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Report | Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
I apologize for the tardiness of this report. Let's just say that I've had a few distractions the last week starting with my erratic driving in the wee hours of the night and my wife's smashing out the windows of my 1996 Toyota Camry in a rage with a 9-iron. And for the record, I categorically deny the following voicemail was left on Ross Mihara's phone by me: "Hey, it's uh, it's Mike. I need you to do me a huge favor. Um, can you
please, uh, take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and uh may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. And uh...what do you call it...just have it as a number on the voicemail. Just have it as your telephone number okay? You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye."
With that unpleasantness out of the way, let's get to more unpleasantness, which was the last four days of the Kyushu basho beginning with Harumafuji's tachi-ai henka of Asashoryu. That bout set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a four-bout losing streak for Asashoryu, Hakuho running away with the yusho, and all Ozeki whose shikona don't rhyme with Cheetoh-Cowpie conveniently finishing with at least eight wins.
Particularly telling for me were the actions of Asashoryu on day 13 and day 14. Examine the pictures at right. In the one against Kotooshu on day 13, Asashoryu's feet are barely outside of the dohyo. In the one against Kotomitsuki on day 14, his feet are still in the ring.
Click here to see both pictures enlarged side by side. First, in both pictures Asashoryu's hands are touching nothing. Second, he's not even looking at his opponents but just staring off into the crowd. No arched back, no desperation armbars, no hands at the back of the head, no red face, and no hiki-otoshi/evasive attempt at the edge. Oh, and no intention of winning the bouts. For the first eleven days, I was beginning to second-guess myself fantasizing about Hakuho and Asashoryu actually duking it out on senshuraku for the yusho; but alas, the fear expressed in my pre-basho report came to pass rendering this basho the same as every single basho this year. Every basho you say? I think Kenji summed it up best in his day 3 report when he said:
"Hakuho needs a 14-1 record to surpass what seemed like an invincible record set back in 2005 when Asashoryu went 84-6 for the calendar year. Sho did that in a gaudy and much decorated fashion, collecting the emperor's cup in every tournament that year (another record). Hakuho is actually challenging that record-win year in a much more 'under the radar' fashion. Consider that he could go 85-5 in 2009 while only winning 3 of 6 basho this year (if he goes 14-1 and Sho goes 15-0 in Kyushu). That would be absolutely amazing. I remember in 2005 it was all about Sho and the record, and winning every tournament. This year no one has hardly noticed what Hakuho is on the brink of accomplishing."
And if I may correct Kenji, Hakuho would have only won 2 of the 6 basho this year had Asashoryu gone 15-0 and Hakuho 14-1 in Kyushu; yet, he still would have set the record at 85-5. Absolutely amazing because it just doesn't make sense if he's really trying to win those tournaments. But we've been there and done that, so let's examine the rikishi starting with Hakuho who is so good he has the ability to win more yusho in a calendar year than he has combined losses in that same year. Perhaps that will be his goal for 2010.
Hakuho's sumo was absolutely flawless in Kyushu and an utter joy to watch. Eight throws, six force-out wins, and that sweet uchi-gake win over Baruto on day 7. Like Hakuho now, Asashoryu didn't have any weaknesses when he made his run back in 2006, but the difference between the two is that Hakuho is so damn big. In fact, I believe Asashoryu was actually in the lighter half of the division when he dominated. Regardless, Hakuho is dominating sumo right now the likes of which haven't been seen since Taiho. Get used to it.
As for Asashoryu, he was brilliant the first 11 days, and it's a shame that he wasn't able go full throttle the whole tournament. Asashoryu wasn't visibly upset after Harumafuji henka'd him on day 12. You'd think that if Asashoryu was serious about a yusho, he'da been pissed at the Ozeki, but considering Harumafuji was a dangerous 5-6 when the two met, this one went as scripted. Then, I've already commented on his bouts against Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki on days 13 and 14. Kotomitsuki needed the win badly as he finished 8-7, and Kaio needed Kotomitsuki to win as well in order to pick up his kachi-koshi receiving some charity on senshuraku from his fellow Ozeki. So then you ask, why did Asashoryu need to lose to Kotooshu who finished 10-5? He didn't need to lose to him. But I sure as hell know he didn't try and win the bout. Look, I haven't missed a bout of sumo for 15 years. I've seen everyone of Asashoryu's Makuuchi bouts. I know when he's trying; and I know when he's not. The positive we can take from Kyushu is that Asashoryu is fighting at a level again where he's worthy to yusho. There was simply no way this basho that Hakuho wasn't going to take the yusho. 85-5 on the year and only two yusho? It wasn't gonna happen. So, as we head into 2010, let's be optimistic that the slate will be clean, and Asashoryu is fighting at a level of his pre-suspension days.
