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2014 Kyushu Pre-basho Report (Page 2)

So who was the rikishi who kept Ichinojo out of the East Sekiwake slot? That would be Aoiyama who has actually looked quite good the last few basho fighting from among the jo'i. Physically, Aoiyama can't move fast enough to beat the Yokozuna, but with the huge drop-off between the Yokozuna and everyone else, Aoiyama should be just fine even with his stand-up-straight style. I expect eight wins from the Bulgarian.

Similarly to the Ozeki rank, the Komusubi rank has become a joke in sumo of late. It's no longer populated by guys who make a stand from the jo'i. Rather, it's populated by dudes who did well from about the M6 region and find themselves here by default because no one above them could kachi-koshi. Okay, in the case of Takekaze, he was demoted from Sekiwake last basho, but he achieved the Sekiwake rank then due to a nice record from the middle of the Maegashira ranks. To the West to the West (wasn't that a Beyoncé song?), we have Ikioi who slides up from M5 with no one else worthy to round out the sanyaku. These two Komusubi are incapable of creating excitement at this basho, so they're gonna hang around in name only. Look for them to finish with about 10 wins collectively.

One of the few guys who does belong among the jo'i is M1 Tochiohzan who occupies the top rank-and-file seat after falling from grace two basho ago due to an injury. I'm on record declaring this guy as the best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke, and while a shoulder injury threw a wrench in things the last two tournaments, I expect Tochiohzan's presence to be felt once again in Kyushu. Look for a slow 2-5 start followed by a hot streak in the end and a kachi-koshi. It's really be nice to have Oh at full strength and occupying the Sekiwake ranks moving forward with Ichinojo.

Beyond Tochiohzan, we have the usual tired names hanging around these parts like Aminishiki, Toyohibiki, Takayasu, Kaisei, and Yoshikaze. Two dudes I will single out from the bottom half of the jo'i are M2 Takarafuji and M3 Terunofuji. I think it would be a career accomplishment for a guy like Takarafuji to actually reach the sanyaku. He sits at his career highest rank at M2, and while he's a guy that doesn't have the tools to really become a star in sumo, I always find myself rooting for him, probably because he's a straight up yotsu guy with decent strength. While I don't expect a kachi-koshi, I think he can do it this basho if he can catch a few of the Ozeki by surprise.

As for Terunofuji, he's my obvious bromance interest at the moment. Currently at the M3 slot, I think he's superior to all of the Japanese rikishi, and it's only a matter of time before he will become a sanyaku mainstay. Hailing from the Isegahama-beya (operated by former Yokozuna Asahifuji), I think the reins have been pulled back on him a bit, especially in his contests with the current Ozeki, but I like this guy more than Ichinojo. Ichinojo enjoys the girth advantage on Terunofuji, but it stops there. The M3 is faster and clearly more skilled at sumo than Ichinojo, and it would not surprise me to see Terunofuji turn out to be the more consistent rikishi in the end. I just love everything about him, and you know you've arrived in sumo when you're asked to step aside here and there for Ozeki. Give him eight wins at least.

I think at a certain point, a rikishi has to demonstrate decent sumo skills to survive, and that's why M5 Osunaarashi has struggled of late. Early on in the division, the Ejyptian was able to survive on brute strength as he bounced guys from the ring, but he's losing way too many bouts these days by being exposed at the tachi-ai. In a back alley, this is the last guy you'd ever want to run into, but since these guys can't rely on closed fists, you gotta show some of the sumo basics, and Osunaarashi has been incapable of doing it of late. The upside is he's still so young and green, so let's hope he learns to trust in the basics like a sound tachi-ai, staying low, and fighting from the inside.

I think my favorite guy in the division right now is M7 Sadanoumi. Size-wise, I don't think he's capable of continual success among the jo'i, but I appreciate his effort and stellar yotsu-zumo skills. He still gets burned by going for the kill too early, but he's my favorite guy to watch right now in terms of sumo content and fighting spirit.

We've already talked about M8 Endoh, so lets slide back to the East and concentrate on Tochinoshin. Dude entered the division six years ago and proved to be another formidable foreigner albeit one who at times looked like he was just in it for the paycheck. Back then, his highest rank was Komusubi, but now that the banzuke has deteriorated so much the last few years, let's see if he can best that and reach the Sekiwake ranks. Truth be told, I think he was in it for the money until a leg injury sent him clear down to the Makushita ranks. Once healthy, however, he's hardly lost as he's climbed back up the ranks and just ruled the Juryo division the last two basho. My hope is that Tochinoshin has new life and will try to continue this surge up into the sanyaku ranks. My fear is that he will become complacent again and just hang around for the money. If there's a single wildcard this basho, it's Tochinoshin. I expect him to shine in Kyushu to the tune of about 10 wins, so let's hope he doesn't hit the wall in a few basho when the competition gets measurably stronger.

I think M9 Chiyotairyu and Osunaarashi are two birds of a feather. So much potential here, but it's all wasted with unsavory sumo habits.

I really don't see another talking point on the banzuke until we get down to M14 where Amuuru makes his Makuuchi debut, and even then, I really don't see a lot of talking points. Amuuru is one of those guys whose rise up the ranks was near record breaking. The problem is he was threatening records in terms of slowest foreigner ever, etc. Dude did pick up a win in September visiting from Juryo, and while he may be able to kachi-koshi considering the cast of misfits around him, I don't think he lasts too long. It's like a rookie making a start in the big leagues. He'll see decent success the first time he faces a team, but once everyone has seen him a time or two, you'll never hear from him again.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge my man Kotoyuki back up from Juryo occupying the M16 rank. After deciding to put his foot on backwards a year or so ago in a bout, he was demoted deep into the Juryo ranks where he has slowly rehabilitated himself and climbed back up to the Makuuchi division. I love his thrusting style of sumo, and he should see success with his fiery brand of sumo. Lately I've enjoyed the first half of the broadcast far more than the latter half, and Kotoyuki will be fun to watch early on. If you've never seen him before, he'll be the dude that sounds like he's hocking a loogie into his fist right before his bout begins.

In conclusion, I expect the Kyushu basho to be more marketing and hype than sumo substance; hell, I can't even think of good candidates for the sansho. Hopefully, though, there are enough storylines to keep us entertained. Here are my predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho (12-3)
Shukunsho: None
Ginosho: None
Kantosho: Tochinoshin, Myogiryu

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