Up until the very last bout on senshuraku, the Nagoya basho seemed as if it was trying to have that break-out day that would keep everyone on the edge of their seats. And while Asashoryu's rare two-bout losing streak on days 11 and 12 kept things interesting, Asashoryu never trailed on the leaderboard; thus, we didn't have him trying to fight is way back on top as he was forced to do in May. Had Asashoryu lost on senshuraku to Kaio, it would have set up a four-man playoff to determine the yusho, which would have been fun to see, but in my opinion, a yusho deserves an asterisk next to it if the winning record is 12-3 or worse, especially now with everyone except Asashoryu off their games a bit.
I guess I'll start with Yokozuna Asashoryu since he was top dog for the fourth time in a row. Asashoryu admitted afterwards that his sumo this basho was not his best, and while that's true, an average Asashoryu is still better than everyone else. I wonder if Asashoryu's concentration is slipping a bit due to the lack of competition right now. Never fear, stiff competition is on the way, but more on that later. Asashoryu keeps himself on track of becoming the first rikishi ever to win each basho in a calendar year. His name is of course already being mentioned with some of the great Yokozuna of the past like Takanohana, Taiho, Chiyonofuji, and Kitanoumi, and when all is said and done, I'm pretty confident that he will round out the top five greatest of all time barring a serious injury. The question is always raised as to how would Asashoryu would have fared if he had fought in a different era like the mid-nineties when you had the likes of Takanohana, Wakanohana, Akebono, and Musashimaru. It's worthless to speculate on the matter until someone invents a time machine. On the subject, there is no question in my mind that there were better overall rikishi in the upper Makuuchi ranks in the mid-nineties, but take Takanohana for instance. He had in his stable two strong Ozeki in Wakanohana and Takanonami, a perennial Sekiwake in Akinoshima, and the likes of Takatoriki, Misugisato, and Naminohana all ranked at Komusbui or the upper Maegashira. That meant that instead of fighting these six strong rikishi that others had to face, he was rewarded with Maegashira as low as 8 or 9 each basho. I remember distinctly in week two Takanohana's fighting some Maegashira scrub while Akebono, who had no stable help, at his hands full with everyone. How many times did Takanohana trail in a basho by a loss at the wire only to have one of his stablemates topple one of the Hawaiians putting Takanohana back in the chase? It happened a lot. Even Chiyonofuji had a fellow Yokozuna in his stable in Hokutoumi. It makes a huge difference. So yes, the field is weaker now than it was 7 or 8 years ago, but Asashoryu is doing this all by himself. In short, his run is no fluke and is worthy to be compared to other great Yokozuna of the past. Just ask Hokutoriki how hard it is to yusho. He only had to beat a Maegashira 16 on senshuraku in May to take the yusho, but he failed then and it's affected him since. So props to Asashoryu for continuing to fulfill his role as the sport's top dog. As boring as it gets sometimes, you have to respect a Yokozuna doing his job. I think Asa is a lock for September as that basho is in Tokyo, but the pressure will really be on in November. Stay tuned.
Runner-up at 12-3 were two rikishi, the most compelling of which this basho was M14 Toyozakura. Toyozakura has been in the Makuuchi division before but since nor you or I remember a single thing about him that tells you how unsuccessful his first two stints were. As I mentioned several times in my daily comments, Toyozakura had that same fire in his belly that Hokutoriki had last basho. Maybe it's better for Toyozakura that he wasn't in control of his own destiny on senshuraku. Toyozakura's style can be classified as oshi-zumo all the way, and a majority of his wins had him blowing his opponents off the line at the tachi-ai with sharp, powerful thrusts. You could just see the confidence flowing through this guy's veins, and when a rikishi is on fire mentally, even a Hokutoriki can make an impact. Toyozakura will shoot up the ranks starting in September, and I think he can stick around for awhile although I don't see him making the sanyaku any time soon. His was a great basho that made the early Maegashira bouts in Nagoya exciting.
Also at 12-3 was M7 Miyabiyama, who had his moments against the lower-ranked rikishi, but was pathetic when faced against someone with more game than him. The fact that he didn't receive a sansho award despite his good record tells you all you need to know about his sumo content. I was infuriated at his performances against Tosanoumi and Chiyotaikai where he just jumped to his side avoiding any contact at all for the cheap win. I especially felt sorry for Chiyotaikai who was all but taken out of the yusho race for no fault of his own. Miyabiyama is a very effective oshi-zumo guy and it showed as he powered his way through hot rikishi like Asasekiryu and Futenoh, but when faced against any of the heavy hitters he folds faster than a 7-2 off suit draw in Texas Hold 'em poker. I think Miyabiyama falls into that vein of Musashigawa rikishi who have so much potential it's sick, but they just lack any spirit or energy. Remember in early 2000 when you had Musashimaru at Yokozuna, and Musoyama, Dejima, and Miyabiyama at Ozeki? Everyone was talking about the Musashigawa-jidai, but how long did it last? Less than a year. In my opinion, the overall attitude that prevails in the Musashigawa stable is one of complacency and indifference. You see it in everyone one of them. Miyabi will probably jump into the Komusubi slot for September, but get ready for another wet rag performance where he just wilts the entire basho.
In the Ozeki ranks, Kaio led the way coming in at 11-4, but he did absolutely nothing to deserve the yusho in Nagoya. On senshuraku, he could have set up a playoff with Asashoryu and two others with a victory over the Yokozuna, but he failed to even show up. A year ago, Kaio dominated Asashoryu, but now he seems resigned to his fate. I'm getting tired of Kaio this past year. I'll still say that Musoyama is my favorite rikishi because he won me over in the mid-nineties, but if I had to choose a rikishi I'd like to see win every basho, it'd be Kaio. Has Kaio lost his desire anymore? Could be. Maybe the presence of Asashoryu has completely taken the wind out of his sails. Last year at this time, I still had hopes that Kaio could reach Yokozuna, but now he knows it and I know it: it's too late. I'll still be rooting for him, but not expecting much. Look at his first three losses this basho: Kotomitsuki, Kyokutenho, and Shimotori? Decent rikishi, but underdogs to Kaio for sure. Kaio should have taken the yusho at 14-1, but oh well.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai limped to a 10-5 finish thanks to a four losses in five days streak starting on day 10. What's new? He can't beat Asashoryu, Kaio, nor Tochiazuma. To yusho in the future, he's going to have to go undefeated the first 13 or so days and hope that Asashoryu has three losses. Chiyotaikai's sumo steadily improved over the first ten days, but you could tell from the first few days when he was winning by back pedaling that he wasn't going to do anything. Nothing new to report on this Ozeki. I got a kick out of the Association's awarding him the fusensho against Musoyama on senshuraku. I was wondering if they would redo the pairings when Musoyama went out on day 14, but I'm sure the Association's thinking was something like this: "even if Musoyama was healthy and could fight tomorrow, he wouldn't have put forth any effort anyway, so let's just give Chiyotaikai the win."
Speaking of Musoyama, here we go again. Great, barely scraping by with eight wins and then giving up. Is there any surprise he went 0-4 after picking up win number eight? Didn't think so. There is nothing to say about him other than he doesn't care. He's already secured the Fujishima-oyakata name, why doesn't he just retire?
In the Sekiwake ranks, lets get Wakanosato out of the way first. Typical kachi-koshi basho from the rank with zero big wins. His win against Asashoryu? It was big on paper, but he did nothing to beat the Yokozuna. Asashoryu's mind was working faster than his de-ashi when he committed too early on his push-out of Wakanosato during their bout. Even Wakanosato couldn't deny he was lucky to win. Anyway, see you next basho. Same time, different place, same mediocre kachi-koshi.
In probably the best story of the basho, Sekiwake Tochiazuma gave a splendid effort to just eek out his tenth win to assure himself the rank of Ozeki next basho. At 10-5 how big was that win against Asashoryu? Speaking of that win, when was the last time Asashoryu was thoroughly beaten by somebody from start to finish? If you look at his past losses, he either loses by panicking and going for the pull down, or he attempts a throw too early against a Kyokutenho or Kotonowaka leaving himself exposed to a strong, yotsu-zumo guy. But against Tochiazuma, he could get nothing going. Did Asashoryu even attempt one waza? I can't remember one other than the attempted pull at Tochiazuma's left arm (probably not a coincidence that that was his bad arm he was going after). Anyway, back to Tochiazuma, who's sumo wasn't exactly spectacular, but his de-ashi, heart, and sheer grit were. Tochiazuma was not completely healthy this basho. He never was able to use his left arm effectively, and we saw a style slightly different than from what we're used to seeing from him. It seemed to me that Tochi would charge with his head not low enough to be pulled down, but on enough of an angle to keep his opponents away from his belt. All of Tochi's wins were by oshi-dashi or a pull down set up by his good de-ashi and control of the bout's pace except a yori-kiri win over Hokutoriki, which was a gimme. Tochiazuma deserves to be ranked back at Ozeki after his performance this basho. Now please, if he'll just come out with this kind of heart and determination every basho, he would have a great shot at ruining Asashoryu's quest for the yusho sweep this year.
Rounding out the Sekiwake, Hokutoriki proved that last basho was a fluke. During his awful 0-9 start, it seemed as if he wanted everyone to feel sorry for himself. The difference sumo-wise in Hokutoriki this basho compared to last, was the absolute absence of any de-ashi. His feet were slip-sliding all over the place, and when you have no leverage from your lower half, your tsuppari are completely useless. The real difference, however, was mentally. Hokutoriki didn't look the least bit upset after his horrendous first 9 days. Gone was the fire from May where he approached every bout with the attitude that "I'm going to kick your ass and just try to stop me." Nobody could stop him save two rikishi and even Hakuho didn't exactly stop him in May. Anyway, Hokutoriki will deservedly fall way down the ranks again where he must work on that space between his ears if he wants to make another run. At least when he retires, everyone will refer to him as the former Sekiwake Hokutoriki. Not a lot of rikishi can boast that.
Do I need to even bother with the two Komusubi Kotomitsuki and Tamanoshima who finished at 7-8 and 6-9 respectively? Here's the difference when these guys suck at the Komusubi rank and when they go 12-3 from the Maegashira 3 or 4 rank. A Komusubi is guaranteed to fight the Yokozuna on day 1, and they usually get the Ozeki right after that, so by they time they've been crushed to a 2-5 start or so, there's no life left in them to salvage a decent basho. When ranked a few notches lower, they may face the Yokozuna and some of the Ozeki, but they are given far more easier opponents throughout the tournament. Kotomitsuki actually had some good wins over Kaio and Tochiazuma, but he had too many losses against Maegashira rikishi that he should beat if he wants to maintain his rank. On the final three days, Tamanoshima needed two pull down wins and a gimme against Kyokushuzan on senshuraku to make his record look respectable. The telling bout for both of these two was when they faced each other on day 14. No one executed a single offensive waza; instead both rikishi just tried to pull each other down the entire bout for the cheap win, which Tamanoshima got. Look for both of these two to shine next basho from the Maegashira ranks.
M1's Kyokutenho and Iwakiyama went 8-7 and 7-8 respectively. These are simply status quo performance and exactly what you would expect from these two ranked at this position. Both with decent wins, but nothing memorable.