Let's move onto the Ozeki who have fallen so far behind the Yokozuna that it's easy to belittle them. Yes, on one hand, these guys obviously help each other to ensure that as many as possible get kachi-koshi, but on the other hand, there isn't exactly anyone else beating on the door ready to step in when the next Ozeki retires. The biggest disappointment with the current crop of Ozeki is they rarely contribute to a basho. Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Tochiazuma were great Ozeki 4 - 5 years ago and provided stiff competition for Asashoryu, and who can forget the likes of Wakanohana, Musashimaru, and Takanonami in the mid-to-late nineties battling the Yokozuna, Akebono and Takanohana? Part of the current frustration with sumo now is that 1) there is not a solid crop of Ozeki (Kaio and Kotomitsuki are old; Harumafuji rides the gravy train; and Kotooshu can't overcome the three-headed Mongolian monster alone), and 2) there's a lot of shenanigans going on to compensate for the Ozeki collectively.
My favorite Ozeki by far is Kotooshu, who doesn't quite fall into the elite Ozeki class due to inconsistency with his mental toughness but who is the most solid of the bunch. However, it was clear on day 4 when Kotooshu was bullied by Aminishiki that he wasn't going to impact the basho. It's one thing to lose to your nemesis, but it's quite another to lose as Kotooshu lost to Aminishiki. If you recall the bout, the Ozeki was easily pushed back and down landing on his widdle bum with his feet perfectly aligned. It brought back memories of Kotooshu lying in the fetal position below the dohyo a few years ago after another bad loss. In short, Kotooshu was just there this basho, which also lent to his loss to Toyonoshima, but his 10-5 finish was respectable.
Has Ozeki Kotomitsuki reached the point where he too needs help winning his eight? I don't know, but that ass-kicking at the hands of Bushuyama on day 6 was below average. The only kachi-koshi rikishi Kotomitsuki beat was Asashoryu, and I've already commented on that bout.
Ozeki Harumafuji needed a 6-1 finish down the stretch to compile his 9-6 record. I can appreciate the fact that he's a scrapper, but we don't need scrappers from the Ozeki rank. And intentional or not, that henka of Asashoryu on day 12 sent this basho into a downward spiral. I understand that Harumafuji is riding the coattails of the two Yokozuna, but this Ozeki can actually make an impact if he reverts to his balls-to-the-wall sumo where he goes for his opponent's neck at the tachi-ai. Dude's been too shifty and sneaky for my taste of late.
No new comments on the old gray mare, Kaio. Surprise, surprise, he got his eight wins in Kyushu. Some of the buzz of the basho regarded Kaio and his "quest" for the all-time win total in the Makuuchi division. I believe the Ozeki has 806 now and needs just one more to tie the all-time record of 807 held by Taiho (correct me if I'm wrong on that, stat geeks). The press continued to ask Kaio about the record throughout the basho, and his constant answer was "I don't care." And for good reason as it's largely a useless record. Kaio would trade any of his records and career accomplishments in for what really matters, the Yokozuna rank.
Let's move to the Sekiwake where we begin with Chiyotaikai. When Makiko Uchidate of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council singles you out instead of Asashoryu who finished 11-4, you know you've got issues. It would be an absolute travesty for Chiyotaikai to be given 10 wins in January. Chiyotaikai was a great Ozeki in his day, and I will give him accolades when he retires, but his trying to hold on in this condition is bad for sumo. It's one thing to be outed by the crew at ST, but when you are no longer fooling anybody--including the entire gullible Japanese public--it's time to go...bro.
As for the Sekiwake who matter, Baruto managed a 4-0 finish to escape an average basho with a 9-6 record. While extremely entertaining to watch, let's address Bart's three wins by tsuri-dashi, and how they are a negative sign for the Estonian. Five years ago or so, the tsuri-dashi became one of Asashoryu's signature moves. Who will ever forget his hoisting Kotomitsuki in the air and bouncing him off the clay when NHK was trying to hype Kotomitsuki as a rival to Asashoryu? Then there was that epic tsuri-otoshi of Hokutoriki who had given up while fighting among the jo'i. The difference between Asashoryu's tsuri-dashi and Baruto's this basho is that the Sekiwake's all came with dual outer grips. That means that Baruto's tachi-ai was subpar, and he's allowing opponents to get on the inside too easily. Kotoshogiku and even Takekaze proved that Baruto is vulnerable if you can get inside on him after a good tachi-ai. It's something that Baruto must clean up if he's serious about this Ozeki business. Another indication is Baruto's winning kimari-te. He used six different techniques in his nine wins. For someone like Harumafuji or Aminishiki, I can understand; but for a purely yotsu guy with a perfect sumo body, he's all over the board. I know yori-kiri wins and uwate-nage wins are boring, but at the end of the basho to look at something like Hakuho's card and see 14 of his 15 wins with the kanji for "yori," "kiri," "uwate," and "nage" is a thing of beauty. Inside sources have it that Baruto fights better at the Tokyo basho for a reason, so let's hope he can rebound and impact the Hatsu basho in January.
I've always maintained that Sekiwake is a bit too high of a rank for Kakuryu. I know the Kak can actually kachi-koshi from this rank, but it's still too high for him in my opinion. This basho he did finish 7-8, but his henka-fest in week two was just revolting. Kakuryu can shine among the jo'i as he did in September, but he can't maintain that basho after basho...sorta like Kotooshu and Baruto. In general, I like Kakuryu, but I don't like him at the Sekiwake rank.
