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2015 Kyushu Pre-basho Report

In the Ozeki ranks, Terunofuji has been practicing with a thick supporter around his right knee. Word is that stable mate Aminishiki has been making fun of the Ozeki around the practice ring saying, "You call that a bedroll?" Like the three Mongolians before him, I can't predict when yaocho will occur, and so it's difficult to tab him for a certain number of wins. I think the injury will cost him a few more losses at the hands of other foreign rikishi like Osunaarashi, Tochinoshin, and Ichinojo, so look for Terunofuji to finish the basho with nine wins or so.

With the yarn being spun that three of the main guys are hobbling around, it creates the perfect excuse to have the three Japanese Ozeki all score upset wins in week 2 if needed. I see the same scenario playing out in Kyushu that we've seen for the last year or two. The early opponents of these Ozeki will let up sending them to fast starts, and then subsequent opponents will think "Oh, they're fighting well...I can go all out," and then they'll invariably score the upsets. The pattern of late has been that the foreign rikishi ranked below Ozeki will let the JPN Ozeki win in week 1 while their Japanese countrymen will give them better fights and score more upset wins. In week 2, you'll see serious jockeying as each Ozeki tries to secure eight wins, and we'll have the same old lame yusho race that we always get.

Politically, Goeido desperately needs eight wins, and Kotoshogiku is a Fukuoka native, so hyping him will be key as well. With Goeido and Kotoshogiku receiving more attention, it will likely bump Kisenosato down a win or two from his usual 11-win perch. Assuming at this point that all four Mongolians will finish the basho, I don't see the Japanese Ozeki winning more than a collective 26 bouts, so expect Goeido to finish with eight and both Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku to end with nine. For every Mongolian that withdraws, simply add another 1.5 wins to the JPN Ozeki tally collectively, so if some of the Mongolians drop out, you could see Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku both flirting with double-digit wins. I don't see Goeido winning more than eight regardless, so let's just watch how it all plays out. The key is the "health" of the Mongolians.

In the Sekiwake ranks, look for both Tochiohzan and Myogiryu to finish with 16 - 17 wins collectively. Komusubi Tochinoshin should win around eight bouts this basho as well. Ranked at Komusubi, he's going to get all of the Mongolians in week 1, and barring early withdrawals from any of them, their presence is going to chip away at his win total. I still see him finishing with kachi-koshi and patiently waiting for one of the Sekiwake to falter. As for Komusubi Yoshikaze, I don't expect a similar basho from him to what we saw in September. First, there's no reason for the Yokozuna to drop bouts to him, and with more of them supposedly around, it's going to make it tougher on all these guys. Dude could win eight again due to the nature of the banzuke, but I just don't see it. I look for Cafe to play nice against the Ozeki and finish the fortnight with 6 - 7 wins.

Ichinojo, Osunaarashi, and Aoiyama occupy the M1 E, M1 W, and M2 E ranks respectively. I expect them to roll over for the Japanese Ozeki and then show flashes of strength and brilliance as they work their way towards eight. I just don't see enough room for all of them to kachi-koshi; in fact, I'd be surprised if more than one of them did reach eight wins since they largely need to defer to the Ozeki, but let's see which of the three can separate themselves from the other two. My money is on Osunaarashi.

I guess M4 Endoh continues to be a story because they keep hyping him, so let's touch on him briefly. Endoh's in a precarious spot on the banzuke because he's just outside of the jo'i (the top 16 ranks or so), but you have three dudes from the Isegahama-beya in the jo'i in Harumafuji, Terunofuji, and Aminishiki, and since they don't fight each other, they're likely going to have to dip down as far as Endoh to find enough opponents for the Isegahama boys. For Endoh's sake, he better hope that the majority of his opponents come from the ranks below him because he's way over ranked as it is. Who knows what will happen with him this basho? If all of his bouts were legit, he'd finish 2-13, but something tells me he's going to flirt with kachi-koshi coming up just short.

