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2011 Kyushu Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
I hate to post this and replace Clancy's senshuraku piece because when someone really throws down as Clancy did on day 15, it needs to be savored. Furthermore, nothing really happened in Kyushu that was out of the ordinary. Ok, maybe it was unusual to see Hakuho not throw any bouts to domestic rikishi, but other than that, if I had to sum up the fortnight in Kyushu I'd use the phrase "status quo." I thought we had the perfect banzuke for Kyushu, but the problem with that is if everyone fights according to their rank, we have no upsets and we have no one from the upper Maegashira over achieving and thus injecting some excitement into the basho. Hakuho's clinching the yusho on day 13 is indicative of how much he has lapped the field; Kisenosato's promotion to Ozeki with just 10 wins is indicative of how racial pride trumps actual results on the dohyo; and a 35 year-old rikishi ranked at J10 generating a high amount of press coverage is indicative of why solid sumo atop the dohyo isn't necessarily what the Japanese fans want to see.

Let's start our discussion of the basho with those three points. First, believe it or not, the circumstance that made me shake my head and roll my eyes the most in Kyushu was not the announcement that Kisenosato would be promoted to Ozeki even with 10 wins; rather, it was the Yokozuna Deliberation Council coming out after the basho and criticizing the sanyaku rikishi (Ozeki included) for allowing Hakuho to clinch the yusho on day 13. If the sumo atop the dohyo is to be clean, Hakuho is three to four bouts better than the next rikishi, so clinching the yusho on day 13 is expected. Furthermore, all of the Ozeki, both Sekiwake, and the East Komusubi not only won at least eight (half won in double digits), but they absolutely pummeled the upper Maegashira rikishi in the process. Sumo and the YDC can't have it both ways since clean sumo equals Hakuho yusho that are unchallenged. Several of the Ozeki did deserve criticism for their lackadaisical approach to the basho, so for the YDC to make such a banal statement about the yusho being determined on day 13 instead of identifying actual problem areas (a coupla Ozeki) shows just how useless the organization is.

It reminds me of three or so years ago when Musashigawa Rijicho came into power, and one of his first declarations was that he would clean up the tachi-ai. Meetings were held with the referees and judges to ensure sound tachi-ai, and the result was disastrous with bouts being called back for no reason and huge inconsistencies in what was allowed as a sound tachi-ai and what was called back. As Clancy aptly pointed out back then, it was a result of the judges being under scrutiny, so they had to at least do something--even if it was make up calls--to save face. Why couldn't the YDC call a spade a spade and declare that Hakuho is so superior to the rest of the field that he absolutely fulfilled his responsibilities as Yokozuna by kicking everyone's ass?

Next up is Kisenosato's promotion to Ozeki. I really have nothing new to say on the matter. If you read my blog after last basho talking about how Kotoshogiku's Ozeki promotion was orchestrated and that Kisenosato's turn would come in Kyushu, nothing that transpired in November should have surprised anyone. The Sumo Association had two choices heading into senshuraku: make Kisenosato win that last bout to earn promotion, which would have resulted in a thrown match; or declare Kisenosato an Ozeki beforehand and enjoy a straight up fight between Japan's #1 and #2 guys. I felt they made the correct choice. With the amount of yaocho exhibited in July and September, it was better to keep things as clean as possible in Kyushu. While I don't believe that Kotoshogiku nor Kisenosato earned these promotions without help, both rikishi are fighting at the level of the other Ozeki, so if it helps the Sumo Association feel better about themselves to have two Japanese Ozeki, so be it. We've already illustrated the politics behind the promotions, so I really have nothing new to say about it.

And finally, next to Kisenosato and Hakuho, J10 Takamisakari received the most coverage in the press this basho. At such a precarious rank, had Takamisakari failed to win six bouts, he likely would have been demoted to the Makushita division leaving him really no choice but to retire. The media followed him every day reporting on the results, and while the Juryo rikishi got off to a slow start, he eventually turned things around with a 9-6 performance. Why I even mention this is to illustrate that in order for a rikishi to become widely popular in Japan, he has to have something beyond just what he does in the ring. In the case of Takamisakari and Takanoyama, the two are such nerds that you can't help but notice them. In the case of Takanohana and Wakanohana, they were the sons of an extremely popular Ozeki, who was himself way undersized and used lots of gimmick sumo to win...something the Japanese fans caught onto and adored. In the case of Chiyotaikai, he was the first sekitori raised by the Wolf...nuff said there. In the case of Tochiazuma, he was the son of a popular rikishi from Tokyo and a spitten image of his old man...another little quirky thing that the Japanese people latched onto. And finally, Kaio was a lovable character with a gap in his front teeth who actually muscled his way to five yusho during Asashoryu's prime earning him hero status among the domestic population.

