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2015 Kyushu Pre-basho Report

I always have mixed emotions when it comes to the Kyushu basho. On one hand, this is my home basho. It's where I cut my teeth on sumo and learned how to stalk the rikishi. I haven't been "home" to Fukuoka during the Kyushu basho since 2004, but I always yearn for the day when I can return in November. The downside to the tournament is that it largely has a jungyo feel to it. Attendance is sparse, and it seems the rikishi have more obligation to interact with the fans off the dohyo like visiting pre-schools and making public appearances in order to promote the event. The end result is that the rikishi start to look forward more to the long year-end break than they do busting their balls for for fifteen days in Kyushu. I'm not expecting a hard-fought tournament, but I'll pretty much take anything I can get after the lame Aki basho.

As for storylines heading into the tournament, the biggest story has been the health of the four Mongolians. Hakuho stated upon the release of the banzuke that he was going to wait until he did some de-geiko in week 2 to decide whether or not he'd fight in Kyushu. Then you have Harumafuji who has sat out the last two tournaments due to that rare ailment that only seems to plague Mongolian rikishi, Lettemwinmoreitis.

For the record:

Hakuho is not injured
Harumafuji is not injured

As for Ozeki Terunofuji, the dude is legitimately injured, but the extent of his injury is unknown. The goal right now in sumo is to make the Japanese rikishi appear competitive, and so if Terunofuji has to hobble around more and let up in keiko to sustain the narrative, then the seriousness of his injury is unknown.

The only confirmed "healthy" member of the fearsome foursome is Kakuryu, who will undoubtedly feel immense pressure this basho ranked at the highest perch on the banzuke for the first time in his career. Or not. This is all such a ruse that I sometimes wonder why I even bother trying to break it all down.

It all goes back to a problem that I raised several basho ago when it was clear that Terunofuji had become a dominant figure in the sport: how do you spread the wins around when you have four dominant Mongolians at the top of the banzuke? When I first pointed out the predicament, I didn't know that the answer would be fake injuries, but I guess that's better than forcing us to watch fake bouts.

If all sumo was fought legitimately, then the four Mongolians when healthy would post at least 48 wins every basho. Compare that to the total the four accumulated in Aki with two Yokozuna out: 26. And 26 is coincidentally the average number of wins the three Japanese Ozeki have managed to accumulate going back the last six basho. In Aki with two of the four Mongolians sidelined, the Three Amigos produced their highest win total ever at 29 and that included just seven wins contributed by Goeido. The point is...when the Mongolians are all active and competing, there just aren't enough wins to go around for the others. In fact, if the fearsome foursome fought all out every tournament, you'd maybe see one other guy win 10 bouts from the jo'i once every three basho. Maybe. And so the solution to this point has been to have the Mongolians hampered by injury, and that's unfortunately the dominating headline heading into the Kyushu basho.

With that it mind, let's examine the key rikishi on the banzuke starting with Kakuryu. With all of the speculation surrounding the health of the other three, Kakuryu has kinda been shoved out of the limelight, but they're not going to generate hype based on the Kak anyway. It makes no sense to predict how many bouts I think Kakuryu will win when they're not all going to be fought straight up, but since the other three brethren have supposed health issues in November, look for Kakuryu to be Steady Eddie and finish the tournament with 12 wins. If both Hakuho and Harumafuji fail to finish, looks like the yusho will go to Kakuryu by default.

Speaking of Hakuho, the first few days should be a good indicator of his mindset for the tournament. It's almost too bad that they don't schedule Yokozuna vs. Ozeki early in week one; it'd set the table nicely for the three Ozeki to come in and whoop up on the Yokozuna while he's "down." I actually think that if Hakuho makes it through the first week 7-1 or better then he's the favorite to take the yusho. Whether or not he does that is entirely up to him, but I just get the sense that Hakuho is going to take the yusho here in Kyushu. Let's say he does it with 13 wins.

Rounding out the Yokozuna, I didn't read a report that stated Harumafuji would definitely fight in Kyushu until they announced the day 1 / day 2 matchups. There's never been a reason why he couldn't go because he hasn't been injured, but if he gets off to an intentional slow start, they've got their excuse. Quick, name the rikishi Harumafuji faced on day 1 of the Nagoya basho where the Yokozuna supposedly came up ailing even after a victory? That's right, it was none other than Shohozan who was so lame the last two months that the dude managed to fall all the way down to Juryo from the jo'i. And Harumafuji wasn't able to fight since? Made a ton of sense to me. If I had to make a prediction, I see the Yokozuna coming out sheepishly and losing some bouts early on ending the tournament with a 9-6 record. He will of course receive praise from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council at the end of the tournament for courageously fighting through his injuries because they can no longer criticize the performances of the Yokozuna when the Japanese Ozeki are so bad.

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