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2008 Nagoya Basho
Post-basho Report | Pre-basho Report
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From the moment I laid eyes on the Nagoya banzuke, I suspected that we'd be in trouble. After consecutive basho with a solid upper Maegashira, the rankings for Nagoya revealed a gaping hole near the top. So knowing that we'd get no excitement from the M1 - M4 ranks, all it would take was a bad break or two to derail the basho. The first red flag came on day 1 when Asashoryu was defeated by Toyonoshima. The loss itself wasn't what was troubling; it was the
way in which the Yokozuna lost. Asashoryu was clearly out of shape and not ready for the basho, so when he had withdrawn by day 6, it was over. It also didn't help that Kisenosato decided to suck, and then when Kotooshu was faced with a little something called pressure, the stars would not align themselves in Nagoya for anyone except Yokozuna Hakuho. And it wasn't just the rikishi who had an off basho. I don't believe Sumotalk has ever had as bad a basho as this. It's sorta like being in a rock band with a bunch of egos...guys fighting over whose tracks make the 15 day album, being unable to cope with each other's creative differences, and of course the influence of the bottle.
Since not much happened on the dohyo in Nagoya, allow me to explain what happened to the group. It all started when Mark showed up to the hotel with his new Japanese girlfriend who was supposedly some sort of artist. Mark said that he thought we should all go in a new direction beginning with his taking over day 1 duties. When we began to protest that, he quickly changed the subject and hinted that perhaps Sumotalk needed a manager..."someone who isn't actually a contributor" he said while gazing at his new gal. We shot that down faster than a redneck firing at a goose, so just like that, he took off. We didn't see or hear about him again until some photos were posted on the TMZ website that showed Mark sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere along the Atlantic Ocean near Canada with a different gal by his side...this one with a nice settuh hooters.
But that was fine. We've always got plan B, so I made a call to the one, the only, Steamin' Simon Siddall, who is still technically part of the band, but has taken a leave to work on some
solo projects. Si was more than willing to strap it back on and fill in for Mark by covering day 6 for us, but alas, the drink had gotten the best of him as he admitted, and he just wasn't able to pound out those solos on the six stringer like he used to. Still, Asashoryu was gone by then, and we still had four members left to jam that final week, and everything really was going smoothly. Well, until day 14 when Martin was typing his comments. He got as far as the Ama-Goeido match and then made one of the most irresponsible comments I've ever read on Sumotalk (and that's saying something). Martin said that Goeido had more than a 50% chance of getting kachi-koshi against Kisenosato on senshuraku, but we all knew his chances were really 49.9994%. "Martin, you can't just round up to the nearest ten thousandth," I told him. "You of all people should know that." A shouting match between us ensued, and after trading a few eff yous I'm sorry to say, Martin just stood up, smashed his typewriter on the floor and said, "I'm outta here." And he exited stage left just like that. But I wouldn't let him go so easily. "You're proof that Darwin's Theory of
Evolution is true," I shouted towards him. "You did come from a monkey my friend!"
Martin didn't react to this and just slammed the door behind him, but Clancy...Clancy exploded. If you think you've ever heard Clancy go on a tirade, you should have seen the way he got into my face. He jabbed his finger repeatedly in my chest and slowly repeated through clenched teeth, "You take that back now, or I quit."
"Take what back?" I asked. "You make fun of Martin more than the rest of us."
"No," he interrupted. "The Evolution part. Don't mock my God by even suggesting that we weren't created in His image."
"It was just a joke," I told him.
With that Clancy ran to the nightstand in between the two beds and grabbed the Gideon Bible, held it up, and then started quoting scripture to me. None of us have ever seen anything like it, and while we all respect Clancy's time when he studies his Bible, we had never seen him this passionate about it. To make a long story short, he said something about not
being able to stand in the presence of someone who mocked his God, and he stormed out of the room leaving only the two of us...the two founders of the group, Kenji and myself. We talked it over and decided that since the yusho had already been decided, we'd just go old school and have no one report on day 15 opting to wrap everything up in the post-basho report, just like the really old days when we both reported seven days apiece and were too worn out for the senshuraku encore.
So here's the said post-basho report. And just in case anyone's wondering...the other guys will be back. They always come back.
It doesn't make sense to start with anybody other than thee man, Yokozuna Hakuho. If you've ever wondered what a mistake-free basho looks like, you got it from Kublai in Nagoya. The dude really was due. He's been the best rikishi by far since they banished Asashoryu last fall, and his sumo showed it. Go down the list and you'll find 7 wins that involved yori, 6 throws, that kimedashi win against Ama, and then a slapdown of Futenoh. Looks a lot like the kinda scorecard Takanohana use to turn in. The Yokozuna henka-proofed himself this basho by letting up at the tachi-ai against rikishi who have shown it to him before. By only going halfway at the charge, Hakuho assured himself a straight up fight in each bout, and he got it just sucking his opponents into his death grip and dismantling them with ease. At 23, I expect to see at least four more years of domination where the younger Yokozuna does no worse than three yusho a year. Do the math and that's 12 + 7, numbers that put him in the same realm as Asashoryu now. Fortunately, we have another Yokozuna on the board who should challenge Hakuho for at least two more years.
