M3 Kotoshogiku seems to have lost it. I questioned a couple of basho ago whether or not the Geeku had peaked, and now it looks as if we have our answer. You also have to factor in Kotoshogiku's opponents. He's exempt from two Ozeki, and he won't get Asashoryu this basho, so if he fails to kachi-koshi again, you can bet he'll be asking for Futenoh's number after the basho. The Geeku's on the fence with 7-8 wins. Counterpart Hokutoriki will just give up at this rank. If dude actually tried, he could pick up 6-7 wins, but I think he'll make sure he gets his two or three wins and then just shut it down.
No worth using further bandwidth discussing him.
M4 Kisenosato is in a little bit different boat than Kotoshogiku due to the slightly different competition. Plus, the Kid is a lot
feistier and has the tools to go higher than the Geeku. I don't think he's peaked; I think he's in a slump. Don't be
surprised if the Kid reaches double-digits in Kyushu. I'll give him a kachi-koshi for sure. Counterpart Tochinoshin will receive his baptism of fire if Kaio withdraws early as that would force the Association to move down the ranks to find opponents for the heavy hitters. He's gonna get the two Sadogatake-beya Ozeki as it as. Couple that with the tough competition below him down to the M8 range, and Tochinoshin is going to have to make this basho a learning experience. There's something about Kasugano-beya rikishi that I equate with being soft, and this is no place in the ranks to have any hesitation or reservation about what you're doing. 4-5 wins.
M5 Asasekiryu should do well in these parts. He hasn't looked good among the jo'i for awhile now, but the experience of being up there makes him a better rikishi, especially down at this level. This is one guy where it actually hurts the Sadogatake-beya guys to come down lower in the ranks for opponents. I see Seki winning around 9 this basho. Counterpart Dejima is ranked too high for is own good at this stage of his career. He doesn't have the speed to keep up at this level. 5-6 wins.
M6 Kakuryu is compelling at this level. Like Asasekiryu, he has served some time among the jo'i and has been toughened up for it. Whether he chooses to show any toughness when ranked higher is debatable, but there are rikishi who just seem more comfortable at these levels. Kakuryu is in a great spot to excel this basho, and like Asasekiryu, I expect him to win around 9. What a coincidence...Kyokutenho is another guy who has been toughened up by fighting all these years among the jo'i but prefers the calmer waters of the mid-Maegashira. Tenho could win 10 in his sleep from these ranks, but the question is does he want to deal with the consequences of such a run next basho? Snot even worth discussing.
M7 Miyabiyama looks to recover from Martin's jinx last basho. The Sheriff's experience in the league will help him fend off his pesky opponents to the tune of 8 wins. Counterpart Tochinonada should be solid as well. His yotsu attack is a tall order for anyone ranked at this level. I give him 9 wins.
Neither M8 Takekaze nor his counterpart Kakizoe will be higher on the Hatsu basho banzuke. They are sandwiched between two many rikishi better than them.
M9 Tochiohzan should get out to a fast start only to be paired with other hot rikishi in week 2 to cool him down to a 9-6 finish. Zzzzzzzz. Counterpart Tokitenku has slowly but surely fallen down the banzuke a rank or two at a time the last year. I don't see anything that is going to stop that decline because there are some tough rikishi for him no matter where he looks. Give him 7 wins.
Both Makuuchi rookies check in at M10 with Bushuyama occupying the East slot. Can't say that I've ever seen this guy fight that I remember, but my take on rikishi who take forever to reach this level (Bushuyama is 32)
is that they don't last long. Let's wait for the basho to start before we comment on his sumo and make-up. If I had to stab in the dark at a prediction, I'd say 5 wins. The danger of shooting up to M10 in your first Makuuchi division is that you're closer to quality rikishi that occupy the mid-Maegashira compared to fighting among the dregs
where nobody cares.
Aran, the last Russian-born sekitori on the banzuke after that marijuana fiasco, takes his place in the M10 slot as well. Unlike Bushuyama, I have watched a lot of Aran's sumo in the Juryo ranks, and this guy is as tough as they come, but his sumo is downright awful. If you thought Roho and Hakurozan's tachi-ai henka and pull sumo were tired, wait until you see Aran. The bottom line is this guy has so much potential due to his body and strength, but he will invite the ire of the Sumotalk crew faster than Makiko Uchidate after a few drinks. Aran could easily win 10 or more just because he's so strong and the veterans in the division won't clue into his pull sumo. On the other hand, his being this high in the ranks could spell trouble if word has spread as to his tactics. I think the Russian will muscle his way to 10-5 record, but it won't be pretty.
It's nice to see M11 Kokkai at a rank different than M16. Still, it's not as if he's re-polished his sumo, so he will continue to struggle until he learns to trust in his sumo...whatever that may be. Oshi-zumo? Why not? Yotsu-zumo? I'd recommend it. Pull sumo? Hello Juryo. 6 wins. Counterpart Koryu returns to the division for the second time after getting his ass handed to him in Nagoya from a lot lower in the ranks. He's too lightweight to do anything here again, so 5 wins for him would be an achievement.
Too bad you can't combine M12 Yoshikaze's fighting spirit with counterpart
Kasuganishiki's great sumo body. Lack of any punch will hamper Yoshikaze while laziness has always plagued the Garnish. 9 wins between 'em.
M13 Masatsukasa has been a tale of two rikishi his first two tournaments in the division. In Aki he lost the fire and confidence that propelled him to such a great debut. I think he recovers and pulls out a kachi-koshi in the end. M13 Tamanoshima should continue to stay alive fighting the kids around him. 7 wins.
Takamisakari finds himself at a dangerous level here at M14. A 6-9 performance means he's gone to Juryo, but the karma in sumo just won't allow that to happen. Takamisakari's impressive technique will see him finish with 9 wins and a kachi-koshi interview on day 13. Can't wait. The Cop's counterpart, Kitataiki, is extremely compelling. An injured left leg turned his debut into a disaster at the Aki basho full of lame tachi-ai henka and pull sumo. I was genuinely glad to see him survive with a 7-8 finish because this kid
has a lot of upside. Of course I've read no keiko reports on him and don't know what kind of condition he's in, but if he's completely healthy, I like him to win 9 or 10.
M15 Kimurayama is still in the division? That won't last long. Allow me to save the dregs time watching film on this guy. He's gonna henka to his left. Homasho finds himself on the brink after a wrist injury and surgery caused him to miss the Aki basho entirely. I haven't read what kind of condition he's in right now, but he is going to have to scrap for his eight wins. I'm not sure that he gets it unless he's completely healed. If he is, he finishes 9-6.
Veteran Tosanoumi occupies the M16 East slot. No comments other than it's always nice to see the classiest rikishi the last two decades pay us a visit and pick up that Makuuchi paycheck. Rounding out the division is Chiyohakuho, who like
Masatsukasa, had a fantastic debut in July but sucked eggs in September. The realization of demotion to Juryo coupled with a plethora of softies until he gets up around M10 should contribute to Chiyohakuho's kachi-koshi. 9 wins.
We'll try and keep things as interesting as possible throughout the tournament including the introduction of our newest contributor who hails from Estonia. Stay
tuned, and here are my predictions:
Yusho: Hakuho 14-1