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2009 Nagoya Post Basho
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Kenji and I have been having some interesting dialogs the last few weeks talking about the direction Sumotalk has taken over the years. The catalyst of our conversations stemmed from recent feedback we have received from various readers. While I wish I had more time to correspond and interact with a greater sample of our readers, I can tell from the ones I do talk to and hear from that we have a very diverse audience. Even look at the current crew of contributors we employ and you can see diversity among us in regards to age, country, vocabulary, style, tastes, jokes, directness, nicknames, etc. None of the contributors are asked to conform to any certain style in their reports. As for me, I write the kind of reports that I think I’d like to read, and I implement elements in my reporting inspired from prominent journalists or authors who I greatly admire (John Feinstein, Rick Reily, Jim Rome, Bill Simmons, Jason Whitlock, Patrick Kelly, Dave Barry, Stephen Hunter to name a few). The point of this introduction is to express how torn I am with the task of writing a post-basho report that appeals to everyone.
On one hand, I want to lead off the report stating what an exciting basho this was to appease the group of sumo fans whom I’ve referred to in the past as the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, think-no-evil types. On the other hand, when I see hana-zumo take place atop the dohyo, I'm going to treat it as hana-zumo. In order to soften the blow for the sumo purists who think everything that goes on during a hon-basho is legit, let me explain it to you in this way.
There are currently two dominating circumstances among the elite ranks of sumo that are without question swaying the sport. First, three of the four top rikishi on the banzuke are Mongolian (argue
amongst yourselves whether Harumafuji or Asashoryu is number 4), and they largely control the outcome of each basho. 15 years ago you had a three-headed monster in Takanohana, Wakanohana, and Takanonami similar to what we have now with the Mongolians. The main difference--and a huge difference the more I think about it--the Taka-Waka-Taka trio were from the same stable meaning that while they could help each other out by defeating certain
opponents when another stablemate needed it, they never faced each other, which gave them less control. With Hakuho, Asashoryu, and Harumafuji, you have three rikishi who aren't stablemates, but who are mates nonetheless, and since they can fight each other at critical junctures of each basho, they will dictate that the yusho stays in Mongolian hands.
The second dominating circumstance among the elite rikishi has to do with Ozeki Kaio and Ozeki Chiyotaikai and their in-ability to legitimately win eight bouts basho in and basho out. Of the two, Kaio could survive longer in the rank if it came to that, but no one can tell me with a straight face that all eight of Chiyotaikai's wins were legitimate this basho. I mean, dude got his ass kicked by Iwakiyama! Scoff if you must, but let me ask the unbelievers two questions: why doesn't the Sumo Association pair brothers against each other during a hon-basho? And why don't stablemates fight each other at the hon-basho? There's a simple explanation, and if the Sumo Association could come up with a new stipulation to prevent what I'm talking about, they'da done it decades ago. But to do so admits the obvious, and so they refrain accepting what's taking place because that's the way it was when the current elders were active rikishi themselves.
So, like the wife of a grown dude who has Star Wars Lego figurines on his desk at work, I can't fake it and say what a wonderful tournament this was. But I can point out the positive aspects of the Nagoya basho, so let's get right to it starting with the yusho
rikishi...and, if my comments are turning you off to the point where you no
longer want to continue reading, promise me that you'll read the final four
paragraphs of the report before you leave.
Yokozuna Hakuho delivered a masterful performance in Nagoya. Well, he's actually been masterful the entire year; unfortunately, his yusho tally doesn't reflect it. Has there ever been a rikishi in the history of sumo who was able to keep his hips so low and his body so upright while grounded to the clay? Add to that his long arms and sizable stature, and Hakuho is as close to being unbeatable as they come. And even when he has lost this year, how many of those losses weren't flukes for one reason or another? Hakuho's only weakness is his big heart off the dohyo because once he steps in between the lines, he's as good'a rikishi as the sport has ever produced. As I often commented regarding Asashoryu, Hakuho has raised the bar to such heights that it makes everyone around him better by default. One final comment...while Hakuho's sumo was superb in Nagoya, his punctuality on senshuraku apparently wasn't. I'm just curious why Mitsuru Yaku has failed to comment on Hakuho's embarrassing actions as a Yokozuna.