Notice how I said should. What is up with Asashoryu? I talked about age and the new doping rules that come into play in September in my pre-basho report, but also add laziness to the list. At 28, Asashoryu is naturally heading into the decline of his career. Which is fine. The problem is, he's not working harder to compensate for his lost speed, strength and ability. I think the Yokozuna may also just be worn out from the lack of respect and the beating he has taken off the dohyo his entire career as Yokozuna. The Sumo Association doesn't have his back as we saw yet again on day 5; the press treats him extremely unfairly; and too few in the Japanese public are able to see through it all to appreciate what he's done for the sport. As Clancy and I were talking about last weekend, neither of us would be
surprised if Asashoryu retires before 30. As for the Yokozuna's sumo this basho, it was scary how many times he had the better position and solid belt grips but wasn't able to beat his opponents moving forward. He's gotta find that magic water that soccer player squirts on his leg that magically lets him get back up and run after he's flopped on the pitch writhing in pain with that supposedly career-ending injury. Get that left elbow healed (wink, wink) and start working your ass off now. Don't wait until the Mongolian jungyo. Now. Asashoryu will retire within a year if he has two or three more basho like Nagoya...not
because the Associaiton will make him but because he has his pride.
Let's move down to the Ozeki ranks and start with Kotooshu who I guess finished an expected 9-6, but for a rikishi coming off of a yusho, he's really gotta do better than that. The highlight of the Bulgarian's basho was no doubt his pounding of Komusubi Kisenosato on day 6, but other than that, this was bald dude combing his hair over ugly. I understand that Kotooshu was henka'd twice by Asasekiryu on day 7 and Ama on day 12, but even if he does win both of those bouts, he still finishes only 11-4 not to mention his 1-2 performance three days in. I won't say that Kotooshu's yusho in May was a fluke, but Hakuho got henka'd out of things leaving Kotooshu the benefactor. The bright spot is that not a single one of his 9 wins was by pulldown, but Kotooshu was simply too timid in too many of his matches. To put Kotooshu's Nagoya basho into a bit more perspective, he had just two wins over kachi-koshi rikishi, an M5 (Miyabiyama) and Chiyotaikai.
Kotomitsuki had a very similar basho: straightforward wins for the most part, but careless losses to the likes of Tochinonada, Futenoh, and Chiyotaikai. You could see that Hit and
Mitsuki wasn't grounded solidly to the dohyo on day 4 against Tochinonada, and then his lack of footwork really came into play for those two fluke pull down losses at the hands of Futenoh of all rikishi and Chiyotaikai. Those are two of his weakest opponents, and two guys who
absolutely cannot beat Kotomitsuki with forward-moving sumo, yet he still lost to both of them. Kotomitsuki is the third best guy in sumo these days (has been for over a year now), but finishing 11-4 with the weak competition he faced was disappointing, especially after his great pre-basho keiko.
Ozeki Kaio finished a very respectable 9-6. You look at his performance and every single loss was as the hands of a rikishi ranked Komusubi or above. I think that's great for the 36 year-old, and as long as he can pound the Maegashira rikishi, he can stay in the sport. Wasn't too hard with the batch of softies he got this basho, but you have to give the Ozeki credit for avoiding losses on consecutive days (when was the last basho he could say that?) and not settling for a single pull-down win. Good stuff from Kaio in Nagoya.
Wrapping up the Ozeki, the banzuke was just too easy for the elite rikishi, a circumstance that contributed to Chiyotaikai's kachi-koshi by day 11. Unlike the other three Ozeki who all won moving forward this basho, Chiyotaikai was only able to do it about half the time, which means he's probably the weakest link of the four, but you don't get this high on the banzuke without figuring out how to win even when you don't have it anymore. The Pup's highlight this basho was his yotsu-zumo win against Kotoshogiku of all rikishi and his ass kicking of Wakanoho. So, Chiyotaikai's still around for at least two more basho, but once Asashoryu is back and we get some better rikishi back into the jo'i, the struggle will continue.
Sekiwake Ama was great this basho and deserved his special prize. You look at his 10-5 record and realize that he can do better than that--especially when Asashoryu's not around--but he really had only one bad loss, his effort against fellow Sekiwake Kotoshogiku on day 6. The Geeku ain't no slouch, but the bout wasn't even close. Other than that, his loss to Wakanoho was beyond a fluke and the result of a horrible non-call, his losses to Kotomitsuki and Hakuho are extremely understandable, and losing to Baruto on senshuraku is fine considering the size difference of the two. For Ama to break through to the Ozeki ranks, he doesn't need to fight better than he did in Nagoya; he only needs to get a few more breaks go his way.