The whole reason I even talk about this is because neither Kisenosato nor Kotoshogiku have anything that will endear the Japanese fans to them. And when I say endear, I mean increase attendance at the sumos. The man in the golden top hat will of course root for these two the most as will the rest of the Japanese fans, but they don't have that extra something--whether it be good looks, a strange quirk, lineage, etc.--that will create a fervor and redirect interest back towards sumo. That is not to say that at some point in the future, sumo will never enjoy a resurgence. I actually think it's entirely possible that sumo's popularity will rise again. It just won't happen on the coattails of Kisenosato or Kotoshogiku. This is not to criticize the Sumo Association for their rush promotions of these two. They had to make this move to stop further bleeding, but it's going to take the retirement of the current foreign rikishi (with no influx of new furries) coupled with the emergence of the Japanese rikishi we've recently seen obtain sekitori status.

Okay, enough of my random thoughts from the basho. Let's examine the key players in Kyushu beginning with Yokozuna Hakuho who blew a huge chance to capture another zensho yusho (undefeated record) with that senshuraku loss to Baruto. Going 15-0 over the course of a tournament is so hard to do, especially when the yusho is clinched on day 13 or day 14 and the rikishi relaxes mentally. Asashoryu and Hakuho have actually made the zensho yusho look easy the last half decade, but it is such a difficult task that guys like Akebono, who had double-digit yusho, never went 15-0 once in his career.

While losing out on another zensho yusho, I think what hurt more with that senshuraku loss was the halting of Hakuho's 16 bout winning streak heading into Hatsu. Clancy correctly speculated on day 10 that Hakuho was getting ready to make another ominous run, and during the week after the basho, Hakuho mentioned the possibility of another huge win streak himself this next year. His exact quote was, "I'm the 69th Yokozuna, so I'm shooting for 69 consecutive wins," a mark that happens to be the all-time record set by Futabayama. Over the last few years, the only rikishi in my opinion who have legitimately beaten Hakuho are Baruto, Kisenosato, and Harumafuji, so if he can take care of those yayhoos the next few basho, we should see another epic run from the dai-Yokozuna. Hakuho sumo's in Kyushu was flawless 'cept for his over eagerness against Baruto on senshuraku, which caused him to slip up of his own accord. My opinion is that zensho yusho and huge win streaks will capture more fan interest than the coddling of domestic rikishi, so look for Hakuho to dominate headlines in 2012.

Speaking of Ozeki Baruto, props to him for his win over Hakuho, which earned him about $14K (US) in kensho money alone, but dude can't come out sleeping as he did in Kyushu. That 1-3 start was weak, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be anything motivating this guy anymore. My impression of Baruto in Kyushu was that he survived due to his size. Even in that win against Hakuho, it wasn't a straight up win over the Yokozuna. Rather, Baruto evaded to the side and caught the Yokozuna off guard. Should Baruto ever devote himself to serious keiko prior to the basho and then come out and dictate the pace of his bouts, he can capture a yusho, but in his current condition where his sumo is too reactionary, 11-4 is the norm.

Ozeki Harumafuji never did settle into the tournament scraping by with an 8-7 record. Of those eight wins, seven were by different kimari-te, and the one winning technique that was duplicated was yori-taoshi, a reckless kimari-te for a small guy like HowDo. Using moves like komata-sukui and watashi-komi is a sign that the Ozeki's sumo has no substance. For a guy to really be a player, he needs to consistently win using the same techniques. The occasional hataki-komi is fine only if it's set up by plenty of oshi-dashi and yori-kiri wins, and speaking of yori-kiri wins--the most common kimari-te in sumo--Harumafuji didn't have a single one. Contrast that with his list of kimari-te in Nagoya where he actually took the yusho. Harumafuji has let up considerably since July, and if the YDC is actually going to say something of worth, they should single out guys individually like Baruto and Harumafuji for their clear lack of preparation of late.

I thought Ozeki Kotooshu did well to finish 9-6, but that was due in part to the upper Maegashira ranks struggling. The Ozeki didn't beat a rikishi who would kachi-koshi until the final day when he toppled fellow Ozeki Harumafuji, who finished just 8-7. Like Baruto, Kotooshu's sumo is totally reactionary these days, but unlike Baruto, Kotooshu can't counter anymore when he gives up moro-zashi from the tachi-ai. And the Bulgarian is not going through a funk; his heart is just not into it anymore and it shows atop the dohyo.