Let's step across the aisle to Yokozuna Asashoryu, who I felt threw in the towel by day 9. Why he did so is debatable, but it always amuses me when people criticize Asashoryu and say, "he can't just show up the day the banzuke is released and try and make up for his lack of keiko in just two weeks." Why not? Isn't that what everybody else does too? You show me a Makuuchi rikishi who gives a damn about keiko before the banzuke is released, and I'll show you a guy high on weed. Okay, maybe that analogy wasn't the most appropriate, but Asashoryu is simply doing what he's done his whole career. The dude has more miles physically and mentally on him than is normal for someone his age, he's surrounded by some pretty damn good rikishi unlike his glory days as a Yokozuna, and he carried the sport for half a decade when no one else could. Asashoryu can do whatever he wants. Regarding his sumo, he looked good the first seven days and against Kotomitsuki, but I go back to my comments at the end of the Natsu basho and my comments prior to this basho: this was Hakuho's basho to win and everyone knew it including Asashoryu. As far as I see it, he had two choices: challenge for the jun-yusho or take care of the peers he respects. Getting back to that bout against Kotomitsuki, the Yokozuna was able to turn it on when Hakuho needed it as pretty as you please. He's still got it, and my hunch is that all debts were paid in Nagoya, so the Aki basho should be wide open. Let's judge Asashoryu's sumo in September and forget about Nagoya.
Let's move onto the Ozeki ranks where Harumafuji garnered the pre-basho hype with talk of possible promotion to Yokozuna after his flowery yusho at the Natsu basho. A lot of news surrounding the Ozeki talked about the special training camp the Isegahama-beya held for about 10 days in June where a coupla other Makuuchi rikishi were invited to to join the
Isegahama boys for an intense 10 days of keiko. The fruits of that training camp were of course nothing as Harumafuji meandered to a 9-6 finish that saw him knocked out of yusho/Yokozuna contention as early as day 5 with an ugly loss to Aran. In my opinion, Harumafuji was playing the same hand as Asashoryu, which contributed to his seeming lack of intensity this basho that also resulted in rather lopsided losses throughout the basho to guys like Hakuho, Asashoryu, Kotooshu, and even Kotoshogiku. hAruMafuji should bring it in Aki, and let's hope that he and Kotooshu can challenge the Yokozuna for the yusho.
Speaking of Kotooshu, he was the highlight of the Nagoya basho for me. In fact, I think this was the best basho of Kotooshu's career, but when it's three against one, and you don't beat all three, the best you can do is a jun-yusho. If Kotooshu had a problem during the fortnight it was his tachi-ai, which forced him to recover in a few of his bouts. The sumo part of the tachi-ai wasn't bad; it was a timing issue that was wrong. In his bout against Hakuho, the deciding factor was of course the tachi-ai, so if the Bulgarian can sort that out before September, he has a decent chance to yusho. And wouldn't that be something...Kotooshu winning in Aki coming off of a performance worthy of the yusho in Nagoya? The YDC probably wouldn't budge unless it was a 15-0 performance, but I believe it's safe for Kotooshu fans to have something they've rarely enjoyed...hope. I too want to get excited about the Ozeki, but he'll have to prove to me that he can sustain this level of sumo for more than a basho at a time scattered here and there. With his body and stunning belt skills, he's capable of great things. Outstanding basho for the Ozeki, and how nice was it to see him crush Harumafuji and Asashoryu near basho's end when the two Mongolians were trying to take him down?
Ozeki Kotomitsuki was largely a sideshow in Nagoya, what, with Nagoya being his hometown and all, and his shiny 12-3 finish. Fact'a the matter was, the Ozeki couldn't deliver the goods when he had to against Asashoryu. Couple that with his loss to Kisenosato in week one, and he wasn't a yusho
contender from the start. Aminishiki's crisco'ing his can on day 13 made it official, but when you have a guy in Hakuho who refuses to allow the yusho line to drop below 14-1 (an incredible feat when you think about it), you lose to Asashoryu on day 12 to pick up your second loss, and you ain't gonna show. And regarding Aminishiki's henka of Kotomitsuki, before Mitsuki's supporters cry foul, they need to examine the Ozeki's own henka against Kisenosato the week before. I expect a steady decline from Hit and Mitsuki until next year's Nagoya basho of course.
Ozeki Kaio managed to scrape out eight wins yet again thanks in large part to what I referred to in my pre-basho report as an unbalanced banzuke. That means that you saw guys ranked high in the ranks that weren't up to the task...which is also why we saw such horrible records in the upper Maegashira. Regarding his win over Asashoryu on day 11, I'll stick to my statement in my day 9 report that Asashoryu had thrown in the towel. Seeing the Yokozuna go from the center of the dohyo all the way out after the Ozeki took the kote-nage stance tells me Asashoryu gave up on the bout. For Kaio to wrench someone out of the dohyo with that Kaio-nage of his, he actually has to follow through on the throw...something that didn't happen on day 11. Otherwise, Kaio did what he had to do, which was to clean up on the pretenders high in the Maegashira ranks. Good basho for the Ozeki.