The Komusubi rank was disappointing considering that Kisenosato and Goeido are the short-term hopes for Japan's future in sumo. Kisenosato just failed to pick up that key win or two that a
Komusubi needs to kachi-koshi. Early wins over Kaio and Chiyotaikai are now mandatory for a Komusubi, so those don't count. Which means his biggest win of the basho was against fellow Komusubi Goeido. If you're going to lose to guys like Kotoshogiku and Tochiohzan, you must compensate with a few more wins against the other Ozeki or Sekiwake. Kisenosato simply didn't have them; thus the 6-9 finish, which looks worse considering the Kak's lube job on senshuraku. Regroup Kid...it's time to make a run now that Chiyotaikai is gone.
Like Kisenosato, Goeido won the mandatory bouts against Chiyotaikai and Kaio, but he failed to beat anyone else ranked above him. To his credit, he beat everyone below him 'cept Kotoshogiku, so that's why the Geeku will be in the sanyaku come January and Goeido won't. Same thing applies here with Goeido as applies to Kisenosato. He's the future of sumo for Japan, so with Chiyotaikai gone and Kaio's departure surely to come, these two must step up and demand their places.
In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Takekaze's 6-9 showing is a bit over-rated. While he did beat Baruto legitimately (what were the odds of that?) and took care of bidness against Tochiohzan on senshuraku, everything else was achieved from the side or with suspect pull-downs.
Aminishiki was a lame duck in Kyushu finishing 5-10 that included three wins over Ozeki, which shows you just how weak the Ozeki are right now. He's obviously in the heads of the Sadogatake Ozeki, and he thankfully pounded Chiyotaikai but did little else.
M2 Kotoshogiku was a star in his hometown of Fukuoka making a statement out of the gate by
pasting Harumafuji and Baruto on the first two days. Considering the competition he faced compared to Tochinoshin, Miyabiyama, and Toyonoshima (the three sansho winners), the Geeku was robbed of a special prize in his 10-5 effort. There were only two jo'i rikishi who outfought Kotoshogiku at the Kyushu basho: Hakuho and Asashoryu. The problem is...before you can get too excited, Kotoshogiku is yet another rikishi with consistency issues, so while he may very well follow this tournament up with another kachi-koshi from the sanyaku in January, how will he fare in March? Still, you gotta love Kotoshogiku when he's on a roll. His interviews are honest, and he actually allows himself to smile unlike the dudes who fake their stoicism.
M2 Tokitenku was largely useless this tournament. His 5-10 effort was lowlighted by three pull down wins beyond that tachi-ai henka against Iwakiyama masked as a ketaguri.
M3 Tochiohzan finished with the same 5-10 mark as Tokitenku, so you ask what's the difference? Tochiohzan's list of winning techniques reads: oshi-dashi, yori-kiri, oshi-dashi, yori-kiri, yori-kiri. Oh's basho was highlighted by solid wins over Harumafuji and Kisenosato, and it's frustrating because you can see the potential in this kid, but it just doesn't come to fruition among the jo'i. Counterpart Bushuyama had to have been the biggest surprise of the basho. His effort amounted to a 6-9 record with an epic win over Kotomitsuki. And while the winning technique against Hit and Mitsuki was hiki-otoshi, Bush
dictated the bout and kicked the Ozeki's ass. Other than that bout, the Dolly Yama was straight up with nothing but oshi-dashi and yori-kiri wins. These are the feel good stories in sumo...guys who can overachieve and produce a 6-9 record at this level with nothing but straight up sumo. Compare that to someone like Kakuryu, and I'll take Bush every time.
I didn't mind M4 Hokutoriki's 8-7 and how he got it as much as I'm going to dread seeing this guy at M2 next basho, but I have to say, that Hokutoriki - Tochinoshin bout on senshuraku was probably the worst acting job since Takanohana lost to his brother in that playoff in Kyushu all those years ago. Counterpart Iwakiyama was picked on all basho. First, he just can't keep up this high in the ranks, and second, you have yayhoos like Tokitenku and Hokutoriki desperate for wins who see Iwakiyama as an easy pull target. Iwakiyama's 2-13 wasn't a huge surprise.
M5 Toyonoshima's 11-4 was a surprise because this dude has languished for the last year at this exact level on the banzuke. I welcome a healthy Toyonoshima higher in the ranks, however, because he keeps everyone honest. Just ask Kotooshu after his day 12 date with the guy. Toyonoshima's impact was put into a bit better perspective on the last two days where he was manhandled by Harumafuji and Baruto, but you'd much rather have this guy as filler among the jo'i than guys like Takekaze, Tokitenku, and Hokutoriki. We'll see if Toyonoshima is rewarded with a sanyaku spot come January, and if you're one of those guys trying to prognosticate the Hatsu basho banzuke and tearing your hair out over how to rearrange the sanyaku with Chiyotaikai's demotion and Kakuryu's unsavory 7-8 from Sekiwake, let me remind you of the order of your priorities:
1) troll the internet for girls
2) worry about the banzuke
Look at M5 Kakizoe managing a kachi-koshi from this rank! There's nothing I don't like about Sweet Zoe Jane, but I don't want to see him as filler among the jo'i next basho. I'm still trying to determine what's going to be uglier in January: Kakizoe's record or my new flame, Chaz Bono.