Sekiwake Kotoshogiku just couldn't get anything going this basho. He showed a brief flurry on days 5 and 6 with wins over Kaio and Ama, but when his career rival Toyonoshima got him on day 7, the Geeku never recovered. He would score only three more wins the rest of the way, all over make-koshi Maegashira rikishi. What's worse...and this is a comment for the Geeku and the two Sadogatake Ozeki, they will never see an easier schedule than what they faced this tournament again. Weak upper Maegashira...no Asashoryu...and just average records. I'm afraid we've already seen the best shot from the Geeku who will likely hold on to a Komusubi rank next basho simply because there's no one else to fill in the gaps.
In the Komusubi ranks, Kisenosato was a huge disappointment this basho for no other reason than the schedule had set itself up for him to
shine and establish an Ozeki run, but hey, everyone has a bad fortnight now and again. The Kid gets a pass on this one, but the biggest disturbing trend from him this basho was that all nine of his losses were fights at the belt. Anyone ranked above him beating him at the belt is fine, but Futenoh? I think the Komusubi suffered a case of
Asashoryu-itis this basho (like most of the other rikishi as well) and simply wasn't prepared to fight. Perhaps the summer heat and humidity just took it out of these guys in the practice ring because there wasn't a whole lot of excitement the entire 15 days.
The one shining star besides the yusho rikishi was Komusubi Toyonoshima, a rikishi who did take advantage of the banzuke. Case in point...his only loss to someone ranked below him was to Goeido on day 13. His first two wins the first two days against Asashoryu and Kaio were impressive on paper but lucky in reality. He nailed Kotooshu on day 3 before suffering a 1-3 stretch that always comes a Komusubi's way that first week. But after standing 4-4 heading into week two, he did what a Komusubi has to do, which is kick everyone's ass ranked below him. Prolly the most refreshing thing about Toyonoshima is he never henkas, and despite his huge size disadvantage, pull sumo isn't in his offensive arsenal. In terms of technical fighting, Toyonoshima was the best of the rest this basho hands down. Now, his promotion to Sekiwake for next basho doesn't mean he has arrived. He simply took advantage of the banzuke given to him, but let's celebrate this performance while we can because Toyonoshima will have a hard time sticking in the sanyaku as Ama, Kotoshogiku, and Kisenosato have done.
Okay, things are really gonna get bleak now as we move to the
Mae-gosh-they-sucked ranks. M1 Aminishiki failed miserably in doing what he does best...namely picking off a number of elite
rikishi and then sneaking his way to a kachi-koshi. Yes, his day 1 win over Kotooshu was good, but not nearly as impressive as when you look back and see that
Kotooshu wasn't anything special this basho. After that, he beat Goeido with his usual retreating/slapdown sumo and then just stunk the rest of the way only managing to beat Miyabiyama and guys who wouldn't win more than five. He'll should still hang around the jo'i for September to be his usual pain in the ass.
M1 Wakanoho was just plain awful this basho. And memo to the Russian...you start shaking your ass and pretending you're a mime at the starting lines ONLY after you've earned the right to do so. You look like a jackass pulling in
that invisible fishing net before you charge especially when your week 1 record reads 0-8. Don't get me wrong at all...I love this kid's potential, and I'm a Wakanoho fan, but settle down already. Is this another case where an oyakata doesn't know how to handle is foreign prodigy? I don't have a single good thing to say about the Ho this basho. His crap sumo against Ama is the type that invites injury, and I'm glad to see him out of the jo'i so he can work a few things out in the minors.
M2 Asasekiryu has become the most boring rikishi since the Bore himself, Kotonowaka, retired a few years back. I mean, for this guy to beat Baruto day 8 by yori-kiri of all techniques is a perfect example of how he puts guys to sleep on top of the dohyo. Sexy managed his kachi-koshi in an 8-0 stretch from day 5 to day 12, but even now, the only bout that stands out for me was his tachi-ai henka win over Kotooshu. You can't criticize the Mongolian for his new style, which is to hunker low, keep his can back, and slow things way down, but it's just boring sumo. At least he'll have a career after sumo as a speech writer for Japanese politicians.
M2 Hokutoriki deserves every accolade we give him such as joker and hoax. Nice four pull-down wins bro. You doubled my expectations for you coming in.
M3 Futenoh is like an Indie musician playing a stadium venue. Yeah, he's got okay talent, but
certainly not at this level. The funny thing is two of his three wins were against some of the sport's best in Kotomitsuki and Kisenosato. I have nothing further to say.
M3 Tochinonada had a very good basho I thought only to have it ruined when Wakanoho pulled him down on senshuraku. Dude beat one Yokozuna sorta, two Ozeki, a Sekiwake, and a Komusubi, which is more than you can ask from the gentle giant at this level. Nada has always been one of my favorite guys in sumo because he's never cheap, and he trusts in his own sumo (left inside position) regardless of his opponent. He can stay around as long as he wants as far as I'm concerned.
And the same goes for M4 Wakanosato...literally. The only difference is size which is why the Barometer emeritus only won five bouts to Tochinonada's seven.
