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2012 Kyushu Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
For the first time in nearly three years, we have two Yokozuna back on the banzuke, but with both of them hailing from Mongolia, the novelty will wear off by day 3. Before we review the rikishi who will compete in the Makuuchi division, let's talk a bit about Harumafuji and what his promotion to Yokozuna means for him. During Harumafuji's run the past two basho, I couldn't help but liken him to Wakanohana III. And the comparisons don't just stop at their runs to Yokozuna. Wakanohana was always undersized in the division, but he compensated with a lot of grit and the occasional henka. Wakanosato had the benefit of fighting from the Futagoyama-beya, which at the time boasted a Yokozuna, two Ozeki, a Sekiwake mainstay, and three or four other guys who camped in the jo'i. The result was Wakanohana getting a soft schedule basho in and basho out.

And while the only other horse from Harumafuji's stable has been Aminishiki (if you can call him a horse), there's no doubt that Asashoryu and Hakuho took this kid under their wing and contributed to his success. Then you have as weak a banzuke as we've seen thanks to the purging of 17 rikishi from the sekitori ranks after the yaocho scandal, so it's safe to say that Harumafuji has been fighting the same light schedule as Wakanohana.

When Wakanohana clinched promotion to Yokozuna, two Yokozuna were injured and sat out including his younger brother Takanohana, and so the banzuke was dumbed down for him as he made his run. As for Harumafuji, the banzuke has been dumbed down for a year or more, and so it shouldn't be a surprise that a rikishi with serious moxie like Harumafuji was able to make a similar run, especially with the lone Yokozuna stepping back and doing him favors.

Wakanohana was a terrible Yokozuna, who lasted about a year and a half because he simply wasn't Yokozuna material to begin with. He was a great rikishi in his prime and good enough to legitimately grab a yusho here and there among a solid banzuke, but he wasn't a Yokozuna. Still, he achieved the rank, and so he was expected to fight like a Yokozuna basho in and basho out. He couldn't cut it and was eventually forced into retirement.

So will Harumafuji see the same fate? I don't think so simply because the rest of the banzuke is just plain bad, but I do think Harumafuji will run into a few issues. It's embarrassing if a Yokozuna goes 12-3. Okay, maybe once in a year it's acceptable, but a Yokozuna should win 13 bouts every basho. In order for Harumafuji to accomplish that, he's got to put more stress on his body than he can handle. Chiyonofuji is second place all time in career yusho with 32, but dude withdrew a lot as a Yokozuna particularly hampered by a bad shoulder that he would frequently dislocate. Like Harumafuji, Chiyonofuji was a Yokozuna as the lightest guy in the division, and so it's no surprise that he was oft injured. I can't stress enough just how weak the current banzuke is, but Harumafuji is still going to put a lot of miles on his body trying to live up to Yokozuna standards. I know it's an honor to reach the pinnacle of the sport, especially for a guy as small as Harumafuji, but it's going to wear him down physically first and mentally next. Sometimes achieving the Yokozuna rank can actually be a curse, and this may be the case with Harumafuji

Finally, it's already clear that Harumafuji does not have the press on his side. Immediately after his promotion became official, media outlets began nitpicking at his behavior similarly to the way they treated Asashoryu. Now, Howdo will not pile up yusho the way that Asashoryu did, but it's just one more thing that will add stress to his situation. The deck is stacked against him on several fronts, but whose going to really stop him?

On that note, let's get to the rikishi starting with Yokozuna Hakuho, who has been on a tear in pre-basho keiko thrashing the likes of a gimpy Kotoshogiku and the Sakaigawa-beya. Kotoshogiku is coming off of a knee injury, and the Sakaigawa-beya doesn't boast a rikishi higher than Sekiwake, but you have Baruto and Kotooshu coming off of injuries as well, so who is going to challenge Hakuho? The answer is no one. The only one who can stop Hakuho is Hakuho, so it will be up to the Yokozuna once again to determine his yusho fate. I know I've said this every basho (because I approach every basho as if it will be straight up), but Hakuho is primed to breeze to the yusho.

Yokozuna Harumafuji has looked good in keiko as well, and I think he can win 13 or so this basho, but let's watch him over time.

I love it that the highest-ranked Ozeki this time around is Kakuryu. Dude has been quiet since March when he had the yusho in the bag. I did read one keiko report where the Kak was worked by Hakuho, but the key with the Mongolian is he's healthy; most of the other Ozeki aren't. There's no reason why Kakuryu can't maintain this position heading into the new year, and I expect 11-12 wins.

Kisenosato is in a rut. Granted, the rut is 11 wins per basho, but the Kid can clearly do no more than that.

Kotoshogiku indicated that his knee is getting better, but it's still on his mind. That means he could try and compensate in other ways, but all that does is take him out of his brand of sumo. Since Kotoshogiku is a Fukuoka native, there's no way he doesn't win eight, but he's going to struggle to win 10.