No comment on our M6's Wakanosato (7-8) and Kyokutenho (8-7). These two are as steady as they come in the mid-Maegashira, so let's keep them there.
M7 Tamanoshima's demise may be near. 4-11 from this rank is awful, especially when you don't have a win over a rikishi with serious game. Then, remember his "win" over Aran was by disqualification when Aran pulled Tamanoshima's hair, so he was a mage away from 3-12. Counterpart Homasho's 6-9 does not bode well for Homie's future in sumo. He's gonna be a hanger-on for about two more years, but his days close to the jo'i are done.
M8 Aran had probably the worst start of the basho going 2-8 before making things look respectable against guys like Kasugao, Kimurayama, and Yamamotoyama as part of his 5-0 finish. There are just too many quality guys in the mid-Maegashira these days for someone as sloppy as Aran to do well. Like Kokkai, this dude is in a constant regression. Contrast that with counterpart Tochinoshin who made a statement in Kyushu with his 12-3 finish that included a dive against Hokutoriki on
senshuraku. We know this kid can't act, but his repeated keiko sessions with Asashoryu are paying off. Tochinoshin has become a formidable presence in the division, and I'm excited to see what he can do among the jo'i in January. He's been high in the ranks before, so he shouldn't have those rookie jitters. He's also barely 22 years old, he's gotten stronger, and he's developed into a much more polished yotsu fighter. You look at his two real losses in Kyushu, and they were to similar opponents (small and feisty) in Yoshikaze and Kakizoe. Up higher there's gonna be less gimmick sumo and more man on man, strength on strength. Tochinoshin is on the verge of a breakout in the sport due to his size, youth, and tutor in the keiko ring. He'll likely miss the sanyaku for January, but don't be surprised if he's there in March.
If you care to remember as far back as the first week of the tournament, then you'll recall M9 Yoshikaze had his name amongst the leaderboard for the first 10 days thanks to a 7-0 start, and the run wasn't entirely a fluke as he scored solid wins over kachi-koshi rikishi that first week. The problem was during the run, there was no continuity to Yoshikaze's sumo, so you knew the run couldn't last. And it didn't as witnessed by his 1-4 finish that didn't exactly include a list of who's who rikishi. Cafe will be high in the ranks for January, but don't expect anything close to a repeat performance. Still, job well done. His counterpart, Miyabiyama, showed that he can still throw his weight around (literally) lower in the division. For a guy with as much mileage on him as the Sheriff, I'd say a 12-3 is outstanding from this rank. It's interesting that they gave him a special prize. Usually, former Ozeki have to do even better than this to earn one. I like watching people try and fight Miyabiyama. His beefy tsuppari and the threat of a pull at anytime keeps his opponents at a distance. This tactic won't work well next basho as evidenced by two of the guys he lost to:
Tochinoshin and Toyonoshima. Not only will those guys be alongside of him, but that will be the worst of the competition...unless Chiyotaikai really does try and come back at the Sekiwake rank.
If a tree landed in a forest and nobody was around, would it make a sound? Similarly, if M10 Asasekiryu came back from a 2-6 start to get his kachi-koshi at 8-7 would anyone care? Didn't think so. Corporal Kokkai managed a similar feat starting out 4-7 before rolling off four straight to earn his majority. For both of these guys at this point in their careers, the lower the rank the more success. Milk the NSK for your Makuuchi paycheck and call it good, which is what they do.
I loved M10 Tamawashi who went 10-5 losing only to kachi-koshi rikishi. This Mongolian is quick as ever, and he's balanced in his attack (oshi or yotsu), which are ingredients for a decent career. Let's continue to watch him higher up in the ranks before we get too stiff. Counterpart Takamisakari luckily scored his kachi-koshi on day 11 because he got his ass kicked the last four days leaving him at 8-7. It's better this way, though. Takamisakari only needs to stay in the division. He'll take less punishment in the mid-levels of Maegashira.
It was good to see M12 Shotenro turn in a solid 9-6 performance considering his ugly 2-13 last basho and bad knee. Like Takamisakari, this guy should be content for at least another basho in the mid-ranks until he heals up completely. Unlike Takamisakari, we should see Shotenro in the sanyaku in the future. Counterpart Toyohibiki has fallen and can't get up. 5-10 from this rank prolly sends him down to Juryo for January. You examine his five wins: shitate-nage, okuri-dashi, oshi-dashi, tsuki-otoshi, and kote-nage and there's just no consistency to his sumo. The problem all along with the Nikibi has been slow footwork. He just can't keep up with his body, and when you weigh enough to
receive official Hutt status, your balance suffers.