Counterpart Goeido had the typical basho for a young up and comer, and no, he didn't kachi-koshi finishing 1-3 to just fall short at 7-8, but the
difference with this kid from most others is that each basho, he gives you a few glimpses of his greatness. In Nagoya it was his two bouts against Baruto and Takamisakari. Okay, beating Takamisakari is not a big deal, but it's the way in which he did it. It's hard to explain, but there is an
intangible there that just reeks of greatness. Sure, there are other guys who can beat Takamisakari by tsuri-dashi (not many though), but just the way he flowed into the move and started the pick-up in the center of the ring...it was beautiful. And then of course
having the stones to go chest to chest with Baruto and beat him by yori-kiri does say something. Two basho ago it was a typical day for the NHK broadcast and they asked Mainoumi, who was sitting in the
muko-jomen chair, and the color analyst (I think it was former Kushimaumi) who their top three picks were to be the next Ozeki. Mainoumi listed Ama, Kisenosato, and Goeido. I think we can all see Ama and Kisenosato as shoe-ins at this point, but the reason he selected Goeido is this
intangible that I obviously can't explain in words. We've just gotta be patient with this kid and let him figure out how to win every day. A good example was his dismantling of Toyonoshima on day 13. Toyonoshima was one of the few bright spots this basho, but Goeido smoked him. But then you turn around and he lets himself get pulled down by Homasho. Once he fixes those losses to the Homasho caliber rikishi, he is gonna shoot up the ranks. There's a reason why certain rikishi seem to get henka'd a lot.
M5 was a bright rank this basho starting with Miyabiyama who finished 9-6 despite getting the three Sadogatake-beya rikishi. It was just typical stuff from the Sheriff although he's slowed down a bit in his tsuppari attack. Baruto, at 10-5, actually underachieved in my opinion namely because the cut-off point of having to face the Sadogatake threesome or becoming the replacement when Asashoryu went out was squarely between him and Miyabiyama, giving the Estonian a break. There's really no point commenting on Baruto's sumo at this level, especially when the only non-Maegashira rikishi he fought (and beat) was Sekiwake Ama on senshuraku. With a guy like this, we can only gauge him among the jo'i, which is exactly where he'll be in September. The only question now is does he wrest a berth in the Komusubi ranks with this performance? It's either Baruto or Asasekiryu, and while Sexy will likely get the nod due to strength of schedule, it'd add some excitement to put Baruto there instead.
M6 Homasho falls largely in the same category as Baruto. In other words, we've seen this guy open the can of whoopass on Ozeki before, and he's kachi-koshied from the jo'i. Thus, let's save serious comment until next basho when he's back among that group. The bright side is that he picked up some wins over decent names this basho defeating the likes of Roho, Goeido, and Kotoshogiku.
Counterpart Tokitenku was stellar this basho until day 12 when an 0-4 finish left him at 7-8. And what's worse, it's not as if he was fighting great rikishi during that stretch. The former rikishi has to scratch out at least one win over the likes of Kokkai, Toyohibiki, Tochinoshin, and Tochiohzan, rikishi all ranked below him and only one with sanyaku experience. It would have been nice to see Tenku back among the joi', but oh well.
One face we will see (shudder) among the jo'i next basho belongs to Roho. Dude starts out 3-6 with forward moving sumo. I remember commenting during week one that at least the Russian was henka'ing less. That was until the last six days. Was there a day during that stretch where Roho didn't henka? That 9-6 finish means
absolutely nothing. I honestly don't know how the Association stands for it, but since I'm not the one paying the Russian, let's move on.
Kakuryu finishing 8-7 at the M7 rank is no news. Like Homasho, if you've been there and done that, you're not going to impress me at M7.
M8 Takamisakari fought well and should be pleased with his 6-9 effort. Remember, his value to the Association only lies in his ability to stay in the Makuuchi division. His value to me is that he's one of the best counter sumo guys we've seen in the last decade. That and he's one of those human beings that you just can't take your eyes off of for obvious reasons. Counterpart Dejima had his usual hard-luck basho suffering 7 of his 9 losses by pull maneuvers. I feel for the dude because he does get twice as much henka as anyone else, but there is this thing he can actually make called an adjustment. Keep your head up bro.
M9 Kyokutenho at 10-5 is no news. Counterpart Iwakiyama at 8-7 is. Good for the Hutt. It was nice to see Iwakiyama finish with a kachi-koshi, and for me to actually remember a single bout from anyone ranked this low is a good thing, so I'll bring up his fight against Tosanoumi where the slug used some--dare I say--deft footwork to defeat his opponent by soto-gake. I'm glad to see Iwakiyama still in the division.
No comment on M10 Tamanoshima who finished 7-8, but his counterpart finishing 5-10? Who was that
pasty white beast in the Kokkai mask this basho? I honestly don't even know where to start, so I'll make one statement, which is Kokkai completely went away from his recent successful crossover to yotsu-zumo, and that was his downfall. He didn't even go back to the tsuppari. I was really speechless the entire basho watching this dude struggle. Don't tell me he's going to go Hakurozan on us and fall back to Juryo.