Kotooshu is coming off of a shoulder injury, and he can recover from that faster than the Geeku can from a knee injury, but the Bulgarian has been bland forever, so he too has his work cut out for him in order to win in double digits.

Rounding out the Ozeki is Baruto, and I've actually seen footage of him at keiko. I was watching NHK the other night, and they did a special on Masunoyama in their "Spirit of the Athlete" series. It was really a great documentary, and seeing these guys up close like this is one of the reasons why I still love sumo. They showed Masunoyama in various keiko settings, and in one part he visited the Sakaigawa-beya to work out with Myogiryu. He just couldn't beat mYogiBear, and it was fun to watch Masunoyama try and solve him even though the Sekiwake was a step ahead of Masunoyama at every turn. After the Sakaigawa-beya session, they next showed Masunoyama at a lesser stable, but who should show up but Ozeki Baruto. The Estonian toyed with Masunoyama, and the point is his knee looked good to me. Baruto will likely have a bit of rust, but I think he wins 11 with ease.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Myogiryu will easily hold serve and find himself in this slot heading into the new year. Going back to that documentary, Masunoyama just couldn't solve Myogiryu in keiko nor can he solve him right now at a hon-basho, but Masunoyama can compete with the likes of Kaisei, Okinoumi, Aoiyama, and the like, so in terms of mathematics, if A (Myogiryu) > B (Masunoyama) and B = the rest of the rikishi Komusubi and below, you can see how Myogiryu will easily hold his rank. 10 wins.

Sekiwake Goeido will struggle as usual to win even eight. Chances are he'll get his kachi-koshi, but he won't win more than nine, and eventually the law of make-koshi averages will catch up to him.

Our two Komusubi are as good as we can expect from the remaining rikishi. Both Aminishiki and Homasho have a chance to kachi-koshi, and I'm encouraged that Homasho was so genki last basho. There aren't two other rikishi I'd rather have in their place, so let's hope these two can challenge the upper dudes and pull their sanyaku weight. I see 15 wins between the two.

Okinoumi leads the way among the Maegashira rikishi, and he'll fare similarly to the Komusubi. Okinoumi's still fairly young, and his height will allow him to stay in a majority of his bouts. Watch for 6 - 7 wins. Counterpart Tochiohzan is just too weak to impact the jo'i anymore, so I expect him to just roll over.

The fact that M2 Shohozan is still ranked this high after his Aki basho shows you just how bad the banzuke is in general. I guess he works his way to six wins. Counterpart Kaisei really needs to make a sanyaku run here, and I think he's got the goods to do it.

M3 is weak with Tochinoshin and Takekaze, and I don't see more than five wins apiece.

I love the M4 rank in Takayasu and Masunoyama. These two are the first Heisei-born Makuuchi rikishi, and they both have awesome stories. I can't say that their sumo is awesome at this point, but these two can both make the sanyaku eventually. I'll be rooting as hard for these two rikishi as anyone else, but I think they fall just short of eight wins. Both need a bit more experience at this level, and they need to hone their brand of sumo.

M5 Aoiyama could be the best rikishi from the Komusubi rank down, so let's hope he shows it in Kyushu. I see 9 - 10 wins.

Let's skip down to M7 where we find Gagamaru and Aran, two furreners who should easily kachi-koshi. The problem with Aran is that he just gives up when he's ranked among the jo'i, but Gagamaru's still got some game left in him. These two dudes should combine for about 20 wins.

Ikioi makes his return to the division but is ranked too high at M10.

Keep your eye one notch down on M11 Asahisho, who had a stellar debut at the Aki basho. The thing that will turn this sport around is youth, and so it's imperative that guys like Asahisho keep their momentum going. I think he can at this level of the banzuke.

Let's drop down to M14 Jokoryu, who is not only the lone rookie this basho but who now owns the record for fastest rise up to the division requiring only 9 basho to do it. On one hand, when someone sets an all-time record, you have to take notice, but on the other hand, look at the competition. Okay, let me put it another way: Jokoryu surpassed Aran who made the division in just 11 basho, and look what he's amounted to. Let's just wait and see on the rookie. I really like counterpart Chiyonokuni, but he hasn't been the same since his debut basho when he rocked the competition only to withdraw on like day 13 with a serious injury. I hope he's back.

And finally, Chiyotairyu sits in the M15 slot. Talk about so much physical potential that is hampered by a mental mess. I keep waiting for this guy to put it together like I keep waiting for Hakuho to take another yusho. Should eventually happen.

Here are my predictions for the basho once again assuming that all bouts will be fought straight up.

Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)
Shukunsho: none
Kantosho: Jokoryu
Ginosho: Myogiryu






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