M13 Tosayutaka will be lucky to enjoy the same kind of career as Kakizoe. I think Tosayutaka has better technique, but he needs to pick his spots and learn how to win as Kakizoe has. Tosayutaka did manage a kachi-koshi thanks to a cooperative Yoshikaze on
senshuraku. Counterpart Mokonami did well in his 9-6 performance. Half of those losses came against guys with double-digit wins, and this rikishi rarely gets blown out in a bout. Here's yet another Mongolian who is proving he has staying power in the division.
Was there any real surprise that our M14's Kasugao and Kimurayama went a combined 7-23? In the words of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltraine, "I love it, I love it! Coo, coo, coo."
M15 Yamamotoyama needs to be donated to science already. I don't know what was worse, his 2-13 record or the two guys who actually lost to him (Tamaasuka, Hakuba). In fairness, I think that YMY was injured, but regardless, he's been figgered out by everyone, and the only way for him to survive this division is to lose a kilo or 20. Counterpart Shimotori managed a kachi-koshi at 8-7, but how could one not win a majority when the four guys surrounding you on the banzuke won a combined 12 bouts out of 60 tries?
Mopping up the division was M16 Tamaasuka, who fortunately...I mean unfortunately was forced to withdraw on day 7 with an injury. The bottom few
rungs of the division were so weak this basho, I can't believe I've wasted this much bandwidth on them.
As we look ahead to 2010, I wish I could say that changes were on the way, but I just don't see any as Hakuho continues to create separation between himself and everyone else. Pay attention when the media asks him about his goals for the year. Last year he talked a lot about breaking the wins in a calendar year record, and sure enough, he obliterated it. In true Babe Ruth style, this guy is so good he can call his shots, whatever they may be. Asashoryu needs one more win to
surpass Kitanoumi for third place all time, and he'll get it. A few spots will be freed up in the Ozeki ranks, and Baruto has a slim advantage over everyone else, but call me crazy...I sense that Tochinoshin will become as bigguh threat as anyone.
See you in a few weeks when I post my usual year-end report and watch for the Hatsu basho banzuke to be released on December 21st.
Report Helmut Newton sumo.
The Kyushu basho will have a lot more going for it this year than it has the previous two years. The reason is that Asashoryu is in town for the first time since 2006, and he's coming off of his second yusho of the year in September. In the past, the Kyushu basho was always favorable for Asashoryu, and he achieved a lot of firsts at this venue and set a lot of records. So taking that history and combining it with the current situation where you have another dai-Yokozuna on the board in Hakuho, the Kyushu basho definitely has more intrigue this year than it's had in a long time. It will make for better media coverage than we'd normally get in Kyushu, and it should put more fannies in the seats (how can they not top attendance figures from the last two years?), but there are three factors in play this basho that tell me Kyushu prolly won't live up to its hype atop the dohyo.
First is Chiyotaikai needs eight wins to keep his rank. You only need to go back to the Nagoya basho to recall the last time we were in this situation. Some people may recall his wins in Nagoya as "exciting" or "upsets," but I recall most of them as full of crap. I look at the Kyushu basho banzuke and can't for the life of me figure out how he's going to get eight wins...legitimately. At first glance you see guys like Bushuyama, Hokutoriki, and Iwakiyama close to the top, but those guys are just out of reach for a top-ranked rikishi who doesn't have a stablemate near him like Chiyotaikai. You have to draw the line at Tochiohzan, and just above Oh are Tokitenku, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki, and Takekaze. So...I pose the question again: where is Chiyotaikai going to get his legitimate eight wins? The answer is he can't legitimately win eight, but history has shown that others will step up and help. Kaio and Goeido are givens, and Asashoryu has gladly helped in the past as well. The excitement of any basho is the yusho race, but when you have top guys assuming losses mid-basho, the chosen one will run away with things in the end eliminating a lot of the drama.
Which leads me to the second factor that worries me about Kyushu: Hakuho is the chosen one. As I've stated the last few basho, it is my belief (feel free to disagree) that the top three Mongolians are doing each other favors atop the dohyo for whatever reason. They have more power than say the Sadogatake-beya threesome because they get to fight each other every tournament. When you're talking about things like the yusho or that last win for Ozeki promotion, a single bout down the stretch can make a world of difference, so when you have three such bouts a basho, that carries even more sway. Hakuho has dominated this entire year. In fact, he's going to set the record for most wins in a year here in Kyushu, and he set the record in September for most consecutive basho with at least 14 wins at five. Yet, he only has two yusho and he's 0-3 three in playoff bouts for yusho. Those numbers contradict each other, so they either show that Hakuho is mentally weak in big situations, or they suggest that some
manipulation is going on among the rikishi who have control. It's my belief that Hakuho is gonna get his in Kyushu, which means it frees up a coupla others to be charitable as we head into the holiday season.