Coming in at M2 was Kokkai and Kotonowaka. Kotonowaka (3-12) had two things working against him this basho: a bad left knee and his age. It looks as if he's too worn down to make much of an impact anymore among the jo'i although you may have a hard time convincing Asashoryu of that. Despite his near win against the Yokozuna, Kotonowaka only has a year left in the sport at most. Now Kokkai, on the other hand, has a bright future. I honestly did not think that the Georgian would kachi-koshi this basho. My reasoning was that his sumo was not yet polished enough despite his obvious strength. And I still believe that his sumo is still quite rough, but he more than made up for that with his power and confidence. My favorite Kokkai win this basho has to be day 1 when he just crushed Wakanosato from the tachi-ai and shoved him off the dohyo in a second or two. I think that greatly boosted his confidence and gave him the feeling that he really could compete with the big boys. Mid-basho, Kokkai became much more passive at the tachi-ai where he seemed to be protecting himself with his arms instead of using them to tee of on his opponent's mid sections. The majority of Kokkai's losses occurred within three seconds of the tachi-ai, so the longer he can keep himself in the bout by maintaining good footing, the greater his chances increase. I've been high on this guy from day 1 of his Makuuchi debut in January, and he's at worst a perennial Sekiwake at the end of next year. It will be interesting to see if Kokkai is promoted to that final Komusubi slot or if Hakuho will jump up and take it. Regardless, we all know that whoever gets it will face Asashoryu on day 1 in September. Can't wait.
M3's Kotoryu and Kyokushuzan were big busts. Kotoryu (4-11) was a bit over ranked this high up, and Kyokushuzan (3-12) for some unexplainable reason abandoned his forward moving sumo that brought him great success last basho and reverted back to his morote tachi that's so ineffective for an undersized rikishi with no power.
M4's Shimotori and Dejima are two stories of one rikishi on his way up and the other rikishi in his decline. Shimotori (9-6) had a very good basho albeit a quiet one. He was 4-0 against sanyaku and above opponents. He may have a chance of slipping into that final Komusubi slot for September instead of Kokkai or Hakuho, but we'll just have to wait and see. Dejima suffers from the Musashigawa-beya chronic indifference syndrome that I mentioned in Miyabiyama's comments. That five bout losing steak to end his tournament after standing 7-3 had to have tasted below average. Will this guy make the sanyaku again? It's unlikely with the resurgence of new talent in Kokkai, Hakuho, Kotooshu, etc. There just won't be enough room up there anymore.
At M5 we had Takekaze (6-9) and Kakizoe (7-8). Remember how excited we were about Kakizoe 3 or 4 basho ago? If he would have fallen off the face of the earth for the last two basho, would anybody of noticed? I've completely forgotten about this guy.
M6's Tokitsuumi (6-9) and Tochinonada (9-6) are not worth mentioning other than their records.
M7 was quite the compelling rank with the aforementioned Miyabiyama and everyone's favorite Takamisakari. Takamisakari pulled off two spectacular wins against Shimotori and Kokkai on the tourney's final two days to barely squeak by with eight wins. He sure is fun to watch, but as I mentioned with Dejima, I think the sanyaku will become too crowded in the near future for the Robocop to occupy a rank there again. Nevertheless, for someone who's mere presence walking up the hanamichi draws a bigger response than any Maegashira bout, let's hope he stays around forever.
At M8 we had Kaiho, who at 7-8 is right on average for him, but let's get to Hakuho who finished with double-digit wins for the second time in as many tournaments. I believe it was Mainoumi who said in his comments on one of the days that he believed Asashoryu feared Hakuho the most of anybody. I believe it. It's obvious Hakuho isn't scared of Asashoryu. Furthermore, Hakuho's style is so unpredictable. Just when you think he's an oshi-zumo guy who unfortunately likes to mix pull-down here and there, he comes out and beats Kokkai by uwate-nage, Miyabiyama by shite-nage, Tochinonada by sukinage, and Dejima by uwate-nage. Those are some pretty beefy characters to be able to throw around. Nine different techniques in 11 wins. How did he not win the Ginosho? Hakuho doesn't look like much, but he's bigger than Asashoryu and could be just as fast. He also doesn't seem to be afraid of the big stage. He has a knack of defeating rikishi on a roll on senshurakuk toppling Tochiazuma this basho and Hokutoriki last basho. Two of Hakuho's four losses were bouts that he had won (Hayateumi and Toyozakura), but he made the mistake of assuming his opponent was out of the ring and gave up prematurely. This guy could be scary good. We'll just have to wait and see how he does among the jo'i next basho.
M9's Aminishiki (4-11) and Tochisakae (6-9) stunk this basho. Aminishiki injured his knee on day 11 forcing him to withdraw. He's going to find himself dangerously close to Juryo next basho.
M10 Hayateumi finishes at 7-8 while counterpart Asasekiryu posts a good 11-4 outing. While good, it's not impressive. Didn't he pull off 13 wins a couple basho ago from this same rank? Like Miyabiyama, it's not outstanding until he does it from higher up the ranks. It's a case of been there done that. His biggest win was over Hakuho, but the bout was terrible with both rikishi not even touching for ten seconds into the bout. If you look at three of his losses (Miyabiyama, Futenoh, Toyozakura) they are all to rikishi who had excellent basho, which tells me that Asasekiryu's record in Nagoya is inflated.
Wrapping things up in the Makuuchi division, M11 Tosanoumi attained his first kachi-koshi this year by going 11-4. Three of his four losses were by hatakikomi, so you wonder how things would be if he'd just keep his head up.
M13 Kasugao only finished at 4-11 but four of those were due to his sitting out from a foot injury where he ripped the skin between his first two toes, a result of a dislocated big toe. I admire his stones for coming back and competing, especially since he won two bouts after he returned. He'll likely fall back down to Juryo for September, but he showed me a lot.
M15 Futenoh finally had that break out basho going 10-5 after failing to kachi-koshi in his first two Makuuchi tournaments. I think Futenoh is a very slow starter in this division. In that I mean he won't race up the ranks as Hakuho or Kokkai have done, but he'll slowly work his way up until he becomes a mainstay in the upper-Maegashira. With his best wins coming against Asasekiryu and Takamisakari, a sanyaku berth is still a ways away.
How does M16 Toki go 6-9 ranked this low. It's laziness. It's a good thing Asashoryu spends so much time away at de-geiko, or Toki would get his ass kicked all over the place by the Yokozuna at Takasago-beya.
Rounding out the Maegashira ranks, M17 Tokitenku's debut in the division turned out to be a real dud. He reminds me of Asasekiryu's first tournament in the division: high expectations but no power behind his punch. He's assured demotion to Juryo in September.
Speaking of the Juryo ranks, I was able to watch nearly every bout and get a good feel for the future stars in Makuuchi...two of them will be there in September.
J3 Kotooshu stole the show not to mention the yusho with a 13-2 performance that should put him somewhere around Maegashira 10 for September. One thing that impresses me so much about Kotooshu is his quickness and coordination. For a big guy, he moves unbelievably well, and this helps him to grab the uwate on his opponents' belts. Kotooshu has become very muscular, so he's going to be very hard for anyone to stop from here on out. It seems that Kotooshu's style can be defined as grabbing the quick uwate from the tachi-ai, then using his strength and height to lift his opponent up as he drives him back. The result is a lot of yori-taoshi wins. If his opponents try to evade at the tawara, he can either throw them down with ease or adjust so quickly to the move that he ends up pushing his opponent out by the his grip on the belt. The only downside to Kotooshu is he throws in a tachi-ai henka or two or three each tourney.
Another newcomer to the Makuuchi division next basho will be J1 Roho who secures his promotion with a 10-5 record. Roho lacks some quicks, which sometimes gets him in trouble, but the guy is strong as an ox, and that should provide for a lengthy Makuuchi career. I don't see Roho becoming a star right away, but give him more time to learn the sport.
I do see J4 Toyonoshima making an immediate impact in the division. He entered Juryo the same time as Kotooshu and Hagiwara. No one even gave Toyonoshima a sniff--probably because he is very short--be he has outperformed both of his fellow classmates in my opinion. This guy is quick as a cat and very strong. He uses his short stature to get deep inside of his opponents and just bully them around. He'll be underestimated for awhile because his appearance doesn't necessarily strike fear into anyone, but just wait...he should be great.
J6 Hagiwara, who just turned 18 during his second basho in the Juryo division, just squeaked out a kachi-koshi on senshuraku. Just because he won't make it to the Makuuchi division as fast as his peers Kotooshu and Toyonoshima, it doesn't mean that he won't surpass them. For a guy so young, he is very patient and in control. He never gives up and is very hard to force out. His sumo reminds me a lot of Takanohana, and I see he and Kotooshu creating the same sort of rivalry that Takanohana and Akebono shared.
All but guaranteed a return to the Makuuchi division are J1 Tamakasuga, who had a very quiet 11-4 basho. With Kotooshu and J8 Kitazakura stealing the headlines with their yusho race the whole basho, Tamakasuga was all but forgotten. Unfortunately, this veteran's performance next basho in the Makuuchi division will probably be as forgettable as well.
J2 Takanotsuru should be back in the Makuuchi division after going 9-6. Just when we thought we'd get to see another Toki-Takanotsuru matchup, Toki gets demoted to Juryo the same time that Takanotsuru goes up. Takanotsuru was born with a deformed foot that is chronically painful. He is a huge speciman that can smother you if he grabs your belt, but I think his lack of speed and bad foot will keep him from enjoying any sort of success in the sport's highest division.
Rounding out the Juryo division, J8 Kitazakura stole the show early on with his exaggerated pre-bout activities that include throwing as big a handful of salt as he can hold. His 9-0 start kept the spotlight focused squarely on him through week one, but losing 4 out of his last 6 made him have to come from behind to have a shot at the yusho. Entering senshuraku, he was one behind Kotoshu setting up the most anticipated bout of the division to determine the yusho. Kotooshu easily won as the fatter Kitazakura seemed to run out of gas as the basho wore on, and by the end of the tournament, Kotooshu won with ease. Kitazakura did have a good tournament, however, and showed the same kind of fire his brother, Toyozakura, showed in the Makuuchi division. The 11-4 performance may be enough to boost him to Makuuchi for September as I see 6 rikishi falling from the highest division.
Whew, if you're still awake, let me conclude by saying this was a memorable basho for me as it was the first time in three years that I was in Japan for a complete basho and able to watch everyday beginning with the Makushita bouts and sometimes the sandanme bouts. While in Japan, Kenji and I also met up on day 12 for the first time in seven years. As Kenji mentioned in his day 5 report, not only has seven years passed, but we have both been married and now have 5 kids between us. Since we have never mentioned it on the website, I'll briefly mention how sumotalk came to be.