Kotooshu will be surpassed in the Sadogatake-beya hierarchy by Kotoshogiku starting next basho. I thought the Geeku looked solid early on, but as the basho progressed, it was clear that the upper Maegashira simply stunk and posed no real challenge to the elite. Then when Kotoshogiku met up with larger rikishi in Baruto, Hakuho, and Tochinowaka, he looked weak. Still, the Geeku beat Toyonoshima, Kakuryu, and Kisenosato earning him the best record of that foursome, but I don't see Kotoshogiku ever winning 12 in a basho again...straight up that is. You have to give the rookie Ozeki props, though, for coming out and going 9-0 despite the competition.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Kisenosato was just average, and he lucked out big time by having the upper Maegashira all suck so bad. The Kid showed some flashes of brilliance, but there were multiple bouts where he was on the brink to crappy rikishi like Gagamaru. He was not fighting at the level of an Ozeki in Kyushu, and that includes the current watered down version of the rank. One of my biggest concerns regarding Kisenosato is the loss of his stablemaster. He's now gone from a former Yokozuna to a guy whose current duties in the Association are to sit on a folder chair as part of his security detail and stare into space. The Kid still needs some polishing to his sumo, and I read where prior to the basho (and prior to his mentor's death), that Takanosato had his prodigy review videos of when Kisenosato was first promoted to the Juryo ranks. His style back then was pretty much straight up oshi, and he needs to get back to that style because he looks so lost at times in a belt fight starting with the tachi-ai. I thought Kotoshogiku's promotion was premature, but Kisenosato's promotion easily trumps that, especially because he's on his own now.

Sekiwake Kakuryu is quietly re-establishing himself as a playuh among the elite. The problem now is that the promotions to Ozeki are done, so it's going to take at least 35 wins over three basho for Kakuryu to force yet another promotion. The Kak's sumo was nails in Kyushu and a stark contrast to his Aki basho. You just look at his kimari-te and it's straight up yori-kiri or oshi-dashi with that lone hataki-komi tracer. Oh yeah, he also defeated Tochinowaka by tsuki-dashi on senshuraku, and you know my explanation of tsuki vs. oshi. As long as Kakuryu has no pressure on him, he's going to continue to post 9 - 10 wins each basho, and I love him as a Sekiwake.

Komusubi Toyonoshima will rightfully assume his place in the Sekiwake ranks for Hatsu, and Tugboat got the basho off on the right keel with two wins over Baruto and Kotooshu on the first two days. Like Kakuryu, Toyonoshima will have to win 35 or more to be promoted himself, but he is all but on the same plane as the current Ozeki, and he'll continue to show that by beating his fair share each basho. He took care'a three Ozeki in Kyushu if anyone's counting.

Komusubi Homasho was flat out injured. There are a handful of guys who never let up on the dohyo with Tosanoumi being a recent example. Homasho is another one of those guys, so when you see him without any fighting spirit, you know something's wrong. Homie is one of my favorite characters, but frequent injuries have resulted in his moving only as high as the Komusubi rank. Get well my man because you make a huge difference when you're healthy.

M1 Okinoumi is another dude like Homasho that has me thinking mancrush from time to time. Unlike Homasho, Okinoumi was at 100% in Kyushu, and for the most part he lost to kachi-koshi guys and beat make-koshi guys, but when you have a banzuke that is so top heavy, you have to score more upsets than Baruto if you want your eight. The upside to Okinoumi is he knows that he needs to take advantage of his size and strength. He was only involved in belt contests in Kyushu--a great sing, and over time he's going to start learning how to win a majority of them. He was just fine at 7-8 and he thankfully won't fall far for the Hatsu basho.

I don't know what to think of counterpart Goeido. You just look at his list of kimari-te for both wins and losses, and there's absolutely no consistency, which explains his haphazard sumo. Ultimately, Goeido just doesn't have a mentor in the sport, and the result is a guy who has every bit the potential as the two newest Ozeki but who doesn't have someone to show him how to put it all together. Yeah, he was 7-8 this basho, but he was an ugly 7-8 while Okinoumi's 7-8 was far more sexy (dang, there's that mancrush thing again).