Which leads me to the third factor that worries me about Kyushu: the holiday season. Kyushu is the last basho of the year, and historically rikishi will bow out of the tournament early with the slightest of injuries. It's just that year-end mentality where you can see the holidays coming up, and you get a bit trunky for a long break. You'll take your lumps on the next banzuke in exchange for the rest of the year off. I mean, how can you get out of the winter exhibition season without sustaining an injury?
I hope I'm pleasantly surprised this basho...sorta like the time I clicked on that ad for Helmut Newton's SUMO thinking that brother Helmut actually photographed the kind of sumo I always talk
about and not nude chicks, but I'm not getting my hopes up.
Geez, now that I've successfully deflated any hype for the basho, we may as well get to the individual rikishi.
Yokozuna Asashoryu sits in the prestigious East slot, so we'll start with him. If you've been following the pre-basho news reports, you'll notice that everything focuses on the two Yokozuna and then their keiko opponents. Asashoryu is taking it easy as usual opting to visit the Dewanoumi-beya (Futenoh) and the Kasugano-beya (Tochiohzan, Tochinoshin, Tochinonada) practicing for two days and then taking a day off. Normally, I'd criticize the Yokozuna for choosing such soft opponents pre-basho, but look what it got him in September. Asashoryu's pre-basho keiko is inconsequential to the type of basho he'll have. The important thing these days is to stay in the spotlight, and he's providing just enough fan service, making just enough appearances around town, and giving the media just enough quotes to take out of
proportion so they can slander him and sell more fish wrap. It's all good. I look for Asashoryu to hover right around 12 wins.
It's been interesting to see the press comment about Yokozuna Hakuho and his supposedly injured left elbow. It's always good to have an excuse under your belt to help explain a sudden withdrawal or a yusho by the other guy. Like Asashoryu, Hakuho's pre-basho keiko is also inconsequential. He is so far above everyone else that the key for Hakuho is to stay free of any serious injury. I see where Mainoumi has already stolen my thunder and predicted that Hakuho is actually the favorite to yusho this basho. Damn. I wanted to be the first to call that one. Seriously, there's no reason why Hakuho doesn't continue his torrid pace in Kyushu, only this time he will hoist the
emperor's cup in the end without a doubt. Give him 15 wins for his trouble while you're at it.
Ozeki Kotooshu deserves the third highest slot on the banzuke, and I actually put him in the same class as Asashoryu these days. Kotooshu is bigger physically, but Asa holds the obvious edge mentally, which counts more in sumo. One of the few reports that didn't center on the Yokozuna had Kotooshu being bothered by his right knee. In fact, his oyakata even offered the comment that the basho won't wait for him to get better making the injury sound somewhat serious. I don't really recall Kotooshu hurting his knee, and I get the sense that he's sandbagging here. Plenty of Ozeki have done it in the past most notably Tochiazuma whose last couple of yusho came in basho where you thought he'd have to retire his reported injuries were so bad. Kotooshu's knee may indeed be bothering him, but I see him having a solid basho regardless. I'm touting him as the jun-yusho rikishi with 12 wins.
I don't see Ozeki Kotomitsuki playing a factor this basho. He's gotten out to great starts the last coupla tournaments, but he just doesn't have it down the stretch when he needs it most. He should win 10, but I don't see him on the leaderboard late in week two.
Ozeki Harumafuji has faded a bit since his yusho at the Natsu basho, and the reason is slow starts. He went 3-2 the first five days in Nagoya and actually managed to top that at the Aki basho starting 2-3. You don't have to be a doctor in particle physics to figure out the key to a good tourney for hAruMAfuji is a solid start. This guys rides momentum better than most, and Harumafuji tends to thrive at meaningless basho (like last year's Kyushu basho when he went 13-2), so I like him to get at least double-digit wins and probably 11. Rumor has it that
Harumafuji and Arbo have a date on Friday to share a coupla pops. Couldn't think of a better way to prepare for a sumo tournament myself. I was talking with Mark about 3 AM his time Thursday night/Friday morning, and he was admittedly drunk and still popping 8% chuhais. Can you imagine the smell in the room Friday night when those
yay-hoos are finished?
Ozeki Kaio will continue to school the unlearned in yotsu-zumo to pick up his eight. He'll probably need help with a win or two, but the Old Gray Mare has no reason not to KK in Kyushu.
You already know my
thoughts on Chiyotaikai, so let's drop down to the Sekiwake ranks. Baruto is extremely compelling after his monstrous basho in September. The question now is can he keep up the momentum? If I'm not mistaken, the word "baruto" in Estonian doesn't mean consistency. The Sekiwake has never put together two solid basho in a row from these parts. Yes, he held the Sekiwake rank for four straight basho earlier in the year, but Ozeki talk didn't surface once because he was holding onto his rank with nine win performances. It doesn't mean that Baruto can't repeat himself this basho; he's just got a lot of work cut out for him. I would be shocked if Baruto won 12 again simply because he can't beat either of the Yokozuna, which means he can only be taken advantage of once with no more room for error after that. I see Bart flirting with 10 wins and keeping his Ozeki hopes alive, but I don't think he will factor into the yusho race in Kyushu.