Back in 1994 both Kenji and myself headed to Japan to work for the Japanese governemnt in Fukuoka Prefecture. While we lived in different cities, we met several times a year at government-sponsored seminars that seemed to always be held coincidentally at nice Japanese resorts (thanks Japanese taxpayers!). After being wined and dined each day, we always capped off the night soaking in the resort's onsen, where we would talk about all sports, but mostly our focus was on sumo. We both left Japan in 1997 but continued to keep in touch via email each basho sending pre-basho reports, mid-basho comments, and post-basho reports to each other. After talking about the idea for some time, we were finally able to launch sumotalk in November of 2002. The content of this website has existed for seven years, but we've only begun posting it to the web nearly two years ago. While working in Japan, we both agreed that there was a complete dearth of any kind of insightful sumo analysis in the English language provided in a timely manner. I guess this was our inspiration in launching the site. We figured there had to be thousands of sumo nuts like us out there who were very interested in the sport, and this is just one way that we could connect with everyone. After receiving an average of three or four hits a day for the first few months (one each from Kenji myself and one other from whomever we told at work), we somehow caught on and discovered a huge underground of sumo maniacs. Enough of this, let me just conclude by thanking everyone for putting up with us and saying that it was great to see an old friend face to face again. See you all in September.
There's nothing quite like the excitement going into senshuraku with the basho still up for grabs. With the current leader standing with just two losses, only those rikishi maintaining three losses going into the final day have a shot, and only one of those controls his own destiny. Day 14 brought some very compelling matchups that produces few surprises.
Getting right to the action, the biggest bout of the day in my opinion was the Tochiazuma-Miyabiyama matchup where so much was at stake for both rikishi. Miyabiyama stood atop the leader board coming in and Tochiazuma desperately needed that tenth win that had eluded him the past few days. From the tachi-ai, we saw a Tochiazuma that we have yet to see this basho. The former Ozeki came out standing toe to toe trading tsuppari with Miyabiyama. Miyabiyama packs a greater punch, but Tochiazuma enjoyed greater speed, a more stable lower body, and the greater will to win. To me it looked like a prize fighter who has his opponent on the brink of knock out and just stands there pounding away. Tochiazuma dictated the pace of the bout the entire way driving Miyabiyama back with jabs to the throat area. As Miyabiyama evaded this way and that, Tochiazuma was right in his face never letting Miyabiyama gain an ounce of momentum. After about twenty-seconds of action, Miyabiyama was obviously tiring out and as he attempted a weak surge towards Tochiazuma, the Sekiwake evaded easily and pulled Miyabiyama over for the win. So, Tochiazuma regains his Ozeki rank starting in September, and the guy more than earned it. I only hope that he comes with the same kind of fire in his belly everyday the rest of his career the way that he did this basho. Huge props to Tochiazuma, who at 10-4 is out of the yusho picture, but who had an inspiring basho. His performance this basho, especially his complete domination of Asashoryu, was perhaps the greatest highlight. Miyabiyama (11-3) on the other hand, fails to gain his first impressive win despite his being in contention for the yusho. He must overcome Asasekiryu on senshuraku and then hope Asashoryu gets toppled by Kaio, a scenario that would put at least Asashoryu, Kaio, and Miyabiyama in a tomoe-sen play off for the yusho.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Proceeding 30 kensho banners being marched around the ring, Yokozuna Asashoryu continued his complete domination of Ozeki Chiyotaikai. Chiyo came with some check-swing tsuppari at the tachi-ai allowing the Yokozuna to easily get inside and grab the morozashi grip. Once obtained, he easily forced Taikai back and out with little resistance. With the win, Asashoryu stands alone on top at 12-2 while Chiyotaikai is officially eliminated from contention at 10-4. No real surprises here. Chiyotaikai's biggest problem when facing Kaio and Asashoryu is between his ears and nothing else. Asashoryu must now beat Kaio on senshuraku to pick up his fourth consecutive yusho.
I would normally favor Kaio in a senshuraku bout with so much on the line, but I hesitate this basho. Kaio's sumo has been "just good enough to survive," and I don't know that Kaio is prepared enough to really take it to Asashoryu in the final bout of the tournament. Today against Musoyama, Kaio should have lost the bout after Musoyama gained a seemingly invincible uwate gripped and used it to drive Kaio back to the tawara. At ring's edge, it looked to me as if Musoyama completely stopped his attack and let Kaio turn the tables by forcing Musoyama out. These two are very good friends, and it looked to me as if Musoyama was doing Kaio a favor today. Kaio should have been thrown out of the ring or forced out in three seconds, but Musoyama just seemed to give up despite being in complete control. Oh well, the result is an 8-6 record for Musoyama, who could care less because he has his kachi-koshi, and an 11-3 mark for Kaio, which still keeps him in the yusho hunt. He is the only 11-3 rikishi that controls his destiny. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Kaio victory over Asashoryu on senshuraku, but Kaio has been so uninspiring this basho, that I have to favor Asashoryu.
How pathetic was it that the third to last bout on day 14 featured Sekiwake Hokutoriki (2-12) and M6 Tokitsuumi (6-8)? More pathetic than this circumstance was the actual "sumo" itself. From the start both of these rikishi only looked interested in pulling the other down. After some awful jockeying in the ring, Tokitsuumi finally gained a grip on Hokutoriki's belt and forced him out. Talk about a black eye at the end of what could be a very exciting tournament.
Sekiwake Wakanosato had his way with M4 Dejima forcing him out to pick up his kachi-koshi at 8-6. Dejima (7-7), how about a little variety in your attack? It seems that Dejima is only concerned about bulling straightforward regardless of the position of his opponent.
In an ugly bout that I'll only mention because it was between the two Komusubi, Tamanoshima (5-9) pulled down Kotomitsuki (6-8) after a reckless tachi-ai where he charged with his head to low. With pathetic performances from one Sekiwake and two Komusubi, I know a certain Georgian rikishi who would fit in nicely in the sanyaku. M2 Kokkai used his brute strength to bulldoze M6 Tochinonada (9-5) back and out from the tachi-ai today to pick up another kachi-koshi. While I think he's a shoe-in for the sanyaku next basho, Kokkai (8-6) could seal the deal with a win over M7 Takamisakari (7-7) on senshuraku. Despite the loss, Tochinonada has still had himself a decent basho standing at 9-5.
Continuing on in the Maegashira ranks, the biggest bout of the day featured two 10-3 rikishi in M8 Hakuho and M10 Asasekiryu. Talk about a big bout with little substance. With continued yusho hopes on the line for the winner, these two kind of slapped each other at the tachi-ai and then backed off a step so neither rikishi was touching each other. They stood this way for several seconds daring each other to make the first move. They finally locked arms similar to the Mongolian style of sumo (what a coincidence), but neither rikishi seemed to want to press the action. After about 30 seconds of nothing, I guess these guess realized that they were supposed to be doing sumo so they hooked up at the belt with Hakuho gaining the advantage with a right uwate. He failed, however, to press the action and let Asasekiryu gain the morozashi position. In an instant, Hakuho performed a maki-kae giving both rikishi an uwate, but Asasekiryu's experience in the division and fighting at the belt prevailed as he toppled his fellow countrymen with an inside grip on the belt. Everyone expected a lot more from this bout that only provided decent action in the final two seconds. Nonetheless, Asasekiryu moves on at 11-3 to face Miyabiyama on senshuraku. The winner of that bout keeps his yusho chances alive if Kaio can beat Asashoryu. Look for Seki not to stand in front of Miyabi's tsuppari and find a way to quickly grab Miyabiyama's belt pulling him over. Hakuho (10-4) is eliminated from yusho contention...this basho, but just give him another six months or so.
Keeping himself in the yusho race is M14 Toyozakura who really took it to M15 Futenoh (9-5) bullying him back and out from the tachi-ai with those fierce tsuppari he's exhibited the entire basho. I would love to see Toyozakura in a playoff bout with some of the bigger rikishi. I don't think he'd win, but I do think he'd give it everything he's got and not fold as Hokutoriki did against Asashoryu last basho. Toyozakura's future in the division remains to be seen. How many great basho from Maegashira rikishi have we seen this year alone that only produced stale performances in the future?
Finally, I'll mention M11 Tosanoumi who picked up his tenth win against M13 Kasugao (4-10) by taking advantage of an ill-advised kotenage attempt on the part of the Korean sekitori. Tosanoumi has struggled all year failing to kachi-koshi until this basho, so it's nice to seem him alive and well again. As for Kasugao, sure he's only 4-10 (three of those losses were by kyujo), but how many Makuuchi rikishi in the field would have come back from a dislocated big toe that caused Kasugao to tear the flesh between his big toe and index toe? Ouch. I hope he recovers as well as Buyuzan has after having that taped ripped from his back giving the M12 a nice waxing up his spine area.
Going into senshuraku, Asashoryu takes the yusho with a win over Kaio. If Kaio beats Asashoryu, then at least a three-way playoff is guaranteed among Asashoryu, Kaio, and the winner of the Miyabiyama-Asasekiryu matchup. Toyozakura would also be included in the playoff if he can overcome M4 Shimotori. It's all up to Kaio to give this basho an exciting ending. On one hand, I'd love to see a 3 or 4 way playoff, but on the other hand, I hate to see the yusho line dip below the 13-2 mark. It's win win-for me.
Wow, two days ago I changed the front page of this site all but conceding Asashoryu the yusho. Now, two days and a rare 2 bout losing streak from the Yokozuna later, this basho is starting to pick up steam fast. Asashoryu's coming back to the pack has suddenly thrown several more rikishi into the yusho hunt, but when you look at the leader board, Asashoryu is still in the lead and has to be considered the heavy favorite.
Onto the action where Asashoryu was matched up against Sekiwake Wakanosato. Asashoryu executed the perfect tachi-ai where he easily gained morozashi against Wakanosato and immediately drove him back towards the tawara; however, it looked to me as if Wakanosato knew what was coming and gave a last ditch pull down effort. Asashoryu gave Wakanosato a huge shove as he was being pulled down, but he committed himself too early, and as the Sekiwake balanced on the tawara with one foot, Asashoryu hit the dirt. The referee actually called the bout in the Yokozuna's favor, and watching it live, I thought that Asashoryu won as well, but a judges conference and replays confirmed that Wakanosato had not stepped out before the Yokozuna landed on the dohyo. Yesterday against Tochiazuma, Asashoryu was flat out beat by maybe the only rikishi who isn't afraid of the Yokozuna, but today's loss was due to recklessness in the ring. I think we saw this kind of sumo last Nagoya where Asashoryu presses too hard when he's under pressure. Wakanosato admitted in a post-bout interview that his sumo today was terrible, but hey, and win's a win and credit the Sekiwake for pulling out all the stops.
As long as we're talking about terrible sumo, let's move to the big fat blob named Miyabiyama. What does he think he's doing? Today against Ozeki Chiyotaikai, Miyabi just jumped to his left at the tachi-ai knocking Chiyo to the dirt as he flew by. Chiyotaikai (9-3) justifiably sat on his knees in the middle of the dohyo and glared the hell out of Miyabiyama. This is as punk-ass and cheap as you can get. I accept the fact that rikishi will always go for the cheap win now and then, but don't do it to rikishi who's vying for the yusho! It ruins everything. Miyabiyama is nothing but a coward. I fully expect him for the rest of the basho when he does the dohyo-iri to scrap his kesho-mawashi in favor for a lion costume. He can paint whiskers and freckles on his face and enter the dohyo arm in arm with Dorothy, the Tinman, and the Scarecrow. It just pisses me off to think about Miyabiyama's sumo this basho. He ran from Tosanoumi earlier on, he ran from Chiyotaikai today, and he would have run from Asashoryu, but I think Miyabiyama actually thought he had a chance to topple the Yokozuna. The best Miyabiyama has done this basho is beat a Maegashira 4, yet there he stands alongside Asashoryu at 10-2 tied for the lead. Miyabiyama will get nothing but outstanding rikishi the rest of the way; his only chance to keep pace is to run.
