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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Yusho: Hakuho (14-1)