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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
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
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
Here are my predictions for the basho once again assuming that all bouts will be
fought straight up.
Yusho: Hakuho (15-0)