Continuing on with the Ozeki, Musoyama (8-4) picked up his eighth win yesterday, so he was entitled in his mind to take today off and get beat handily by M4 Shimotori. Big props to Shimotori (8-4) for quietly picking up his kachi-koshi today.
Ozeki Kaio completely dismantled Sekiwake Tochiazuma's lead-with-the-head attack today by actually charging forward form the tachi-ai with oshi-zumo. It's no coincidence that Tochiazuma's three losses have been at the hands of big, powerful rikishi (Kaio, Musoyama, Kokkai) that he cannot beat without a healthy left shoulder. Tochiazuma's run this basho has been inspiring, and with Asashoryu's losing steak, both Tochiazuma and Kaio stand just one loss off the pace at 9-3. Kaio, who suffered some terrible early losses as usual, has suddenly been given new light. He controls his own destiny as he will face the Yokozuna on senshuraku.
Sekiwake Hokutoriki picked up a surprising win over Komusubi Kotomitsuki to move his record to 2-10. Instead of the kamikaze no de-ashi charge, Hokutoriki was quite agile forcing Kotomitsuki to chase him a bit as the Sekiwake executed a well timed pull down move. It was anything but pretty, but Hokutoriki's initial strategy this basho sure wasn't doing him any good. The Nagoya faithful were obviously disappointed as Kotomitsuki (5-7) suffers a bad loss to put his back against the wall regarding any kachi-koshi hopes.
Komusubi Tamanoshima came to stalemate with M2 Kokkai at the tachi-ai as both rikishi stood in the center of the ring for about 30 seconds with their heads touching and arms locked. The stronger rikishi prevailed in this one as Tamanoshima (3-9) never could get an arm inside and locked on the Georgian's belt. Kokkai moves to an impressive 7-5 win. He has no chance at the yusho, and he probably won't garner a special prize, but that is an excellent record considering he's fought all of the big guns.
Besides Kokkai and the cowardly lion, several more rikishi in the Maegashira ranks are having solid tournaments. Standing at 9-3 just one loss of the lead are M14 Toyozakura who's borrowing Hokutoriki's confidence from last basho; M15 Futenoh who's finally having his breakout basho in the Makuuchi divison; M8 Hakuho who's worked his way to a fairly ugly 9-3 mark, but since he schooled Miyabiyama, he's forgiven; and M10 Asasekiryu who like Hakuho hasn't exactly dazzled anyone but still finds himself in the hunt. The Sumo Association must be sweating having so many Maegahira rikishi just one off the lead with only three days to go. With Asashoryu and the Ozeki obligated to face each other these last three days, some of these Maegashira rikishi could fly under the radar and actually be included in a playoff for the yusho. If the yusho line doesn't stop at two losses, there's a potential quagmire come senshuraku to determine the champion.
After twelve days, here's how the leaderboard stands:
10-2 Asashoryu, Miyabiyama
9-3 Kaio, Chiyotaikai, Tochiazuma, Hakuho, Asasekiryu, Toyozakura, Futenoh
The trio of Asashoryu, Kaio, and Chiyotaikai will face off in a three day round robin beginning today, so realistically, only Asashoryu and the winner of day 13's Kaio-Chiyotaikai matchup will be the last man standing. Hey, as long as anyone but Miyabiyama wins this thing, I'll be happy.
Ten days are in the books and we've yet to have that wild day that completely changes the yusho picture, which can only mean that the Yokozuna is on course to win the yusho. Day 10 brought some excellent matchups, and it only foreshadows the remaining days where the Sekiwake-Ozeki-Yokozuna rikishi will all face off. Today's most important bout (although not my most anticipated bout) was of course the Asashoryu-Miyabiyama clash, which would leave one rikishi alone in first place undefeated at 10-0.
Today Asashoryu used his hari-zashi tachi-ai that he employs so effectively to get inside of his opponent and secure a morozashi grip, and the slower Miyabiyama could do nothing to stop it. Instead of morozashi, the Yokozuna ended up with a firm right uwate, which he used to spin Miyabiyama around and pull him towards the tawara via uwate-dashi-nage. Miyabiyama actually made a nifty move to reverse his momentum and head back towards the center of the ring, but he should have just let the Yokozuna drag him out peacefully because what followed was brutal. Asashoryu, who still maintained his right uwate, forced Miyabiyama back to the tachi-ai where Miyabi braced both feet on the tawara and arched his back in a last ditch effort to hold on. From out of nowhere, Asashoryu delivered a fierce left uppercut to Miyabi's throat and literally looked as if he'd rip the former Ozeki's head from his body. It was so vicious Miyabiyama just wilted to his knees suffering his first loss in the process. Today's match was one of those where Asashoryu seems irritated and tries to prove a point to his opponent like "how dare you [Miyabiyama] even think you have a chance to beat me today?". Asashoryu moves to 10-0 with the win and now stands alone atop the leaderboard. Miyabiyama, who drops to 9-1, had no chance of taking the yusho before today's bout in my opinion. He'll be pitted against only rikishi with excellent records the rest of the way, so he's all but done.
The biggest match today featured Ozeki Chiyotaikai and Sekiwake Tochiazuma. There was so much on the line today for both rikishi. From the tachi-ai, Chiyotaikai delivered 16 lightening quick tsuppari to Tochiazuma's throat-jaw area that drove Azuma back a few steps. However, if you can't drive your opponent out of the ring with 16 bops to his noggin, you've probably got a problem with your de-ashi. Tochiazuma endured the pummeling and perfectly chose his spot as he performed a picture-perfect inashi move where he suddenly moved to his right and pushed at Chiyotaikai's side with his right hand. Chiyo flopped forward as Tochiazuma easily pushed him out from behind for his biggest win of the tournament so far. At 8-2 now Tochiazuma inches ever closer to that 10 win mark that will secure the Ozeki rank for him again, but more importantly, it puts Chiyotaikai (8-2) two back of Asashoryu for the yusho. For all intents and purposes, the yusho is decided. The only thing we need to determine now is will Musoyama get his eight wins, will Tochiazuma reach 10, who will win the sansho, and why in god's name did Buyuzan tape up his back today?!? Fight through the pain brother because that tape is eventually going to have to be ripped off. If you thought Miyabiyama's knuckle sandwich today looked painful, wait until Buyuzan's tsukebito has to rip that tape off of his senpai's hairy back.
But I digress. A highly anticipated bout today was the Kaio-Kokkai matchup. With Kaio on the slide and Kokkai having a few big wins over the likes of Musoyama and Tochiazuma, I actually thought Kokkai was the favorite coming in. Unfortunately, Kokkai (5-5) didn't learn from his horrible tachi-ai against Chiyotaikai yesterday and came forward with his head so low that Kaio (7-3) had no choice but to slap him down for the easy win. Kokkai has a habit of putting together losing steaks with just awful sumo, so we'll see if he can get back on track against Iwakiyama tomorrow.
In another big matchup today, Ozeki Musoyama easily toppled Sekiwake Wakanosato (6-4) in two seconds by stopping Wakanosato dead in his tracks at the tachi-ai and pushing him over with his right hand. If I didn't know any better, I would have said that this bout was thrown, but since I have no proof, I'll move on. Just make a mental note in the back of your mind to see if Wakanosato has a suspiciously easy time with Musoyama in September. The win is big of course for Musoyama (7-3) who only needs one more to keep his rank. I didn't think coming in that there would be enough wins to go around for both Tochiazuma and Musoyama to hit their 10 and 8 win marks respectively, but they've got five days left to capture 2 and 1 wins respectively. Should be no problem at this point.
And hey, Sekiwake Hokutoriki finally picked up his first win this basho against none other than Kyokushuzan. Hokutoriki had to feel a surge of relief yesterday as he saw his name paired across Kyokushuzan for today's bout. It was a big win for Hokutoriki as he easily pushed Shu out about three seconds after the tachi-ai because he's still got the likes of Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, and Wakanosato coming up. Both rikishi now stand at a hapless 1-9.
Speaking of struggling, Komusubi Tamanoshima (3-7) picked up only his third win today against M1 Iwakiyama (3-7), but since I can't remember the bout and don't want to waste my time watching it again online, I'll move to Tamanoshima's counterpart Kotomitsuki (4-6), who is also having a rough go of things. He was completely outclassed today by M4 Shimotori (6-4) in a yotsu-zumo contest despite having the hometown fans behind him. Shimotori is quietly making a run at the sanyaku for September.
In the Maegashira ranks, M14 Toyozakura (8-2) welcomed newcomer M17 Tokitenku (3-7) to the division by popping him right in the grill from the tachi-ai knocking the Mongolian back and out of the ring in one fell swoop. Tokitenku has been very disappointing so far, but when you realize he's still young and learning the sport, there's hope for him in the near future. Perhaps he's the second coming of Asasekiryu, i.e. a soft Mongolian. Toyozakura is a prime candidate for the Kantosho award this basho as he picks up his first ever Makuuchi kachi-koshi in three tries.
In another interesting bout, M15 Futenoh failed to pick up that coveted eighth win today despite M8 Hakuho's executing three consecutive pull-downs that were horrible. This shouldn't have even been close, but for some reason, Futenoh just can't seem to capture that elusive eighth win in the Makuuchi division. This is third basho in the division, and he's finished 7-8 in his first two. Tomorrow he faces Jumonji, so you know he must be cursed if he can't win that. Hakuho "improves" to 7-3 with the win, but his sumo has been downright terrible for about five days now. He implements the hiki-waza way too often for his own good.
On the brink of kachi-koshi in the Maegashira division at 7-3 are M4 Dejima (where did he come from?), M11 Tosanoumi (how can you root against this guy?), M10 Asasekiryu (it's not news until you do it ranked higher up), and of course the aforementioned Hakuho and Futenoh.
Due to a communication breakdown, I will sub for Kenji today yet again. The talk today is focusing more on Asashoryu's bout with Kotonowaka yesterday than the day nine bouts themselves. The Association seems to be divided as to whether or not Asashoryu's body was "dead" or whether he could have still recovered. From the comments I've read in the papers, it sounds as if the old schoolers think that Asashoryu was finished and should have lost the bout, and the younger oyakata like former Terao and Kirishima are saying that it's just a new style of sumo the Mongolians are bringing to the sport. I don't think it's a coincidence that the old-timers are coming out against Asashoryu, but I don't have a problem with that. It will be a bout where the debate as to whether or not Asashoryu was "dead" will continue forever. My take is still that Asashoryu was alive and well. Why does the referee yell "nokotta, nokotta!" during the bout? Because the rules stipulate that a rikishi is not defeated unless he touches the dohyo floor with any part of his body besides the bottoms of his feet, or unless he exits the dohyo. Asashoryu was not defeated, and Kotonowaka's hand clearly hit the dohyo first. It was a shitate-dashi-nage win for Asashoryu if anything.