M11 Tochiohzan at 9-6 is average especially when you consider he lost to Yoshikaze and Kakizoe. Ouch. Against the crap competition he faced, he really needed to do better. Say it isn't so but KingTama is on his way down to Juryo after a 3-12 performance.
M12 Takekaze at 7-8 wasn't as disastrous as Kokkai, but once again, here you
have a former Komusubi this year who has not only fallen far, but can't even
kachi-koshi lower in the ranks. Like Kokkai, Takekaze has lost confidence
in his sumo, which for Kaze is to dominate the tachi-ai and push. Let's
move on to M12 Kimurayama, the first of our four rookies this basho. Kimurayama got out to a great start on paper (5-1), but I just didn't see anything the whole basho that really impressed me. I don't think he has enough speed to last in the division through the end of the year. He could be back, but categorize him with Kotokasuga. Remember that guy? That's my point.
M13 Toyohibiki was one of the few rikishi deep in the ranks that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the basho (Masatsukasa and Chiyohakuho were the others). He had his
tsuppari working throughout the basho, and you could see the confidence in his attack. It was no wonder that 4 of his 5 losses were by pull downs because no one else besides Baruto was going to beat him straight up. I know I sound like a broken record all the time, but now the Hutt has got to show us this same type of sumo higher in the ranks. And speaking of the Mos Eisley crew, did anyone else notice the collective outstanding basho enjoyed by the three Hutts? All kachi-koshied and Toyohibiki managed a special prize for his efforts. I think part of the reason is that there's been a new Hutt promoted to Juryo for September so his senpai don't want to be shown up, but if you think Miyabiyama, Iwakiyama, and Toyohibiki are massive, wait until you set your eyes on newcomer Jabbamotojabba
(at right) in Juryo next basho.
M13 Koryu was absolutely useless this basho. It's one thing for Futenoh or Hokutoriki to go 3-12 from high above, but 3-12 from M13? I honestly can't remember any rikishi having as bad a basho from this level as
Koryu. Damn glad I picked him for my Fantasy Sumo squad. Thanks for nothing. The problem with the rookie is that he's just too soft. He couldn't take a hit at all from the starting lines, and his three wins were all by pull down. Hakuho practiced four or five times with the kid pre-basho, and I really thought that'd prep him for things to come, but he just stunk. He was so bad in fact, that he's in danger of falling out of sekitori status altogether next basho if he doesn't regroup in Juryo.
M14 Tosanoumi's 0-8 finish had to taste below average. Counterpart Tochinoshin shoulda done better than 8-7, but a similar bad finish (3-6) will keep him low in the ranks again. Tochinoshin has got the tools to stick, but he may lack what many of the other Eastern Europeans lack: confidence in their sumo. Incidentally, going back to that discussion about Goeido where the NHK crew gave their picks for future Ozeki two basho ago...Tochinoshin was the third pick by the oyakata behind Ama and Kisenosato, but that was obviously a trendy pick at the time after Shin's impressive 3-0 start in his debut basho.
Let's conclude by skipping the M15's Yoshikaze (8-7) and Kakizoe (7-8) and focusing on the final two rookies at the bottom of the
totem pole, Masatsukasa and Chiyohakuho. Masatsukasa was an extremely bright spot this basho, and you could just see the kid's confidence grow by the day once he began that 6-0 tear mid-basho. This was a perfect example of a rikishi sticking to his guns (tsuppari sumo in his case), and trusting in his ability to pop his opponent at the tachi-ai to gain the upperhand. As long as he doesn't lose his confidence, he has a future in this division.
Chiyohakuho wasn't as impressive as Masatsukasa, and you could really see his Kokonoe roots take over on day 13 when he needed kachi-koshi against Kakuryu, but I do see some Chiyotaikai in him (is that good or bad?). In the mid-nineties, I was living in Kyushu and fully remember watching Chiyotaikai rise through Juryo and then Makuuchi, and I see some similarities. During his run mid basho that started off with a win against Tochiohzan, I just saw a spark in the kid that I think could translate into a nice career in the division. He needs to ground himself to the dohyo a little better, but he looked confident out there which is half the battle in sumo.
So that brings to close a sloppy basho. We knew we were going to get two tournaments like this last year in Aki and Kyushu, so was it any coincidence that Asashoryu's withdrawal in week one turned this into yet another joke of a basho? Sumo desperately needs Asashoryu, so let's hope the veteran Yokozuna gets himself back in shape and starts competing for the yusho again. As for the Sumotalk crew, we'll be back to do our usual
pillaging and plundering in September you can bet.
Enjoy the (cough, wheeze, hack) Lympics everyone.
2008 Nagoya Basho
Pre-basho Report .
Meet Japanese girls here.