M2 Tochinoshin finishing 2-13? Thanks to a win over Tsurugidake on senshuraku? This is one guy who exemplifies the military term of "inferior." The bright side to his ignominious performance is that Tochinoshin is no longer needed among the jo'i. There's plenty of youngsters ready to step up and take his place. Good riddance. No comment on M2 Kyokutenho's 4-11. Been there done that.

M3 Aran's 4-11 shows why we need to purge the sport of foreign rikishi...well, at least the whiteys. Counterpart Gagamaru's 2-13 was expected considering this was his first time fighting among the jo'i. A guy that is really overweight and who has terrible footwork is going to get an apple shoved in his mouth and find himself rotating on a spit every single basho when fighting at this level. Usually, you can give a guy a pass when he goes 5-10 in his jo'i debut, but 2-13? See ya.

I would have liked to have seen M4 Tochinowaka pick up that last win that would have propelled him into the final Komusubi slot, but he made his statement this basho regardless of his 7-8 finish. Dude fought the Yokozuna (better than anyone else), all four Ozeki, and both Sekiwake picking up two wins over Ozeki in the process. I raved about him all basho, so there's really not much more to add. Tochinowaka is fearless, he's got a great sumo body, and he's adept at fighting at the belt or shoving his opponent out. The other rikishi who made his jo'i debut along with Tochinowaka? Gagamaru. I needn't say more. This dude is sumo's next. Counterpart Tochiohzan looked sharp until an injury forced him to withdraw midway, but he had been lapped by guys like Toyonoshima and Kakuryu. Okinoumi's better than him and so is Tochinowaka, so the dude is going to finish his career ruling the mid-Maegashira.

M5 Kitataiki did kachi-koshi, which will propel him to M1 at least for Hatsu, but he basically beat nobodies all basho long (his senshuraku "win" over Toyonoshima was meaningless). He's going to contract Gagamaru syndrome for Hatsu guaranteed. I kind of felt bad for counterpart Yoshikaze. A veteran hates nothing worse than to be shown up by a rookie or a relative newbie to these parts, so when he lost to Myogiryu and then Daido two of the last three days, you could see the frustration on his face.

M6 Aminishiki went par for the course finishing 9-6 from these parts, but the last thing his banged up body needs is to be thrown around by the jo'i in Hatsu. He'd do well to add a second bedroll around his other leg cause he's gonna do a lotta flying off that dohyo. As for counterpart Miyabiyama, he will likely ascend to the final Komusubi slot, but 9 of his 11 wins were by pull down or similar techniques. That's going to translate in his arse getting handed to him day after day from the jo'i.

There's nothing worse than an M7 Tokitenku keta-guri. After a 1-5 start, the Mongolian resorted to shenanigan sumo to sorta make things respectable, but nobody is fooled. Same goes for Takekaze. His 10-5 is meaningless since it was obtained with henka after henka after henka. What a worthless rank this basho.

M8 Takayasu didn't look great this basho; yet, he still managed a 9-6 performance due to the mediocre competition. The dude fights way too high for his own good, and with so many guys among the jo'i suffering make-koshi, he's going to find himself in dangerous parts come January. On one hand, I always like seeing decent young guys fight among the big boys, but if he doesn't lower his line of attack a bit, he's going to get filleted.

M9 Wakanosato's 2-13 finish (after withdrawing on day 5) will send the Barometer down to Juryo, but this guy's sumo is still sound enough that he'll easily make it back up for March. M9 Wakakoyu picked up a special prize for his 12-3 performance that included way too many pull downs for my taste. Granted, he meets his opponents with solid tachi-ai and uses the pull effectively as an offensive maneuver, but he can't go to that well forever. Guys'll start reading him quick. Still, I think Wakakoyu can actually secure a berth in the sanyaku (he'll never go higher than Komusubi), but that will only come when he follows up his solid tachi-ai with straight forward sumo fueled by de-ashi. I no the dude can do it, but once you get accustomed to the dark side, it's hard to go back.

Did something happen in Georgia recently that I wasn't privy to like the country getting swallowed into a giant sinkhole? Tochinoshin goes 2-13 and Kokkai actually one-ups him finishing 1-14! Maybe it is a good thing these guys aren't on the front lines protecting their country in the Georgian army. Pardon me while I shudder.