Anyway, onto the day nine bouts. One of the feature bouts before the basho began occurred today with Asashoryu facing Sekiwake Hokutoriki. Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum. Hokutoriki seemed completely resigned to his doom today as he didn't even bother going for the nodowa from the tachi-ai or using his tsuppari. He flat out gave Asashoryu an ideal belt grip, which the Yokozuna promptly used to force the Sekiwake out. Asashoryu moves to 9-0 while Hokutoriki falls to 0-9. My only question is who was that last basho wearing the Hokutoriki mask?
M7 Miyabiyama keeps right on pace with the Yokozuna after pulverizing M6 Tokitsuumi (4-5) with some fierce tsuppari and a well executed offensive pull-down. I have no problem with the pull-down move when a rikishi uses it on an opponent who is on his heels or on the run. We'll find out if Miyabi is for real today as he is paired against Asashoryu. I don't see how Asashoryu doesn't get inside and grab Miyabiyama's belt dodging the former Ozeki's less than lightening quick tsuppari. I'd be very surprised if today's bout is even close.
Keeping pace just one loss behind the leaders is Ozeki Chiyotaikai who easily took care of the floundering M3 Kyokushuzan (1-8). Chiyo has steadily improved this basho, but unless someone else hands Asashoryu a costly first loss, the Ozeki has no chance for the yusho.
Ozeki Kaio had a fork put in him today by M4 Shimotori. Kaio actually drove forward again from the tachi-ai and had Shimotori all but forced out, but when Kaio's right hand slipped off of Shimotori's belt, it left him dangerously exposed. Give credit to Shimotori (5-4) for not giving up and taking advantage when the opportunity arose. Kaio's sumo this basho has been lazy and stiff. It seems as if he's standing upright the entire time instead of crouching a bit and bracing himself with his lower body. Oh well, it's "wait till next basho" again for this Ozeki.
Sekiwake Tochiazuma received a bit of a reality check today as he faced Ozeki Musoyama. Tochi actually delivered a half-hearted tachi-ai henka that failed and completely took him out of any rhythm from the start. Credit Musoyama for quickly taking the initiative and forcing Tochiazuma to beat him with brute strength, something he could not do with his left shoulder. After a brief yotsu-struggle, Musoyama crushed Tochiazuma to the dirt handing him his second loss at 7-2. The Ozeki improves to 6-3, but better pick up his last two wins quickly. Both Musoyama and Tochiazuma have nothing but tough opponents remaining and neither is out of the woods yet.
Sekiwake Wakanosato proved that he is the dominant rikishi coming back from a poor tachi-ai to defeat Komusubi Tamanoshima. Tamanoshima had a solid uwate grip for most of the bout, but couldn't drive Wakanosato back and out. A well executed maki-kae from Waka enabled him to grab the momentum and use it to throw Tamanoshima (2-7) down. This was an excellent recovery from Wakanosato (6-3), but he's got to polish his entire game before he can make a serious run at Ozeki again.
Komusubi Kotomitsuki (4-5) took advantage of a poor tachi-ai from the fading M2 Kokkai. Kokkai came with his head way too low at the tachi-ai, and Mitsuki used that to throw the Georgian completely off balance setting up a push out from behind. Kokkai (5-4) is still doing just fine; he needs to continue learning from his mistakes, but I see examples of that as his sumo content has become much better from when he first entered the division. As soon as he gets his tachi-ai down every bout, watch out.
In other bouts of interest, M14 Toyozakura continues his run by out-dueling Asasekiryu (6-3), who was having a nifty basho of his own. Toyozakura (7-2) is just brimming with confidence this basho; just ask Hokutoriki what that can do for you. And finally, M15 Futenoh hits that dangerous seven win mark again by easily pushing out M9 Tochisakae (3-6). Last basho, Futenoh raced out to a 7-1 start only to lose his last seven bouts and suffer a make-koshi. He'll have six more days to get the monkey off of his back, so we'll see if he's got it together between the ears. A look at Hokutoriki this basho is a perfect example of how important the mental part of sumo is.
We're officially half way through the basho, and I was prepared to comment on the slight improvement in sumo today when Asashoryu's performance left me absolutely speechless. His feat today of surviving that uwate-nage throw from Kotonowaka is the finest athletic feat I have seen atop the dohyo ever. Before that, my best memory was about 10 years ago when Kyokudozan leap-frogged right over Asanowaka at the tachi-ai and easily pushed him out from behind, but today's sumo takes the cake. Kenji and I have been accused on internet forums of being pro-Asashoryu and deeming him as a god, but after today's performance, I can't see how anyone is not awed by the Yokozuna in the ring.
Getting right to the action, today Asashoryu was pitted against M2 Kotonowaka, a rikishi fighting his age and a bad left knee. Coming in there was no doubt in my mind that Asashoryu would take of business in a timely matter, but not so. Asa gained his coveted morozashi position from the tachi-ai but found Kotonowaka's girth too much to handle. Kotonowaka is so big vertically and horizontally that Asashoryu could not muster enough leverage to drive the M2 back. Several seconds into the bout, Kotonowaka unleashed a sudden left uwate throw that sent Asashoryu to the dirt and invited a sea of navy zabutons flying. But hold on...the judges correctly called for a mono-ii (judges conference) to review the bout. Replays showed that as Asashoryu was thrown down, he actually spun around 180 degrees, braced both foot against the tawara, and hung onto Kotonowaka's belt for dear life keeping his back just centimeters from touching the dirt (see picture at right). Kotonowaka's left hand actually hit the dohyo floor before Asashoryu's back touched the dirt.
The judges conferred for as long as I've ever seen them carry on a discussion, and I believe the issue was whether or not Asashoryu was still employing a technique to defeat his opponent despite his awkward posture, or whether his body was "shinde iru," or not in a position to attack at all. The judges ruled that both rikishi touched the dohyo at the same time and called for a re-match. Kotonowaka's hand clearly hit the dirt first, but I agree with their decision as it could be argued whether or not Asashoryu was still in a position to fight. As for the rematch, Asashoryu repented from his earlier mistake and this time went straight for the hand to the throat tachi, which he used to get deep inside of his opponent's belt where he was able to perform a back trip sending Kotonowaka (1-7) down for the loss. Asashoryu remains perfect at 8-0, but once again, his ability and presence of mind to survive a perfect uwate-nage throw is mind-boggling. I dare say we won't see an athletic feat of that magnitude for at least 20 years in the dohyo. Incredible. If you haven't seen the bout, follow this link to banzuke.com where you can view it:
Standing alongside Asashoryu atop the leaderboard at 8-0 is Miyabiyama, who was a bad Hayateumi knee away from being pushed out for his first loss. M10 Hayateumi pressed the action from the tachi-ai by grabbing the front of Miyabi's belt and pushing him back to the tawara. Miyabiyama braced both feet against the tawara and somehow hung on for dear life. When Hayateumi (4-4) was unable to finish his opponent off after that first burst, Miyabiyama took control of his opponent's let up and easily pushed him out for the win. Yes, Miyabiyama is 8-0, but who has he beaten? The answer is nobody. His best win is over Tochinonda, and against another formidable opponent in Tosanoumi, Miyabi just jumped to his side for cheap win. Miyabi may end up 13-2, but this is a far cry from Hokutoriki's performance last basho where he did all of his damage fighting the top rikishi. Once the Association bothers to pair Miyabiyama up with someone who is actually good, his win steak will be halted in a flash.
One off the pace at 7-1 is Ozeki Chiyotaikai who schooled Sekiwake Wakanosato (5-3) for the sixth time in a row. Mainoumi, who is the best color commentator NHK has and who was sitting in the mukou-joumen seat today, broke down this bout perfectly by saying that Wakanosato's tachi-ai is too weak and upright to have any affect against a power guy like Chiyotaikai. I have nothing else to add. Chiyo simply blew Wakanosato away from the tachi-ai and had him pushed out in two seconds for the win. Getting back to Mainoumi, no matter how bad the day of sumo is, if Mainoumi is commenting on the bouts, it's an enjoyable telecast to watch. Chiyotaikai's sumo has steadily improved over the course of the basho, but will he wilt again when he faces Kaio and Asashoryu? Probably.
Ozeki Musoyama took care of Sekiwake Hokutoriki, who continues to go down hill. If you've seen one Hokutoriki bout this basho, you've seen them all: brief spurt form the tachi-ai, but no lower body movement to sustain any offensive push. Musoyama took advantage using his strength for the force-out win and improving to 5-3. Tomorrow he faces Tochiazuma, which should be an epic battle between to rikishi who can't afford to lose. Hokutoriki (0-8) secures make-koshi in just eight days.
Ozeki Kaio (6-2) finally took the initiative from the tachi-ai today moving forward instead of retreating, and the result was an easy force out of M3 Kotoryu (2-6). I'm sure the lack of his opponent's size had a lot to do with Kaio's aggressiveness today, but the Ozeki is bigger and stronger than almost everyone, so there's no reason why he shouldn't charge forward every bout. Until he does this consistently, he won't come close to capturing another yusho.
When I talked about "gimme" wins this basho for the jo'i rikishi yesterday, I forgot to add M3 Kyokushuzan to the list. Sekiwake Tochiazuma was the benefactor today showing excellent footwork by keeping the darting-this-way-and-that Shu (1-7) in front of him at all times until he could easily push him out to go 7-1 and keep himself one off the lead. Tochiazuma's got his work cut out for him in week two, so it's good to seem going into the week with seven wins under his belt. He can thank the Association for pairing him with lightweights up until now.
With M14 Toyozakura's defeat at the hands of M11 Tosanoumi (5-3) today, there are no longer any Maegashira rikishi besides Miyabiyama with one or fewer losses. The yusho race should come down to Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai, but given Chiyo's awful performance against his Ozeki peers and the Yokozuna the last year, I don't see how Asashoryu can fail to pick up his fourth consecutive yusho.
Kenji is gone starting with day 7, so I'll comment on the days bouts. I'll start by saying he didn't miss anything as day 7 proved to be a horrible day of sumo with seemingly every bout consisting of a pull-down win. Getting right to the "action," Yokozuna Asashoryu has definitely figured out fellow countryman M3 Kyokushuzan. By figuring out I mean that the Yokozuna knows not to dangerously charge forward at the tachi-ai but to take his sweet time until Shuzan makes a move. Kyokushuzan seemed aware of this as well as he really attempted nothing from the tachi-ai allowing Asashoryu to grab a firm left uwate. The Yokozuna used the position to easily force Shu (1-6) sideways and out. Asashoryu continues to roll unscathed at 7-0.
Standing alongside of the Yokozuna but unworthy to do so is M7 Miyabiyama, who just cheap-assed his way to a horrible win by side-stepping M11 Tosanoumi (4-3) at the tachi-ai. A better word for his move I guess is side-jump not step because he literally leaped to his right completely evading any contact from Tosanoumi. This was the kind of awful sumo that just infuriates me, especially when the result has yusho implications. Miyabiyama sucks this basho and his record is inflated.