At first glance, I was quite disappointed with the Nagoya banzuke. From Kisenosato on up, nothing had changed yet again other than the usual Ozeki musical chairs, so I immediately went to the ranks just below the Kid. I like Toyonoshima in the other Komusubi slot, Aminishiki is going to be that rikishi that no one wants to face, and Asasekiryu is crafty enough to scalp a few Ozeki, but after that it gets dismal. Hokutoriki, Futenoh, Tochinonada, and Wakanosato are going to get slaughtered, and while you know about my
man-crush on Goeido, he still isn't ready to make waves among the jo'i. After that you have Miyabiyama, Bart, and Homasho which pretty much takes us out of Sadogatake-beya range meaning I expect the elite of the sport to clean up in Nagoya. Which is all fine because nothing makes a better basho than the two Yokozuna and an Ozeki or two caught up in the midst of a heated yusho race.
Let's examine the candidates starting with Yokozuna Asashoryu, who sits in the prestigious
East slot although he sure hasn't been fighting like the sport's best of late. Much was made about Asashoryu's two 5 bout losing streaks to Kotomitsuki over the span of three days, but that means nothing. Asashoryu is the better for having taken that wake up call not to mention
his quality keiko opponents. But what is a bit eye opening to me is the month he took off prior to the basho. Several years ago Asashoryu could enter a basho with just three days of practice and wipe the dohyo with his peers' arses, but the Yokozuna will turn 28 in September and can't just show up and win any more. Even his yusho back in March didn't have that whoopass stamp on it that we're used to seeing from him. Asashoryu has lost a step since his return from that unjust two basho ban, and I can think of a coupla possibilities for the cause.
1) Asashoryu's age is catching up to him. With that epic final at Wimbledon last week, we saw where the most dominant tennis player in the world the last five years was finally taken down by a younger opponent, and I think the same is happening to Asashoryu. I see a lot of parallels between Asashoryu and Roger
Federererer, and there's no disrespect to either athlete, but a changing of the guard has to come sometime. In Asashoryu's case, he's also prolly got a handful of nagging injuries...injuries that don't heal as fast the older you get.
2) The mandatory drug testing set to begin in September has brought the Yokozuna back down to earth. And that doesn't mean at all that Asashoryu was doing roids. Several months ago it was in the news that Asashoryu had been receiving garlic injections (whatever the hell those are), but they would be banned starting in September. Then there are supplements like human growth hormone that can be legally purchased over the counter. It doesn't matter what the Yokozuna was taking beyond those garlic injections. If he's gotta clear his body of them by September then it could suggest the recent drop in his
Regardless, Asashoryu has not looked great in his three basho back in the sport, and I don't see anything changing in Nagoya. I seem him losing twice the first 14 days and then dropping his bout against Hakuho on senshuraku. Give him the jun-yusho at 12-3.
If Asashoryu is your jun-yusho rikishi, then that leaves only one other guy who is the favorite to hoist the
Emperor's Cup on senshuraku, Yokozuna Hakuho. Hakuho has been working hard and matching Asashoryu in terms of quality keiko. The only difference is he has been cleaning up. He was never beaten in the practice ring by Kotooshu, and while
Kotomitsuki did get him twice, Hakuho dominated that Ozeki as well. Like Asashoryu, Hakuho has sought out quality keiko opponents prior to the basho, but the difference is that Hakuho took fewer days off, he had much better results, and he's 5-6 years younger. Not to mention his size. I just think Hakuho is due, and I see him taking the yusho with a 14-1 record.
Heading down to the Ozeki ranks, Kotooshu checks in first after his surprising yusho in May. For someone who wrested the yusho away from the Khan, I was quite surprised how little coverage Kotooshu received prior to the basho in terms of keiko. My only deduction is that he didn't do a whole lot of it. After he got his ass kicked by Hakuho the other day, he hinted that his knee might be bothering him, but he's got bigger issues than that this basho...namely the target painted on his sexy chest. Last basho Kotooshu skated that first week before henka'ing Kisenosato on day 7, but this basho the pressure started with the release of the banzuke and was just ratcheted up a couple of notches with the announcement that he gets Aminishiki on day 1. I don't see Kotooshu completely folding. In fact, with the weak upper Maegashira, I expect Kotooshu to win 11 or 12, but I think he suffers losses spaced out over the basho that eventually sees him removed from the leaderboard heading into the final days. As for the possibility of Yokozuna promotion, I think Amy Winehouse has a better chance of converting to Mormonism than Kotooshu has flirting with Yokozuna. Not that he won't do it someday, but that yusho last basho may as well have come from the Maegashira ranks. Kotooshu had the body and skills from his first bout in Jonokuchi, but he is far from developing the mental strength required of a Yokozuna.
Ozeki Kotomitsuki is definitely a rikishi to watch this basho. He has returned home to Nagoya, the place where he rode the momentum to the Ozeki rank last year, but more than that, he has had the most quality keiko opponents possible. Although I think Asashoryu's head to head record in the end was better than Kotomitsuki, reports were saying that the Yokozuna was
having a helluva time pushing Kotomitsuki back for wins. Kotomitsuki's confidence has to be soaring right now, and I think he's in great shape. Couple that with the exemption of facing an Ozeki and a Sekiwake, and I see Kotomitsuki
shining in Nagoya. 12 wins.