Sekiwake Kakuryu, like Baruto, is a wild card. We know what these two can do from this level, but the Kak has been inconsistent as well. Before we speculate on win-loss records for these two, the important thing to stress is that solid Sekiwake are key to a good basho. If you say Bart's gonna win 10 and Kakuryu will win nine, that's a lot of wins that others close to them aren't going to get. I just don't see it happening. Give these two more like 17 wins between them, which means Kakuryu is scheduled for a 7-8 finish.
I'm not into dudes so to speak, but I have a man crush on both of our Komusubi, my two favorite rikishi in the sport right now. I see where Hakuho paid Kisenosato a visit for de-geiko, and Kisenosato finished 7-15 against the Yokozuna. Keiko results are largely inconsequential; the important thing I read from those numbers is that Kisenosato is healthy and he's had at least one quality keiko session just prior to the tournament. Odds are Kisenosato gives Baruto a run for his money as the top sanyaku performer. I like the Kid to win nine or so despite the tough start to his schedule. Gotta slay those Ozeki and pad the record in week 1. Same goes for Goeido who in the long run will surpass Kisenosato in my opinion, but who still has a lot to learn at this level. I love all four of these sanyaku rikishi, but as a said regarding the Sekiwake, there aren't enough wins to go around for all of these guys. Odds are that Goeido's lack of experience in winning at this level makes him the odd man out. 6-7 wins.
In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Takekaze should help the guys above them pad their records. With the fierce battle for wins from the sanyaku on up, I just don't see how Takekaze survives with more than four wins. It should be more like 3-12 if he's lucky. Counterpart Aminishiki has the experience this high, but Sneaky has seemed to fall off a bit the last year. He handles the cutthroat competition up here better than Takekaze, but it's going to be tough for Aminishiki to kachi-koshi. The only pushover is Takekaze this time around. Six wins.
M2 Kotoshogiku is like Aminishiki...a veteran with a lot of fighting experience at this level, but a guy who has fallen off the pace a bit the last little while. Kotoshogiku is a Fukuoka native, which means absolutely nothing. I just see a majority of the Sanyaku/Ozeki/Yokozuna scoring kachi-koshi, which leaves little left for the upper Maegashira. 6-7 wins for the Geeku. His counterpart is Tokitenku, who just isn't cut out for the kind of competition he'll face. Five wins.
M3 Tochiohzan is the number 16 guy on the banzuke, which spells big trouble since he'll likely face the 15 guys above him. I mean, look at who is after Tochiohzan on the banzuke: Bushuyama, Hokutoriki, and Iwakiyama. What's the better matchup for the Association...Hakuho vs. Tochiohzan or Hakuho vs. Bushuyama? I just don't see the Association looking past Tochiohzan to give the high rollers with no stablemates close by someone below him. And that spells trouble for Tochiohzan, who has never fared well this high up the banzuke. I don't see how the frustration doesn't continue as Oh
ekes out five wins in the end. The key for all of the aforementioned Maegashira is to feast on the weak Ozeki, and if any of these guys win eight, they more than deserve the sanyaku promotion that will follow.
M3 Bushuyama fills out the West slot, and he better hope I'm right in guessing Tochiohzan's schedule. If so, the worst Bush will get are the two
Sadogatake-beya Ozeki. You look at the competition below Bushuyama, and it's filled with guys he's used to fighting and guys he's beaten the last couple of basho. Bushuyama flirts with kachi-koshi but falls short in the end with no more than 7 wins.
M4 Hokutoriki can easily kachi-koshi from this level. He's too far away from the top of the banzuke, which is absolutely stacked. The key will be a pro-active start where Hokutoriki instigates the pace of his bouts with his annoying moro-te style. Look for Jokutoriki to win eight. I guess the same would apply for counterpart Iwakiyama in terms of average competition, but there's just something about being this high on the banzuke...a bit of added pressure that I don't think Iwakiyama will be able to defeat. I see the Moon in the Man a half step short in Kyushu leading to 5 or 6 wins.
M5 Toyonoshima has been stuck at this level for a year or so now. On one hand, he was on the wrong end of a rough keiko session with Asashoryu and Kaio kote-nage throw, but on the other hand you look at the sanyaku and top five Maegashira ranks, and there really isn't room for this guy anymore. As usual, he'll flirt with kachi-koshi but win no more than eight. Look at counterpart Kakizoe this high up the ranks. I think Zoe has the potential to actually kachi-koshi since his competition is the same he usually fights, but I think he'll suffer the same fate as Iwakiyama and realize he's a little too high for his own good...if that makes sense. Five wins.
I love the M6 rank with Wakanosato and Kyokutenho, two yotsu-zumo guys with completely different styles. These guys implement their veteran experience and share 19 wins between them with Tenho grabbing 10.
M7 Tamanoshima was roughed up after a basho among the jo'i in September, so he should find the going easier this basho. I think this inspires him to kachi-koshi and even flirt with double-digit wins. Counterpart Homasho is ranked too high and there's too many quality rikishi around him to go on one of his patented runs from lower in the ranks. I see Homie as being frustrated all basho finishing with 7-8 wins.