Now that that's off my chest, moving to the Ozeki ranks the most anticipated bout of the day was quite anti-climactic as M1 Kokkai knocked heads with Chiyotaikai but slipped coming out of his crouch causing him to fall right to the dirt. Chiyo was definitely feeling the effects of Kokkai's charge as he sat ringside after the bout, and hopefully these two will treat us to some epic bouts in the future. Chiyotaikai stays one of the pace at 6-1 while Kokkai falls two back at 5-2.
Ozeki Kaio's sumo is sure getting lazy. Three of his five wins this basho have been via the pull-down. I don't really think it's because Kaio knows he can't beat his opponents any other way, but he's dangerously settling for the pull-down win after a passive tachi-ai. Today was no different against Komusubi Tamanoshima. Kaio (5-2) let himself be driven back a few steps before stepping to his left and crushing Tamanoshima (2-5) to the dirt. I'll stop short of calling his recent tactics cheap, but his sumo definitely is lazy and uninspired this basho.
Ozeki Musoyama took advantage of grandpa M2 Kotonowaka (1-6) for the easy force out win. Kotonowaka is just too old to stand a chance this high up the ranks with his bad knee. Musoyama moves to 4-3 and can see the light at the end of his tunnel of mediocrity with just four more wins to go.
In the Sekiwake ranks, Wakanosato had little trouble gaining the inside position against the smaller M3 Kotoryu (2-5) before forcing him out upping his record to 5-2, but for all intents and purposes, he's been eliminated from the yusho race. The other two Sekiwake squared off today in what is becoming a very painful exhibition of sumo displayed by Hokutoriki this basho. Once again Hokutoriki (0-7) showed a glimmer of hope for about one second before completely falling apart and easily allowing Tochiazuma (6-1) to take advantage of him and force him out. Kotonowaka and Hokutoriki are the "gimme" wins in the jo'i this basho.
Rounding out the sanyaku, Komusubi Kotomitsuki looked awful against M1 Kyokutenho. From the tachi-ai the two rikishi squared up in the yotsu position, but for some reason Mitsuki thought it better to hug Tenho putting both hands on the back of his neck instead of going for the belt. Kyokutenho (3-4) quickly seized the opening and easily forced out Kotomitsuki (2-5) for the uneventful win.
In the Maegashira ranks, the most anticipated bout featured two 5-1 rikishi M8 Hakuho and M14 Toyozakura. This was a feisty bout featuring too many pull downs for my taste. Hakuho dictated the pace from the start and once again seemed to have his opponent finished off (with a couple of pull down moves), but he failed to take care of business giving up before Toyozakura had actually hit the dirt. Toyozakura (6-1) kept his balance well and countered with a pull down of his own to hand Hakuho (5-2) his second loss. Hakuho should be 7-0 at this point, but chalk it up to his youth and inexperience. At 6-1 Toyozakura should be paired with other opponents holding excellent records, so we'll see if he's for reall this basho.
A majority of the Maegashira bouts today seemed to be nothing but pull-down sumo. Some rikishi failed while others succeeded, but overall, this was an ugly ugly day of sumo that the rikishi should be ashamed of. After week one the leader board shapes up as follows:
Asashoryu and Miyabiyama at 7-0
Chiyotaikai, Tochiazuma, and Toyozakura at 6-1
Six others at 5-2
As we enter the middle five days of the tournament, it's evident that the basho really doesn't begin until Asashoryu loses. With the rising temperatures in Nagoya City seemingly the hot topic, the rikishi themselves are doing little to steal the show. Standing on top of the leader board is of course Asashoryu, who made quick work of M1 Iwakiyama. Asa came with the usual hari-zashi tachi-ai, but failed to get deep inside of Iwakiyama and grab his belt. No problem as the Yokozuna simply pushed Iwaki the Hut over onto his backside with a two arm push that was so fierce Iwakiyama flew back a meter. This was another good win for the Yokozuna (6-0) over a respectable opponent this basho in Iwakiyama who falls to 3-3.
Standing alongside of Asashoryu is M7 Miyabiyama who keeps a share of the lead at 6-0 after easily dismantling M5 Takekaze (2-4) with some hard shoves mingled with a few pull downs. It's really hard to comment on Miyabiyama's performance so far because he's posted this record fighting in the mid-Maegashira ranks. Is he going to be the next Hokutoriki going 13-2 this basho only to royally suck next basho from the sanyaku? He's done it before. I won't be impressed with this former Ozeki until he beats some heavyweights.
The Ozeki all won but their performances were a bit ho-hum. That was more a case of their scrub opponents bringing little today in the way of effort. Musoyama finally reached the .500 mark after patiently defeating the listless Tamanoshima (2-4). Musoyama didn't necessarily take the initiative from the tachi-ai, but Tamanoshima could seem to get nothing going today. Musoyama (3-3) slowly forced Tamanoshima back before pushing him down by the side.
Ozeki Kaio picked up an easy win against M3 Kyokushuzan who seems to have resorted back to his morote tachi-ai with no de-ashi. Kaio kept Shu (1-5) in front of him the whole time and easily pushed him out for the win. What more is there to say? Unfortunately for Kaio (4-2), he already has two costly losses, which will probably keep him out of yusho contention from here on out.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai (5-1) picked up his second good win of the tournament by sticking to his guns and driving Kotoryu back and out for the oshi-dashi win. Chiyo's tsuppari seem to lack some oomph this basho, but his quick draw never let Kotoryu (2-4) get deep inside and grab the Ozeki's belt. Good win for Taikai, but then again, he should dominate Kotoryu. He struggled today a bit more than he should have.
In the Sekiwake ranks today, Tochiazuma got back on track with an easy win against M2 Kotonowaka (1-5). Kotonowaka's age and bad leg are too much for him to overcome when fighting the best of the best. Tochiazuma did exactly what he had to do, which was to push hard and stay on the move ensuring that Kotonowaka did not get a good hold on his belt. Good sumo for Tochiazuma at 5-1 who still has his work cut out for him to win ten as he must still face the Yokozuna and Ozeki.
Sekiwake Wakanosato played with a bit of fire against Komusubi Kotomitsuki as the two rikishi came out in a shoving match from the tachi-ai. Kotomitsuki had Wakanosato driven to the tawara before Wakanosato quickly evaded to his left grabbing a left uwate on the back of Kotomitsuki's belt, which he used to turn the tables on the charging Mitsuki (2-4) easily pushing him out from behind. Wakanosato stands at 4-2, but those two early losses will prove too costly.
Sekiwake Hokutoriki slides even further today after another bad loss to M1 Kyokutenho. Hokutoriki actually had Tenho driven back a few steps from the tachi-ai, but where we saw solid de-ashi last basho we're only seeing slipping and sliding from Hokutoriki (0-6) this basho. Once the bout went to yotsu-zumo, it was easy as pie for Kyokutenho (2-4).
Continuing to impress is M2 Kokkai, who was actually beaten from the tachi-ai by M5 Kakizoe, but used his incredible horsepow..er..uh..strength to beat his opponent by tsuki-otoshi (force down) while backing up. No, this wasn't a pull down win, but an incredible display of upper-body strength from Kokkai, who just strong-armed Kakizoe (2-4) to the dirt while retreating. He has become an extremely hard rikishi to topple, and it's only going to get more difficult to beat him. Kokkai stands at 5-1. Also one off the pace at 5-1 and looking good is M8 Hakuho who didn't really beat M4 Shimotori (3-3) today, but maintained solid position from the tachi-ai as Shimotori's feet seemed to slip out from under him. Hakuho was right there to easily slap him down for the victory. Hakuho is really showing good maturity for a rikishi only 19 years of age. I'm looking forward to next basho where he'll be in the same position that Kokkai is now.
Hanging tough at 4-2 is Kaiho, who always displays impressive technique. He downed M11 Jumonji (3-3) with a nifty shitate-nage throw that resembled an Asashoryu move. M15 Futenoh (4-2) seeks his first kachi-koshi in the Makuuchi division after downing M10 Asasekiryu (4-2) in a tough yotsu-zumo struggle that was probably the best bout of the day. M11 Tosanoumi also deserves a mention as he made it four straight today against newcomer M17 Tokitenku (2-4). It looks as if Tosanoumi (4-2) is not throwing in the towel yet on his Makuuchi career.
M14 Toyozakura remains one off the lead after besting M12 Buyuzan in a fierce shoving match that ended ironically with Toyozakura stepping to the side just as Buyuzan (2-4) unleashed a huge shove causing Buyuzan's forward momentum to carry him out of the dohyo. I have really been impressed with Toyozakura's tenacity this basho; that's the main reason he stands at 5-1. He's fighting with the same confidence as Hokutoriki did last basho, and this should bring him his first kachi-koshi in three tries in the division.
And finally, M16 Toki just crushed M16 Harunoyama by of course putting both hands at Harunoyama's neck at the tachi-ai, but instead of moving backwards looking for the cheap pull-down as he usually does, Toki drove forward with excellent de-ashi easily pushing out Harunoyama (1-5). If Toki (3-3) fought like this every time, we'd see him back up in the sanyaku.
Four days in and this basho is beginning to take shape. There are a few surprises here and there, however, nothing that I see impacting the yusho. I'll start with the biggest surprise of all, Tochiazuma. Coming into the basho, I wasn't sure that Tochiazuma would last the entire 15 days, but he's jumped out to an excellent 4-0 start. Today the former Ozeki stopped Komusubi Tamanoshima in his tracks at the tachi-ai, then as the two rikishi touched heads jockeying for position, Tochiazuma just pushed Tamanoshima (1-3) over to pick up an easy win. You look at Tochiazuma's last three wins (Tamanoshima, Wakanosato, Kyokutenho) and they're all against yotsu-zumo specialists. I'm not going to say that he is 100%, but he couldn't have asked for a better start against some very formidable opponents. Ten wins is not in the bag at this point, but it sure looks promising.
Another surprise is M2 Kokkai, who sure doesn't seem nervous about fighting so high up in the ranks for the first time. Today he was unable to unleash his tsuppari against M4 Shimotori from the tachi-ai and gave up the quick uwate as the two hooked up in yotsu-zumo. Kokkai has looked very awkward fighting at the belt up until now and I didn't give him a chance today, but he pressed the action despite his opponent's ideal position, and used his sheer strength (or horsepower as the Japanese announcers like to say) to just bully Shimotori (2-2) out for the force-out win. The rest of the field better take note quickly because Kokkai (3-1) is sharpening his skills on the fly as he pummels his opponents. Is there a doubt the next Yokozuna will come from Eastern Europe?
Way down in the Maegashira ranks, M14 Toyozakura is raising some eyebrows jumping out to a quick 4-0 start by simply bullying his opponents out of the ring a la Hokutoriki last basho. Today he faced fellow M14 Otsukasa, who was unbeaten coming in, but Toyozakura never gave him a chance lunging for Otsukasa's throat at the tachi-ai and firing off rapid tsuppari until his opponent was forced back and out. This is exactly how Hokutoriki needs to fight again.