Let's skip down to M11 Myogiryu who was fantastic in his debut. Four of his five losses were by pulldown or kote-nage...moves where the opponent is actually evading and not trying to win with forward sumo. Shohozan was the only guy to beat him straight up (in a great bout overall), and I know this sounds weird, but his wins over veterans Takekaze, Yoshikaze, and even M5 Kitataiki says a lot to me. Myogiryu looked and acted like he belonged, and he's going to be a star in the division. He sees his opponents so well, his tachi-ai his fast (I think he can even take advantage of the two new Ozeki with that tachi-ai), and he fights from the legs up. Noting but praise for this guy who shined in his debut. As I mentioned on day 13, I really felt he deserved a special prize considering just high up in the ranks he fought for a newbie.

M13 Tamawashi has been in steady decline the last year, and his 5-10 lackluster performance from this rank was good enough to land him in Juryo for Hatsu. He won't be missed. Counterpart and fellow countryman Asasekiryu is on the brink as well after his 6-9 stink bomb. With Kisenosato's promotion to Ozeki, that cuts an extra rank from the bottom of the charts, so Sexy is in dangerous waters.

M14 Kaisei will fall to Juryo after his 6-9 from this rank, but I'm actually glad to be getting rid of all these foreign rikishi. They just don't have the work ethic anymore, and they're totally stinking the place up.

Having never visited Spain, my only impression of the country came from my association from Oscar, so you can imagine how bad my impression was. However, after learning that Spain was sensible enough to import Cheetohs and Doritos through a company named Matutano, I've done a complete 180. Of course this is all thanks to M15 Shohozan (former Matsutani) who was impressive in his Makuuchi debut going 10-5. He's not quite as potent as Myogiryu, but he's a similar rikishi who focuses on straightforward sumo. Shohozan basically beat up on weaklings the first two-thirds of the basho, but he finished out with wins over Myogiryu, Aminishiki, and Takekaze proving he's legit. Counterpart Sadanofuji was our third rookie, and he was okay finishing 8-7. He means well but has a little less bite than the first two rookies we've mentioned, but I like how he understands that his strength is an oshi attack and stick to it.

M16 Aoiyama finished the best of the rookies with his 11-4 performance, but I don't think he's as good as Myogiryu or Shohozan. He has the potential due to his large size, but I don't see the same sound basics that the other two employ. I like how Aoiyama was able to adjust to the style of his opponent showing he can win at the belt or in a shoving match, but I want to see a bit more tenacity at the tachi-ai. Counterpart Tsurugidake was our final rookie, but everything was stacked against him. It took him forever to get here, he's old, and he's from the Fujishima-beya. He just doesn't have the size or stamina, and unfortunately it's not something that Viagra can solve. I doubt we see him back in the division.

And finally, M17 Kimuryama showed that he is done in the division as well mustering only a 4-11 finish from the bottom wrung of the banzuke. Dude's a one-trick pony, and everyone knows it now.

As we look ahead to the Hatsu basho, let's hope that they don't shake up the banzuke too much. I mean, if you ask me, Tochinowaka should get promoted after the sumo he displayed in Kyushu. What we'll get, though, is someone like Takayasu taking his place who will try hard but doesn't have to tools yet to make things interesting from the jo'i.

I will chime in with my usual year-end report, and then it's right back at it January 8th.

2011 Kyushu Basho Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
This has been as bizarre of a pre-basho as I can ever remember. Things started out so slow thanks to the baseball playoffs in Japan demanding the majority of the media coverage, especially with Fukuoka's hometown team right in the thick of it all. The only sumo news coming across the wires in the beginning were updates to the Naruto-beya situation following a string of tabloid articles that alleged physical abuse by the stable master with Kisenosato as his accomplice and then allegations of doping where Naruto-oyakata gave Takanoyama insulin to try and fatten him up. So with no keiko reports other than maybe one or two from the Sadogatake-beya, Naruto-oyakata suddenly dies the week before the basho is set to begin!

The stable master was observing morning keiko on November 6th, and then 24 hours later he was dead. On November 8th, sumo's board of directors was supposed to hold an emergency meeting to determine if Naruto-oyakata and Kisenosato were guilty of the allegations raised in the tabloid articles, and if so, what should the punishment be? Instead, their meeting turned into "what do we do with the Naruto-beya now?". It turns out that the board agreed to let former Makuuchi behemoth Takanotsuru assume the name of Naruto and take control of the stable. As for any punishments, it was wisely determined that Naruto-oyakata's death had atoned for any sins and then some.