I've read nothing of Ozeki Kaio prior to the basho, but the problem when you have two Yokozuna, four Ozeki, and a trio of solid sanyaku
rikishi is that somebody's gotta lose. It's Kaio's turn in Nagoya. I'll say the Ozeki wins no more than seven and likely withdraws when make-koshi becomes
imminent. I hope I'm wrong, but the math doesn't lie.
Rounding out the Ozeki, Chiyotaikai is kadoban which means he must win 8 bouts or be demoted from the rank. And in Chiyo's case, that probably means retirement. Chiyotaikai will be crafty from the get-go not to mention the weaker rikishi in the upper Maegashira that he should be able to handle with ease. He's got a good record against guys like Aminishiki and Kisenosato, and he'll likely get necessary cooperation from his peers down the stretch, so while I do see eight wins in the cards, Chiyotaikai is a non-factor.
Moving to the Sekiwake ranks, Ama could be the wild card this basho. Something tells me that the Sekiwake is due for a great basho. Perhaps it's because the spotlight will be completely off of him, but beyond that, this is the basho where he has the best chance of overcoming that nasty habit of losing to guys ranked lower than him. If Ama can get through the first week suffering no more than one loss to a rikishi ranked lower than him, I see him winning 11. But, if he struggles
against the Maegashira, it will be the same old frustrating 8 or 9 wins.
Counterpart Kotoshogiku has had some great keiko opponents with his stablemates and the two Yokozuna visiting, but what I didn't read was that he did well. So while I don't expect him to score any upsets this basho, he has the luxury of coming from the Sadogatake-beya and facing a much easier schedule. I see 8 boring wins from the Geeku.
Komusubi Kisenosato is currently your best sanyaku rikishi. So what if he's stuck in the Komusubi rank due to the stubborn Sekiwake. He gets paid the same as a Sekiwake, and he has just as good of a chance at being promoted to Ozeki from this rank as he does from one notch up. I expect the Kid to shine again with a 4-3 week one and then a stellar second half of the tournament. He's won 10 bouts several basho in a row now from this rank, and with the weaker Maegashira, he should be able to do it again. Give him double-digit wins.
Toyonoshima rounds out the sanyaku, but I don't see how he doesn't struggle that first week with the schedule that will be thrown his way. Last year when he was first promoted to Komusubi, he had to muscle his way from the M1 rank with an 8-7 record. A rough
keiko session with Asashoryu where he sprained his ankle derailed his momentum for several
basho then, and now he's managed to climb back into the rank, but he did it this time with an 11-4 mark from M5, a rank that keeps him largely out of harms way. I just think being thrust back into the sanyaku from M5 will be too much ground for him to overcome. Look for him to beat the obligatory two Ozeki on his way to 6 wins.
Heading down to the Maegashira ranks, I love Aminishiki in the M1 slot simply because there isn't a bigger pain in the ass on the banzuke, and I like to see the top guys work for their wins. I expect Sneaky to post 8 wins and move back into the sanyaku. I also love counterpart Wakanoho in the West slot. I love the kid's energy and his attitude. His sumo is so unpolished, but as he showed last basho with wins over an Ozeki and a couple of sanyaku rikishi, Wakanoho is dangerous. I think the Russian slips up and gets only 7 wins, but I don't see him going anywhere. He should be a jo'i mainstay through the rest of the year.
Asasekiryu is compelling at M2 only because he has the chance to run interference for Asashoryu, but his brand of slow-down sumo of late ain't gonna fool anyone ranked above him. Seki can dupe his way to 6-7 wins thanks to the crew below him, but I don't expect anything from this Mongolian.
It goes without saying that Hokutoriki is completely overmatched in the M2 slot. Dude will be lucky to win three bouts. Same goes for Futenoh at M3. Futenoh has worked his way up this high with some decent showings lower in the ranks, but remember...the last coupla basho all the beef was way up high opening the door for Futenoh to enjoy double-digit
basho. But the fun stops here. Like Hokutoriki, three wins is more expected than say 6.
Tochinonada has the bulk to counter some of the jo'i rikishi, but fighting in the mid-Maegashira for seemingly the last year hasn't prepared him for this stint among the jo'i. I see the gentle giant struggling to just 4 or 5 wins.
Not so fast for M4 Wakanosato. Remember...all he needs is a decent inside grip and he can beat anybody. I don't see the former Sekiwake flirting with kachi-koshi, but I do see him catching more than a few rikishi in his
shita-te trap, so don't be surprised if he can win 6. Counterpart Goeido will get all of the Sadogatake boys, but I don't expect him to impact the basho. He is the second coming of Kisenosato, which means he is a year or two away from really becoming a playuh in the division. It will happen. Just not in Nagoya. Kachi-koshi is not out of the question, but I only see 6-7 wins.