M8 Aran is the typical prototype rikishi we've seen from Russia so far. He gets the same competition that Homasho will see, which means Aran will struggle to win his eight as well. Oh, he'll get it; it will just require some unsavory means to do it. Aran should be a double-digit guy from this level, but I think he'll worry more about tricking his opponents into wins or taking what's given to him rather than just going out with a determination to kick
everyone's ass. Counterpart Tochinoshin is a much more polished rikishi not to mention his personal pre-basho sparring partner in Asashoryu. Shin skates to a nice record that should include ten wins. He could blow it though and do worse, but I don't see how he doesn't kachi-koshi.
M9 Yoshikaze has tough competition all around, and I don't seem him winning more than eight. Something tells me he'll finish with seven. Counterpart Miyabiyama dropped an uncharacteristic nine slots after a 4-11 showing from the M1 rank in September. I hope that pisses him off a bit. The Sheriff should bully his way to nine wins or so.
M10 Asasekiryu can't really sustain a rank higher than this. There's just so much youth below him and too many solid veterans above him that Sleepy-ryu's tired style doesn't cut it any more. He struggles and finishes with 6-7 wins. Counterpart Kokkai is largely in the same boat. If you don't have the game to constantly stick high on the banzuke, sometimes you just gotta re-invent yourself if you want to make another push. The problem with Kokkai is that his sumo has only regressed the last two years. Like Aran, he'll prolly find a way to win eight, and also like Aran, Kokkai's sumo ain't gonna be good-lookin'.
M11 Tamawashi makes his return to the division after a stint in Juryo. He has youth on his side and a host of slower guys below him, so look for The Mawashi to win his eight. Counterpart Takamisakari will have to work for his kachi-koshi as well, but he can easily handle the guys beneath him. 8-9 for the Cop and a well-deserved kachi-koshi interview for us to close out the year.
M12 Shotenro took a major dive after his 2-13 showing last basho from the M2 rank. Shotenro actually managed to beat Hakuho, though, and for his trouble, Hakuho sought him out during exhibition keiko and just kicked is ass reportedly worsening Shotenro's already injured knee. It sucks for Shotenro, and he'll be lucky to win his eight with a bad wheel, but this invites some interesting talking points. First, it's a Yokozuna's duty to seek out sanyaku or Maegashira rikishi who beat him last basho and work them over in keiko. The problem here is that Hakuho overdid it and had to be told by the oyakata watching the session to stop. As a result, Shotenro's leg is in worse shape, and it may take this guy a couple basho to recover. What gets me is the story lasted in the papers for one day and was reported as matter of fact. Now, contrast that with the way Asashoryu gets treated in the press if he injures someone in keiko. It's a complete double standard but one that you should be well aware of if you've followed Sumotalk for awhile.
Shotenro's counterpart, Toyohibiki, is struggling now just to stay in the division. This guy had so much potential when he first came up, but his footwork is too light and disables him from keeping his girth in front of his opponents. 7-8 wins.
M13 Tosayutaka is getting nudged little by little down the banzuke. I think the case with this guy is he's a hard worker and one of those rikishi you love to watch, but the other guys are simply onto him rendering it tough for him to do well. It will always be a struggle for this guy the rest of his career just to kachi-koshi. I'd say the odds are slightly in his favor that he does in Kyushu. Counterpart Mokonami finds himself in similar circumstances. He's given the division his best shot, and he has little to show for it. This guy really needs to re-invent his style and stop worrying about outer grips. Fight from the inside bro, and it'll work wonders for you. He's a toss-up for kachi-koshi.
If I could ban one rank on the banzuke from competing this basho it'd definitely be M14, which houses Kasugao and Kimurayama. I have nothin' good to say about either of these two who can't win without henka...and even then they can barely win. There are few rikishi whom I ever root to lose, but these guys share that dubious honor. And it's not as if they can't repent and get back into my good graces, but their henka-filled sumo is unwatchable.
M15 Yamamotoyama makes his return to the division, and I like his chances considering he's a good matchup with the guys immediately around him. Give the slug eight wins. Counterpart Shimotori has enjoyed the Makuuchi paycheck the last few basho, but you've likely noticed that he gets forced lower and lower with each tournament. Expect the trend to continue in Kyushu.
And finally, M16 Tamaasuka survived demotion to Juryo by the hair on his girlfriend's mustache. I just can't find any talking points about this guy and can safely declare he will make no impact on the Kyushu basho. 6-7 wins.
Before I get to my basho predictions, let me remind those outside of Japan that
we...er...uh someone has worked out a system to provide quality video feeds of
the daily bouts with English commentary (unfortunately not by us). The
link to this source has been posted on our forum the last few basho, but for
those who don't dwell there, click on our
links page, and the second link down will direct you to the bouts.
Here are my predictions for the basho:
Yusho - Hakuho (15-0)
Shukunsho - none
Kantosho - Kyokutenho
Ginosho - Kisenosato