One aspect that makes this whole story bizarre is that Kisenosato was on the verge of promotion to Ozeki, so how was the Association going to punish him for his alleged role in the physical abuse of his stable mates? Hanaregoma Rijicho had stated that they needed to resolve the matter before the day 1 bouts were determined, which implied that Kisenosato could actually be forced to go kyujo. I'm sure that enough damning evidence existed to warrant stiff penalties for both oyakata and prodigy, so the Sumo Association was in a very precarious situation since they were desperate to add another Japanese Ozeki.

Personally, I don't suspect any foul play in the death of Naruto-oyakata, but if my memory serves me correctly, the last time a sumo official suddenly died of a "respiratory ailment" was back in 1996 when the former Onaruto-oyakata and sumo insider Seiichiro Hashimoto both suddenly gave up the ghost in the same hospital just before an appointment with the media to expose bout fixing in sumo and its ties to the mafia. It's just too crazy to consider that Naruto-oyakata may not have died from a combination of diabetes, severe obesity, and mental stress from this latest scandal, but it does make part of me wonder. I mean, isn't it common protocol that when someone dies unexpectedly an autopsy is conducted to determine cause of death? The hospital where he died reported to the media that he died of acute respiratory failure, and that was the end of the story. Isn't anyone the least bit curious what caused the respiratory failure?

Here are the facts that have been reported regarding Naruto-oyakata's death:
- He was hospitalized the night of November 6th
- The hospital gave him medication used to treat asthma
- Kisenosato went to visit the oyakata the night of the 6th, but he was already in a coma
- Naruto died the next morning of acute respiratory failure according to doctors

In talking with Clancy about the bizarre nature of this whole thing, he speculated that Naruto-oyakata could have even attempted suicide in order to accept responsibility, which is actually plausible given how intricate a role suicide has played and continues to play in Japanese culture. I need to reiterate that neither Clancy or I believe that foul play was involved here, but are we the only two that ever notice when "facts" reported by the media don't tell the whole picture? My intention here is not to suggest a conspiracy, but I have a helluva lot more questions than I do answers regarding this whole thing, and since my role here is to comment on sumo, I'm pointing out that my analytical mind can't make sense of what's been reported. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some information is being withheld to protect someone or something whether it's Naruto's family, his legacy, the doctors, the hospital, or even the Association itself.

Anyway, while we're on the subject of Naruto-oyakata's sudden death, it kills me that the Japanese media won't list the name of the hospital where he died. Luckily for all of you, the Kashii Shrine where the Naruto-beya sets up camp was right in my backyard when I lived in Fukuoka, so as a public service announcement to any gaijin living on Fukuoka's east side who may be feeling a bit ill, stay the hell away from the Kyushu University Medical Center, especially if you're having difficulty breathing and there are men dressed in black suits lurking nearby with pillows in their hands.

Lastly, I wonder how the folks at the Shukan Shincho tabloid are feeling about now. I'm sure they had even more juicy articles ready to go for subsequent issues, and I can just picture Monday afternoon's meeting in the board room as the rats planned their next Naruto-beya exposť. Don't spend too much time washing the blood off your paws fellas.

Okay, let's turn our focus now to the rikishi in preparation for the upcoming basho. With everything that's been going on surrounding the Naruto-beya, you can understand why there have been almost no keiko reports. What we do know is this: Kotoshogiku dominated Kotooshu at one practice session, and Hakuho dominated Kotoshogiku at another practice session 14-1 not to mention Hakuho's ass kicking of Goeido 22-0 a few days ago. In short, the gap between Hakuho and the rest of the field is so wide that the Yokozuna simply isn't challenged. Oh, he may drop a bout or two in Kyushu, but it will be all strategic. I think it's a guarantee he lets Kisenosato get him again as obvious as it may be, so let's pencil in Hakuho for the yusho with a 14-1 record. It also wouldn't surprise me to see him win this thing by three bouts. There is such parity among the jo'i rikishi this basho that it will be extremely difficult for anyone to keep pace with Hakuho beyond day 5 or so.

In the Ozeki ranks, I've read nothing regarding Baruto or Harumafuji, so there's really nothing new to say. I expect both guys to win 9 or 10, and is it really true that just two months ago people were talking about Harumafuji and the Yokozuna rank? These two are only slightly better than the eight guys ranked below them in that Baruto has the body to yusho and Harumafuji has actually done it.

Ozeki Kotooshu has been abysmal this whole year, and even with his back against the wall this basho as a kadoban Ozeki, I think it's going to be a nail-biter as he tries to win even eight. He just doesn't have the desire anymore and retirement can't be far off.