A rikishi who was primed to also make the 4-0 list was M8 Hakuho, who committed the cardinal sin of showboating instead of taking the easy win. Hakuho actually gave up a solid left uwate grip to his opponent M10 Hayateumi from the tachi-ai, but he refused to let Hayateumi drive him back. After several seconds of non-movement from each rikishi, Hakuho executed a brilliant maki-kae which gave him the morozashi position standing Hayateumi virtually straight up. Hakuho immediately lifted Hayateumi off of his feet attempting the tsuri-dashi technique, but the rikishi were in the center of the ring forcing Hakuho to set Hayateumi down. After driving Hayateumi back towards the ring's edge, Hakuho lifted Hayateumi off of his feet again and this time set him down in what he thought was outside of the ring, but the Mongolian miscalculated and actually set Hayateumi back down just inside of the tawara. Hayateumi (2-2) said thank you very much and quickly pushed Hakuho, who's back was turned, out for the easy win. Hakuho (3-1) was obviously disgusted with himself, but he needs to learn to at least get the easy win instead of trying to make it look impressive. While it was a horrible loss, Hakuho is a real piece of work who should rocket up to the sanyaku by year's end. He's going to be a good one.
A final surprise is M7 Miyabiyama who jumps out to a 4-0 start after patiently winning a shoving match against M11 Jumonji (2-2). Ranked this low on the banzuke, the former Ozeki better get off to a good start.
Standing alongside of Tochiazuma, Miyabiyama, and Toyozakura at 4-0 is of course no surprise, Yokozuna Asashoryu. Today against Komusubi Kotomitsuki (2-2), Asashoryu came with his hari-zashi tachi-ai where he slaps his opponent's face with his right hand while gaining the inside position with his left hand. The move kept Mitsuki on his heels from the beginning and set up a lethal morozashi position for the Yokozuna. After positioning himself and taking a few seconds rest, he quickly dispatched of Kotomitsuki with a shitate throw. Perfect sumo. Asashoryu looks to be in top form yet again this basho.
In the Ozeki ranks, Kaio was upset by M1 Kyokutenho. Kaio's problem this basho is his passive tachi-ai. Remember last basho how he was actually lunging forward into his opponents and setting them up with a few pushes? Today was his typical tachi-ai where he sacrifices a few steps back in order to get the better hold on his opponent. The problem today was that Kyokutenho (1-3) grabbed a solid right uwate and didn't give Kaio time to set himself driving the Ozeki back and out in about three seconds. Kaio (2-2) needs to get offensive again, but the it's already too little too late this basho. He can't come back from being two losses behind Asashoryu.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai actually managed a win today while moving forward. His victim M2 Kotonowaka (1-3) was nothing other than a huge target for the oshi-zumo specialist today. Chiyo just bullied Kotonowaka back from the tachi-ai, and the veteran Kotonowaka never could get his feet planted. It was a good win for Taikai (3-1), but nothing spectacular comparing both rikishi's styles and age.
Ozeki Musoyama pulled out an old trick today against M3 Kotoryu where he over-committed himself at the ring's edge resulting in a bad loss. Musoyama methodically drove Kotoryu back with his size and a shitate grip, but at the ring's edge he tried to nudge Kotoryu out with his hip. The move didn't work leaving Musoyama exposed on one foot and off balance. Kotoryu (2-2) seized the opportunity and dragged Musoyama out by the belt. Musoyama (1-3) better get going in a hurry or he joins the Sekiwake ranks next basho.
Speaking of Sekiwake, Wakanosato used good patience against M3 Kyokushuzan (1-3), who seems to be going back to his old ways. Waka survived a few pulldown attempts before getting inside on his opponent's belt and easily forcing him out. At 2-2, Wakanosato is off to a mediocre start at best.
And finally, Sekiwake Hokutoriki looked bad yet again facing M1 Iwakiyama. This was a carbon copy bout of yesterday's Hokutoriki - Kaio matchup where Hokutoriki went for his opponent's throat at the tachi-ai, but didn't have the de-ashi to back it up. Iwakiyama easily slapped down Hokutoriki for the win today. Hokutoriki's confidence is shot while Iwakiyama at 3-1 seems primed to jump back into the sanyaku.
There was a noticeable buzz in the air today leading up to the final match between Asashoryu and Kokkai, a match up we've been waiting for all year. How many times does a Yokozuna - Maegashira 2 bout generate this much excitement? Credit Kokkai for storming through Wakanosato yesterday giving everyone that much more hope that he could defeat Asashoryu today. Getting right to the action, Kokkai did not disappoint at the tachi-ai slamming into the Yokozuna standing him straight up. Asa recovered from the blow nicely, and as Kokkai unleashed his trademark tsuppari aimed at Asashoryu's head, the Yokozuna ducked under the long arms of his opponent and secured an inside position at the belt which he used to drive Kokkai back shoving him completely off of the dohyo. It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, but this bout was clearly a matter of one rikishi who has been in the sport for years starting in high school in Japan, and the other from Eastern Europe of all places who is still cutting his teeth in the Makuuchi division. Kokkai was easily the more powerful rikishi today, but Asashoryu demonstrated the superior technique, which earned him the victory. A positive aspect surrounding this loss for Kokkai is that he looked upset with himself for losing. I like to see that; it's a sign that he wasn't intimidated, which says a lot for the Georgian. As for Asashoryu (2-0), credit him for the win today, but beware of the future. Kokkai is the type of rikishi that is so powerful, he can keep the smaller Yokozuna away from his belt. It's only a matter of time for Kokkai (1-1).
Prior to the Asa - Kokkai match up, Ozeki Chiyotaikai and Komusubi Tamanoshima treated us to two identical bouts. I guess "treat" isn't the word to use this basho when describing Chiyotaikai's sumo. Tamanoshima is one rikishi who Chiyotaikai can't budge with his tsuppari, and today was no different. Chiyo came hard at the tachi-ai spraying tsuppari all over the place, but Tamanoshima withstood the attack and began to drive Chiyo back. It's apparent this basho that Chiyotaikai is pull-happy because he did just that to Tamanoshima. Tama managed to give Chiyotaikai a giant shove as he was being pulled down causing Chiyo's foot to step out and Tama's hand to hit the dirt at the same time. A re-match was correctly declared, and the two went at it again with the exact same result: ineffective tsuppari from Chiyotaikai, a steady surge forward from Tamanoshima (0-2), and a pull-down from the panicking Ozeki for the cheap win. Chiyotaikai (bad 2-0) looks terrible this basho. His playing with the pull-down fire is going to burn him sooner than later.
In one of the best bouts of the day, Ozeki Musoyama displayed sheer grit in pulling out a victory against Komusubi Kotomitsuki. Kotomitsuki had every reason to win this bout starting with the advantage at the tachi-ai and a solid uwate, but Musoyama simply refused to lose today. Several times Kotomitsuki had Musoyama at ring's edge ready to force him out, but you could just see Musoyama fighting back with all he had. I really think Musoyama is the most powerful rikishi in the field, and he demonstrated it today by coming back and winning with no offensive position whatsoever. On one of Mitsuki's drives to the edge of the ring, Musoyama used his hip to lift Mitskuki (1-1) slightly off of the ground throwing him off balance before Musoyama (1-1) easily pushed him out at the end. It was a fantastic win today for the Ozeki, but the question still remains: why doesn't he fight like this every day?
In the first Ozeki bout today, Kaio overpowered M2 Kotonowaka. After a shaky tachi-ai where Kotonowaka seemed to gain the advantage, Kaio unleashed an overhead, two-handed thrust that knocked Kotonowaka back and out form the middle of the ring. Today it was Kaio's strength taking advantage of Kotonowaka's (1-1) bad wheels. Kaio (1-1) gets back on track with his first win today.
In the Sekiwake ranks, Hokutoriki looks like the Hokutoriki of old. He hasn't seemed to have recovered from that senshuraku loss to Hakuho last basho. In fact, his de-ashi have been missing since that fateful bout. Today against Kotoryu, Hokutoriki went straight for Kotoryu's neck at the tachi-ai, but the Sekiwake's feet seemed to be stuck in mud. An oshi-zumo guy cannot attack without a stable lower body, and Kotoryu (1-1) easily maneuvered inside of Hokutoriki's "thrusts" pushing him back. Hokutoriki (0-2) went for the pull down, which only made his loss look that much more lopsided as he was easily pushed out. Hokutoriki's confidence is shot. He looks as lost in the ring as he ever has. From here on out, watch Hokutoriki's lower body when he fights. If you see his legs driving forward, he'll win. Anything else and he loses.
Sekiwake Tochiazuma faced a huge test today in Kyokutenho. I really thought he was going to lose today, but Tochiazuma drove hard into his opponent forcing Kyokutenho back and away from his belt. I don't think Tochi could have won today with yotsu-zumo, but he made that point moot as he never stood stationery disallowing Kyokutenho a shot at his belt. Tochiazuma bull-dogged Tenho (0-2) back and out of the ring driving hard with his legs, leading with his head, and throwing in the occasional shove. Tochi still didn't effectively use his left arm today, but he more than made up for it with heart. He's off to a huge 2-0 start in his quest for ten wins. He needs to pile them up fast because week two will be extremely difficult.
Sekiwake Wakanosato picked up his first win by latching onto M1 Iwakiyama's belt at the tachi-ai and never letting go. It was one of those grips where it doesn't matter if it's a shitate or an uwate is was so strong. Waka grabbed his opponent's belt with his right hand in what started out as a shitate. As Wakanosato wrenched Iwakiyama back, Iwakiyama attempted the maki-kae now giving Waka the right uwate. The move was in vain as Wakanosato proved his yotsu-zumo prowess by easily forcing out Iwakiyama for the easy win. Both rikishi stand at 1-1.
Of note in the Maegashira ranks, M8 Hakuho continues to roll as he easily defeated M11 Tosanoumi. Both rikishi delivered one of the best tachi-ai of the day before Hakuho quickly evaded literally causing Tosanoumi to charge forward into nothing with his head down too low. The wining technique was hatakikomi, but it didn't appear as if Hakuho (2-0) even touched Tosanoumi (0-2) on his way down. Nishiki-oyakata (former Mitoizumi) hit the nail on the head when asked prior to the bout regarding Hakuho's style. His reply was "It's impossible to tell at this point." That's exactly right. One reason why Hakuho is so scary is because you have absolutely no idea how he's going to attack, and he's equally adept at the belt or pushing you out.
Another bout that deserves mention was the M10 Asasekiryu vs. M12 Buyuzan bout. Buyuzan took charge from the beginning and bullied Seki until he had has back turned enabling Buyuzan to catch the Mongolian in the man love position. In true Musashigawa-beya fashion, instead of easily pushing Seki out from behind, Buyuzan (1-1) whiffed at the ring's edge allowing Asasekiryu (2-0) to somehow reach around his body, lock his arm up and under Buyuzan's armpit, and fling bigfoot around and down to the dirt. At first, kotenage was announced as the winning technique, but thrity minutes later, they announced in the arena that the kimarite was changed to koshi-nage, or a hip throw. It was neither of those techniques, but it was the first time I've seen someone win when on the receiving end of the man love hold. The move looked like a reverse kote-nage throw, but whatever it was, it was fantastic.
And finally, not to be outdone in the waza department, M17 Tokitenku (101) picked up his first ever Makuuchi win by performing the suso-harai move on M16 Harunoyama (0-2).