Just below Endoh is M5 Amuuru, yet another foreigner who is steadily rising up the charts because there's really no one in the bottom two thirds to stop him. I've actually enjoyed watching the kid (if you can call a 32 year old dude whose lost his hair a kid) mature and learn how to win in the division. When the Russian first came to the dance, I remember a lot of lateral moving sumo and more trickery than skill, but I think he's realized that he can use his size and length to defeat most of the rank and filers, and so he's settled in and become an enjoyable rikishi. Like Endoh, he's mostly clear of the jo'i, so he still has room to rise. I think he can actually win eight, so watch for something in the 7 - 8 win range.

You have two powerful dudes in M7 Kaisei and M8 Takarafuji who are way under ranked. Not having to lose to the three Ozeki should propel these guys to great basho. I don't see how they don't both win in double digits.

Let's jump down to M11 where we have yet another compelling rookie in Mitakeumi. I say compelling because his story is similar to Endoh. Both guys are good looking; both will fight in the division unable to tie their hair into a top-knot; and both guys enter the division with considerable hype. Based off of clips of Endoh fighting in Juryo, I bought into the hype surrounding Elvis for 10 days, but then on day 11 of his debut basho, I watched in horror as Kyokutenho just stood there defenseless and let Endoh flip him over and onto his back in the center of the ring. From that point, I could no longer take Endoh seriously. I think the next day after that Kyokutenho win he got his ass kicked by Tochiohzan and then injured his foot/ankle in the process resulting in his withdrawal. Since then, he's never recovered to where his sumo has been any good.

I hate to say it, but my yaocho radar regarding Mitakeumi will be set to High thanks to Endoh. Like Endoh, Mitakeumi has shot up the ranks, and like Endoh, the clips of his fighting in Juryo have been quite impressive, but let's just see how the dude fares in top division. I will have a really good reading on the rookie by day five, so stay tuned. And before we move on...I know many of you won't believe this, but I am dying for Japan's "Next" to come along. In private conversations on sumo with my peeps through the years, I believe I've constantly expressed just how important it is to have a legitimate Japanese rikishi on the banzuke, and it's killing me that we have no such person.

If you're wondering what kind of rikishi I'm referring to, Terunofuji is a perfect example. The dude had little hype as he entered the division, and the media (including myself) did not glom onto him immediately. He started out 2-7 in his Makuuchi debut basho and then reeled off six straight to kachi-koshi. He went 5-0 down the stretch the next tournament to finish 9-6 after another slow start. He next won 9, 6, 8, and 8 in his four subsequent basho, and while that's nothing to write home about, you could just see him mature throughout that process, so when his breakout tournament came at the Haru basho this year, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone.

Getting back to Mitakeumi, it's going to be impossible for him to have a run like Terunofuji because he's already being hyped in the media to the extent that Endoh was. I'd love to see the dude emerge and become a legitimate Ozeki, but my fears are that due to the hype, some of his opponents are going to feel obligated to lose to him. I hope I'm wrong, and I sincerely hope he's not the next Endoh, but let's just wait and see how he emerges. At least we have something to look forward to in the first half of the broadcast. As for a prediction, I don't like Mitakeumi to debut with a kachi-koshi. There are just too many seasoned veterans ranked around him on the banzuke, and even if Mitakeumi is better than them, it takes time to learn how to win at this level. Look for him to finish with about 7 wins.

Just below Mitakeumi, you have a pretty good threesome in Takekaze, Takayasu, and Chiyotairyu. The first two dudes should easily kachi-koshi, and who knows about Chiyotairyu? Beyond that, there is very little youth to fill out the last three or four ranks. You have Daieisho who was unimpressive last basho in his debut, and then you have Chiyootori who has largely floundered after a decent start in the division back in early 2014. In fact, on the subject of youth, the only guys in Makuuchi for this tournament who entered the division after Chiyootori are Daieisho, Amuuru, and Mitakeumi. Amuuru doesn't really can't as being young, but the point is you can see just how stale the division is becoming with very few new faces coming in.

I don't really have any more insights prior to the tournament. I don't expect anything we haven't seen before, and at this point, nothing that occurs on the dohyo will surprise me. Here are my predictions for Kyushu:

Yusho: Hakuho (13-2)
Shukunsho: Tochinoshin
Kantosho: Mitakeumi (probably for the wrong reasons)
Ginosho: Takarafuji

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