Which brings us to the Sekiwake rank..er..our newest Ozeki in Kotoshogiku. I've already talked at length about Kotoshogiku's promotion being a team effort, and even then, dude only managed 33 wins over three basho. Without the yaocho he's benefited from the last few basho, Kotoshogiku is going to have to earn all of his wins, which means a 9-6 campaign at best in my eyes. The weakest guy in my opinion from the M3 rank on up is Kotooshu, a guy the Geeku won't even get to face. This banzuke has zero rikishi outside of the jo'i who actually belong in the top 16. You usually have a Goeido or Tochinoshin who suck from the Komusubi rank and fall down around the M6 range only to be replaced by a Takekaze or Yoshikaze or Miyabiyama. Not this basho. There ain't a slouch from the M4 rank on up, so everyday is going to be a battle for the Geeku. With the focus--and sympathy--headed towards Kisenosato this basho, the Geeku's in for a struggle.

Okay, let's get to Sekiwake Kisenosato who has been the main focus for everyone prior to the basho. NHK Japanese announcer and former Yokozuna, Kitanofuji, has been trailing Kisenosato pretty much everyday, and I thoroughly agree with his assessment that Kisenosato only needs to fight at his normal level to win 11. Kisenosato will have the same competition as Kotoshogiku, but then again Kisenosato is the better rikishi. Sumo really needs a feel good story right now, and it's setting up perfectly for the Kid. The Sekiwake will be fighting for his deceased mentor, and he's going to have the karma go his way, so watch for a fast start and a 12-3 finish. I just don't see a lot of people who are going to try and make his Ozeki run difficult.

Across the aisle to the West is Kakuryu, who has been all but forgotten after that horrific start in Aki when he was up for Ozeki promotion...on paper. As usual, Kakuryu will be a sleeper in Kyushu, and with plenty of tough rikishi in the jo'i, I think the Kak wins no more than nine. Pencil him in for eight wins, and since I don't suspect anyone above him will make-koshi, the losses have got to come from somewhere. It could start with Kakuryu.

The key for Komusubi Toyonoshima will be to beat a few guys ranked above him. He's always proved that he beats the guys lower than him, so it will simply come down to how many upsets he can score. I like Toyonoshima to kachi-koshi but not win more than eight. You gotta love Homasho sitting in that West slot, his first sanyaku berth ever. Homie's been on fire of late, and there's not a better rikishi on the banzuke who exemplifies what traditional sumo is all about. Homasho is mature enough that I don't' see him getting intimidated by his rank, so I expect his usual up-tempo sumo that will score a few upsets along the way. It will be a challenge for him to win his eight, but I think he gets at least seven.

Leading the Maegashira rikishi is none other than Okinoumi, who will be fighting for his first ever shot at the sanyaku. As far as his physical traits, he's very similar to Homasho in fighting style although a touch taller. Where he trails Homasho is mental strength. It's not to say he doesn't have any; he's just young and still relatively inexperienced at this level. I think the desire will be there for Okinoumi, but with the depth of experienced guys around him, I think he comes up short with 5 or 6 wins. I hope I'm wrong here too. His counterpart is Goeido, perhaps the most frustrating rikishi on the banzuke next to Kotooshu and Baruto. I talk in my recent blog about the culture of a stable and how they just don't make 'em like Takanosato anymore. I think it's a relevant subject for Goeido coming from the Sakaigawa-beya. Remember when Toyohibiki first emerged in the division, and you thought "he's at least sanyaku material"? Well, it turns out he's amounted to nothing, and Goeido is an immense underachiever. When you think about it, Goeido was best when he had a real badass mentoring him in the keiko ring. Yes, it was Asashoryu. I'm still waiting for this guy to show some consistency, but as the years go by and we don't get it, I can't get excited about him. Give him six or seven wins (sigh).

M2 Tochinoshin is at the perfect level on the banzuke. He hasn't proven that he can hold a steady sanyaku job, but he has proven that he can regularly beat anyone on the banzuke besides Hakuho. With so many rikishi expected to hover around 8 wins in these parts, I don't think that Tochinoshin can win eight himself. Like Goeido, I expect to see him finish with 6 or 7. Counterpart Kyokutenho is definitely a wildcard in this slot. He's absolutely no threat to take a special prize, but he can beat anyone he faces 'cept for Hakuho. If I had to put money on the Chauffeur, I say he finishes 4-11, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him score multiple upsets and win as many as seven.