It's still early, but there are a few things I'm certain of: Kokkai's for real, Hokutoriki isn't, and Musoyama and Tochiazuma are showing the kind of heart I wish they'd show all the time and not just when their backs are against the wall.
Nagoya Basho Pre-basho
It's safe to say that this year's version of the Nagoya basho will be much more compelling than last year's debacle. We all remember too well Musashimaru trying to come back too early from his wrist injury, Asashoryu losing his composure after some inconsistent calls by the judges, and the Nagoya fans actually booing Asashoryu during his dohyo-iri. Asashoryu withdrew mid-basho citing some phantom injury or other, and just when the press began dubbing him nicknames like hansoku Yokozuna and calling him a disgrace to the rank, he has stormed back to take four of the last five basho. Asashoryu has vowed to yusho in Nagoya, the only basho that has eluded him. Asashoryu is famous for seeking vengeance upon those who defeat him in the ring, but this time around, I think he uses his treatment by the Nagoya fans as his inspiration. Besides Asashoryu's return to the city that shows him no love, there are several other compelling storylines heading into this basho that I'll focus on due to the dearth of keiko reports we have coming from Nagoya.
First, quite a bit of the pre-basho headlines have focused on Sekiwake Tochiazuma's quest to regain his rank. From the reports I have read, it sounds as if the former Ozeki is still experiencing pain in his left shoulder. While he is able to practice against Makuuchi rikishi again, I have yet to read a report that sounded positive. Last Thursday he visited the Kasugano-beya and participated in 24 bouts against the likes of Tochinonada, Tochisakae, and Kitazakura. His overall record in these 24 bouts was not given, and I believe that was on purpose. The report did mention, however, Tochiazuma's losing to Kitazakura in unspectacular fashion. While I wasn't there to see it, there's no doubt in my mind that the Kasugano rikishi were not going full boar against Tochiazuma. 24 bouts with an injured shoulder suggests to me that the keiko was rather light. Unfortunately, no one will give Tochiazuma a break once the tournament begins, so I'd be very surprised to not only see Tochiazuma win 10, but to see him win eight.
Someone who should have no trouble winning eight is Musoyama, who finds himself kadoban yet again. This is really getting ridiculous. Musoyama wins eight one basho, takes the next basho off, and then actually cares enough to win eight again to keep himself in the Ozeki ranks. As much as I hate to say it, this guy needs to join Tochiazuma back in the sanyaku. I fully expect Musoyama to jump out to a great start, secure his eight wins in 10 or 11 days, and then take the rest of the basho off.
Jumping back up to the Yokozuna rank, it sounds as if Asashoryu is in fine red-ass form prior to the basho. He finally tracked down Hokutoriki at the Naruto-beya today and performed 10 practice bouts with his new semi-rival. Apparently, both Asashoryu and Naruto-oyakata, a former Yokozuna who was watching the keiko, determined that Hokutoriki was not going all out. Naruto-oyakata ordered Asashoryu to deliver a harite (slap) to Hokutoriki's face if he slacked off. In the 10 bouts, Hokutoriki did not come out with the tsuppari once, so Asashoryu complied with Naruto's suggestion and whacked Hokutoriki across the face criticizing him for taking it easy. It sounds harsh, but so goes the world of sumo. I'm hoping that Hokutoriki refused to use the tsuppari on purpose so that Asashoryu could not analyze Hokutoriki's attack and better prepare for him during the actual tournament, but more on the new Sekiwake in a minute. Regarding Asashoryu, how can you not pick him to win this tournament? There is no current up-and-comer in a position to threaten for the yusho yet, and Kaio and Chiyotaikai have looked so uninspired this whole year. Nagoya is also the only basho of the six that Asashoryu has not won, so that gives him that much more inspiration to take the yusho. I don't think there's any question that he may not yusho; the only thing I'm wondering is are we going to see another surprise rikishi rise up and challenge the Yokozuna around the 13-2 mark? I hope so, but in the end, Asashoryu gives his detractors two more months of misery.
Getting back to Hokutoriki, I would have loved to have seen that keiko session between him and Asashoryu. I think that the new Sekiwake was trying to one-up the Yokozuna by refusing to show him his bread and butter in the practice ring...at least I hope that was his intention. I happened to see the recent exhibition tour held in China last month, and Hokutoriki looked awful and uninspired. Now I know that those exhibition tournaments are mostly meaningless, but if Hokutoriki is going to establish himself as a player to be reckoned with, he's going to have to exert himself as a force all the time and not just the two weeks of the tournament. Just look at how Asashoryu began the war of words with Hokutoriki the day after his victory in May when he said, "I'm coming to greet you," implying that he would track down Hokutoriki at a pre-basho keiko session in Nagoya. He happened to find Hokutoriki at the Naruto-beya, where Juryo sophomore Hagiwara also resides. Asa made it a point to call Hagiwara into the ring during the keiko session where he then proceeded to throw the youngster hard onto his hip causing Hagiwara to sit out the rest of the session. Now Hagiwara is not a current threat to Asashoryu, but the Yokozuna knows full well that Hagiwara will challenge him in the future, so he wants to send the painful message early to the youngster as to who is the boss. I'd like to see some more fire like this in Hokutoriki outside of the two-week basho. Then again, am I jumping the gun assuming that Hokutoriki is going to come out again as he did in May? Probably. My take is that Hokutoriki has a lot of potential but that he is not quite ready yet to become a dominant force. I'd be surprised--yet pleased--to see him win his eight this basho. Just ask anyone besides Wakanosato how hard it is to do well when ranked as Sekiwake.
I guess I can't just ignore Kaio and Chiyotaikai, but is there anything new to report on these two? If so, I haven't read it. Kaio was dinged up after the Natsu basho, which caused him to miss the China exhibition tour, and I haven't read a single report on his current condition. He is the defending Nagoya basho champion, but I don't think he has generated an ounce of momentum coming into this tournament. I think he and Chiyotaikai's only chance of winning is a withdrawal by Asashoryu. In the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."
In the Komusubi ranks we have Kotomitsuki and Tamanoshima. We know what Kotomitsuki's capable of, but I'm excited about Tamanoshima. I actually think he's closer to threatening the Ozeki ranks than Hokutoriki is. His sumo is more complete and stable, and he was only a cheap pull-down loss away from joining Asashoryu and Hokutoriki in the yusho playoff. His counterpart, Kotomitsuki, had a solid 9-6 basho in May from the same rank, and I expect nothing less of him in his Nagoya, especially since this is his hometown and the crowd will be behind him. He's the dark horse of the basho.
In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Iwakiyama finds himself in the exact same position that Hokutoriki was in last basho. His counterpart Kyokutenho usually performs very well from this ranks, so I have high expectations for the M1's. Filling the M2 slots are two opposites as far as experience. In the West you have the oldest Makuuchi rikishi in Kotonowaka and once of the newest rikishi, Kokkai, sitting in the East. Finally, we'll get to see how Kokkai performs among the jo'i. Eight wins for the Georgina would be outstanding; however, he can't get down on himself if he fails to win eight. The most important aspect for Kokkai this basho is to get sufficient experience against all of the heavy hitters. A kachi-koshi and likely sanyaku berth that would follow would be icing on the cake. All that aside, I'm hoping that both of our M2's give the jo'i fits; they're both capable of doing it.
I think Kotoryu and Kyokushuzan are a bit over-ranked at M3, but let's see how Kyokushuzan responds to his best basho in years. I could not find one reason to criticize him in May, and here's to hoping he keeps it up two basho in a row. Two guys that may be a bit under-ranked in my opinion are the M4's Shimotori and Dejima. Both have great sumo bodies, which should give them no reason not to kachi-koshi this basho. They are just out of harms way in facing all of the jo'i.
M5 Kakizoe hopes to make a bid for the sanyaku again after two below average basho in a row. Don't expect counterpart Takekaze to make much noise either. His lack of size will be too difficult to overcome this high up. I like both M6's in Tokitsuumi and Tochinonada and expect nothing less than eight wins apiece from these two.
M7's Miyabiyama and Takamisakari are two rikishi who are struggling mightily. Takamisakari has never been the same since Akebono left sumo. And Miyabiyama and the rest of the Musashigawa crew better focus on make-koshi stoppers instead of rensho stoppers. How about M8 Hakuho? This is the only guy who has yet to be intimidated by Yokozuna Asashoryu whatsoever. He defeated Asashoryu in China to win the Shanghai two-day tournament, and he also humiliated Asashoryu during a keiko session as a Juryo rikishi. Hakuho's sumo can be summed up in one word: urusai. That word is literally translated as loud or noisy, but in the context of sumo, I'd say it means more along the lines of "the last guy you want to face when you need a victory." Hakuho's style is so unpredictable, and his attack kind of reminds me of Takatoriki's: you just never knew what he was going to throw at you. Unlike Takatoriki, however, Hakuho can fight at the belt. When this guy gets a little more polished, he is going to give fellow Mongolian Asashoryu fits, mainly because he refuses to be bullied by the Yokozuna. Who else can legitimately say that?
As for other compelling rikish in the Maegashira ranks, M10 Asasekiryu remains a mystery. Will this be another lethargic 7-8 outing or a spectacular 12-3 performance. He better take advantage of his low rank. M11 Tosanoumi slowly but surely continues his slide down the ranks. Has he suffered make-koshi for three basho in a row now? I hope it's not the end for him. M12 Kinkaiyama was in the yusho hunt for week one, but only managed one victory in week two of the Natsu basho. Consistency throughout the 15 days is needed here.
At M13 sits Kasugao, the only Korean sekitori who finds himself back in the division for the first time in nearly a year. After a nifty debut in January of last year, he's done nothing but struggle. His counterpart Takanowaka was quite the Sekiwake 16 months ago. He too is struggling of late, but nonetheless finds himself inching back up the ranks.
M15 Futenoh has yet to kachi-koshi in the Makuuchi ranks, but he's still here. I like this guy and only think it's a matter of time. M16 Toki is only one rung away from the bottom of the barrel. He hasn't seen the Juryo ranks since he ran over killed that lady with his car about two years ago. Toki injured himself earlier in the year in a defeat of Musoyama in Osaka, and he just hasn't seemed the same since. Maybe he's just itching to face his twin Takanotsuru again in the Juryo ranks.
And finally, at M17 sits our only Makuuchi newcomer Tokitenku, who ties three other rikishi for the fastest climb to the Makuuchi division after having started from mae-zumo. It should be noted, however, that he did enter the sport after competing in college, so he's not really the young phenomenon as say Hagiwara is. Nevertheless, he's just one more fiesty Mongolian who uses his speed and technique to out-maneuver his heavier and slower counterparts. I'd say eight wins for him is a given.
That wraps up my pre-basho comments. I can't remember a basho where there were so few keiko reports prior to the basho. It will be wait and see, but at least we have plenty of storylines to keep us entertained. I am off to Japan where I will arrive the Saturday night just prior to the basho and stay for the duration of the tournament. I can't wait to watch the live bouts beginning with the sandanme rikishi at 1:00 PM Japan time. I'll finally be able to catch up on the lower divisions. A couch potato I am, but what can you do when the smell of binzuke oil is in the air?
My basho predictions are as follows:
Yusho: Asashoryu of course, but Kotomitsuki beats him for the Shukunsho.