M5 Miyabiyama should find a bit of comfort at this rank, and we'll see if the veteran can scrape out 8 wins after pulling jo'i duty the last few basho. I think he stumbles to another frustrating 7 wins. And speaking of frustrating, what has Baruto been doing the last 18 months in the sport? Normally, I'd be excited to see him at M5, but he has two factors working against him. 1) he's aged in dog years in terms of his sumo, and 2) no one is afraid of him anymore. I think Bart can get his 8, but I don't expect a run from the Estonian.
M6 Homasho won't have the luxury of the softies he padded his career record against the last few basho. No fast start for Homie, who can kachi-koshi but will struggle. Tokitenku's in the same boat.
With the younger and better rikishi having planted themselves higher up, Tokitenku should find a little bit more comfort in these parts. He'll have a better chance of getting his eight
It doesn't matter where M7 Roho is on the banzuke these days. His sumo has become lazy which counters any strength advantage he holds over his opponents. Look for the occasional impressive bout mingled with henka. Counterpart Kakuryu has got to prove himself this basho. It's fine that he gets slapped silly among the jo'i the first few times around, but he's gotta bounce back with strong basho from the mid-Maegashira if he's serious about establishing himself in this division...just ask Takekaze. I think he can get nine.
Takamisakari is a bit over-ranked at M8, but he'll scrap for 6 or 7 wins. Just gotta keep him in the division. Like Roho, it doesn't really seem to matter where Dejima is on the
banzuke...he's always struggling to get his eight. Unlike Roho, Dejima still fights straight up. I see him gaining kachi-koshi.
Kyokutenho has fallen back down to his comfort zone at M9. He should flirt with double-digit wins in this neck of the woods. Counterpart Iwakiyama has done well to get himself back up into the top ten ranks of Maegashira. I mean, it's possible for him to win eight, but I think the 6-7 win range is more realistic.
Tamanoshima at M10 will likely struggle thanks to the amount of good veterans that surround him in the ranks not the least of which is Kokkai who occupies the West slot. The Georgian was absolutely horrible in May, so regardless of what he does in Nagoya, it won't mean anything until he can hold his own higher in the ranks again. If Kokkai can stick to his yotsu-zumo, he'll win at least 10, but if he skips around and doesn't insist on forward-moving sumo, he'll struggle.
It's getting to be that Tochiohzan is synonymous with the lower third of Maegashira, but showing off down here is akin to chatting with teenage girls online. Where's the challenge? Look for another good start followed up by a lackluster finish when he's paired with rikishi who have similar quality records in week two. Counterpart Tamakasuga will get smoked like weed at a Blue Oyster Cult show.
Takekaze falls into the M12 slot and considering the amount of rookies and bottom feeders on this banzuke, is it too much to ask for a kachi-koshi? This guys was Komusubi two basho ago, so let's hope to see that punch back in Nagoya. Takekaze should win at least 10 down here. His counterpart, Kimurayama, is the first of four rookies we'll see in Nagoya. I'd be lying if I said I've seen this guy fight before, but judging by his age (he's 27), I don't expect much. Let me watch him for a few days before I comment on him.
Toyohibiki checks in at M13, and is it too much to ask for a kachi-koshi? Like Takekaze, the Nikibi should be able to handle the gang that surrounds him. I see him winning 9 or so. Koryu sits across the aisle in the West slot, and while I haven't seen him fight either, he has three things going for him: he's Mongolian, he's young, and he's been sparring with Hakuho for the last three weeks. All of that should equal an impressive debut. Count on a kachi-koshi from this youngster.
No comment on M14 Tosanoumi, but his counterpart, Tochinoshin, will be one to watch closely in Nagoya. Remember his first three days last tournament? The kid was great and brandished some nifty yotsu-zumo skills, so let's hope he has settled down and gained some confidence. With the lack of quality rikishi within four or five ranks from him, I see Shin picking up his first career kachi-koshi.
I'll take a pass on our M15's Yoshikaze and Kakizoe and get to the M16 rank where we have our final two rookies. Masatsukasa sits in the East slot and has the disadvantage of OldTsukasa for a mentor and sparring partner. Like the other two rookies, I haven't seen this kid fight a lick, but the Irumagawa-beya doesn't exactly equal flash. Rounding out the banzuke is Chiyohakuho, a Kokonoe-beya prodigy who has the benefit of Chiyonofuji as his stable master and Chiyotaikai as a mentor to teach him the ins and outs of oshi-zumo. Thanks to that pedigree, I like his chances for kachi-koshi, but like all the other rookies, I've seen him fight about as much as I've watched MLS soccer. What? You haven't heard of THAT league?
So there you have it. I expect a solid tournament in Nagoya similarly to what we got last year. I see both Yokozuna waking up and ruling the basho, but there's also promise of Kotomitsuki contributing, and then we have Ama and Kisenosato in the sanyaku. The jury is out on Kotooshu, but I don't see how he doesn't crack early. I hope I'm wrong.
Here are my predictions:
Yusho: Hakuho (14-1)