M3 is an interesting rank with two Eastern Europeans in Aran and Gagamaru. My take on Aran is the exact same as Kyokutenho. I expect 4-11 but won't be surprised if he flirts with kachi-koshi. As for Gagamaru, I expect him to have an apple forced into his mouth and to be twirling on a spit over the flames by basho's end. Gagamaru had a great basho in September, and he even defeated Baruto along the way, but it's one thing for a guy to get off to a hot start down low and score an upset over an Ozeki after he's on a roll, but it's completely different to have to face Ozeki-like competition day after day. Guys that have success their first time among the jo'i reach the elite level in two or three basho after entering the division. Gagamaru's been around for nearly two years now. I just don't see how he can keep pace with the fierceness required in the jo'i so look for about four wins if he's lucky.

You know I love me some M4 Tochinowaka, and I'm not talking about the Jerry Sandusky type. As I stated with Gagamaru, a rikishi who quickly moves to this level after entering the division has a far greater chance of success his first time, and while I don't expect Tochinowaka to burn it up or even kachi-koshi, I do see him establishing a presence and scoring six wins or so. He's right on the edge meaning he won't fight everyone above him, but he'll get a sufficient taste of the big time, and I expect him to fare well. Look for a repeat basho from counterpart Tochiohzan. Oh has the experience at this level, but he can't hold up the entire fortnight. Watch for a decent start again and then dumb losses down t he stretch. 7-8.

Things really start to get irrelevant from the M5 rank. Case in point: Kitataiki and Yoshikaze.

M6 is somewhat compelling with ole broken down veterans in Aminishiki and Miyabiyama. It's from this rank that many rikishi put themselves in the limelight for the next tournament since the competition is mediocre, and it's easy to win nine or so. I expect both of these guys to be ranked in the jo'i for January with nine wins apiece.

Let's skip Tokitenku and Takekaze at M7 and move to M8 where Shotenro has announced his kyujo due to appendicitis. Counterpart Takayasu finds himself in a tricky place on the banzuke. From what I've seen of this kid so far, this is about as high of a rank as he deserves due more to his lack of size than actual ability. Remember, though, he fights from the Naruto-beya, so he could have extra incentive this basho. Takayasu is one of my favorite rikishi, so I'm rooting for a good basho. He's really got to prove himself here if he expects to be a playuh in the future. I think he finishes at 7-8 disappointing his fans.

Let's jump clear down to the M11 rank where we see our first Makuuchi rookie in Myogiryu. I have not seen this kid fight, but he took the Juryo yusho the last two basho in a row and that says something. The reason it's meaningful is you look all around this guy on the charts, and it's full of rikishi who could just as well be fighting from the Juryo ranks. Based on his momentum from the last several tournaments, I see him winning at least nine.

M14 Kaisei is worth noting this low in the ranks. Back in May as a rookie, this Tomozuna prodigy could do no wrong, and after following it up with a decent July, he flat out stunk in September. It's like he suddenly went on a diet of lead and concrete mix. I could not believe how slow he looked to me in Aki, and hopefully that was due to injury. We've obviously heard nothing about his condition prior to this basho, but he's one to keep an eye on. If he's healthy, he could win 11 or 12, but maybe he wasn't injured to begin with in September. I wouldn't bet the farm on him this basho, but let's watch him to see if last basho was a fluke or if this really is the beginning of the end for his Makuuchi career.

M15 is occupied by two more rookies in Shohozan (former Matsutani) and Sadanofuji. Of the two, Shohozan is the better rikishi, but let's wait for the first few days until we can begin to get a sense for these two.

M16 houses our final two rookies in Aoiyama and Tsurugidake. Aoiyama is another Bulgarian, so expect similar things as we saw from Kotooshu and the other Eastern European rikishi for that matter. In other words, I expect him to have about two good years in the division and then just suck. Suck of course is something that counterpart Tsurugidake will have no problem doing straightway this basho.

Just by way of note, I know all of us will be watching sumo intently, but the fans in Fukuoka couldn't care less. The Japan Series begins on Saturday (Nov. 12), and Fukuoka's team, the Softbank Hawks, are in the finals. And not only are they in the finals against the Chunichi Dragons from Nagoya, but the Hawks are clearly the best team in Japan. The city will be in a frenzy for the next week regarding baseball, so sumo will get next to no attention domestically until the second week of the tournament. Having said that, here are my predictions for the Kyushu basho:

Yusho: Hakuho (14-1)
Ginosho: Kisenosato
Shukunsho: Kisenosato
Kantosho: Myogiryu






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