I'm sure a lot of readers got stiffies when my explanation of how Chiyotaikai would beat Kaio on day 14 didn't come to pass. Big deal. I got the logistics wrong, but the result was the same in the end. Whoever lost that bout was going to win on senshuraku no questions asked. And speaking of senshuraku, the only question left to be answered going in was whether or not Harumafuji could beat Kotooshu. Other than that, there was as much drama as one of those shogi matches NHK sometimes shows where the two opponents kneel across from each other and stare at the board in their Sunday best. If I must comment on
Chiyotaikai's sumo, I have too many memories of the Ozeki going full boar from the tachi-ai with his tsuppari charge only to be rebuffed in short order forcing his retreat. I also seem to recall too many wins by pull down and no wins where the Ozeki employed forward-moving sumo from start to finish. Then there's that glaring loss to Iwakiyama, a rikishi actually older than Chiyotaikai if that's possible. Regarding Chiyotaikai's kachi-koshi, it's like that Sham Wow product. I'm not buying it.
Let's move to the Sekiwake ranks where Kakuryu's run was finally exposed. No one expected the Kak to make a stand in the rank as Baruto did earlier in the year, but everyone expected at least two tachi-ai henkas. When that didn't happen, you had Kakuryu entering senshuraku at 5-9. Work with me here and just pretend that he fought Chiyotaikai straight up and beat him (I know...a stretch, right?). That would have left Kakuryu at 6-9. If he had stayed true to his sumo and pulled his usual two henkas in
Nagoya and won with them, he'da been 8-7 thank you very much. So, Kakuryu fans shouldn't be surprised that the Mongolian wasn't able to kachi-koshi without his usual shenanigans. Kakuryu knows how to win and will be back in the sanyaku, but he's over-ranked at Sekiwake.
If Kotooshu was my favorite performer in Nagoya than Sekiwake Kisenosato was my second. I know the Kid ended up 9-6 in the end, but he was the guy that nobody wanted to face. Kotomitsuki was scared of him, and his loss to Kotooshu was about as close as it gets. When you're at Sekiwake, if you're not seriously vying for Ozeki promotion, an 8-7 finish is as good as 10-5. The point is Kisenosato re-established himself by making a good stand at Sekiwake that included wins over three Ozeki and one Yokozuna, and he will continue to be a thorn in the side of the elite rikishi in Aki. His nine wins probably resets any talk of an Ozeki run, but his day at the rank will come as soon as Kaio and Chiyotaikai retire.
Speaking of trying to kill roaches, Kyokutenho found himself ranked at Komusubi once again, but the Chauffeur disappointed a bit finishing 6-9. He can't be losing to guys like Aran and Toyohibiki if he wants to earn kachi-koshi and preserve his rank despite his one notable win over Kisenosato. It's no worries for Kyokutenho, however, as this guy is capable of
challenging the likes of Takamiyama and Kaio for longevity records in the sport. I guess not going all out basho in and basho out does have its advantages.
In the other Komusubi slot, Kotoshogiku did 'zactly what a Komusubi needs to do, which is finish week one at least 2-5 and then clean up in week two. The cleanup in week two got off to a rocky start with losses to Goeido and Toyohibiki, but he went on a honey of a 5-0 stretch to clinch his eight by day 14 that included a great win over Kisenosato. On one hand I'm encouraged by the Geeku's performance in Nagoya, but on the other hand, when the banzuke becomes more balanced, Kotoshogiku is going to struggle again.
M1 Aran's 4-11 was really no surprise, but I was a little bit surprised that he didn't show more effort. Take a guy like Iwakiyama who finished 5-10. Yeah, it's not a desired record, but unlike Aran, Iwakiyama gave it his all every bout. Aran lucked out against Harumafuji on day 5 or he would have been staring an 0-10 start in the face. All around bland debut for the Russian among the jo'i. Let's hope it was due to nerves because he can do better than this.
Since when did Goeido become synonymous with Go-AWOL? I know the former Sekiwake had as tough'a stretch as you could ask for with Hakuho, Asashoryu, Kisenosato, Kotooshu, Harumafuji, and Kotomitsuki days 2 through 7 (all losses), but you have to keep your head about you. That Goeido didn't win any of those bouts shows that Goeido gave up on himself this basho, and you could see it in his sumo. Bout after bout he'd win the tachi-ai only to abandon a
frontal belt grip and settle for yotsu-zumo up higher. It was unsettling to watch this future star who could never get into a groove. I'm not concerned about his 5-10 finish. With make-koshi official by day 11, he could afford to give up those bouts against Chiyotaikai and Tochiohzan on days 13 and 14. What I am concerned about is the way he achieved his 5-10 record. He was out of synch the entire basho, and now that I think about it, how often did Asashoryu visit the Sakaigawa-beya for de-geiko? Goeido's going to fall too far for sumo's good for Aki, and any success he has next basho doesn't count. Goeido is at a level where he must prove himself
among the jo'i, something he didn't do in Nagoya.
The M2 rank was as useless this basho as tits on a boar. Tochiohzan simply received charity from Goeido on day 14 (these two go way back to their grade school days) to pick up his first win, and how could he not defeat Bushuyama on senshuraku to finish 2-13. Simply put, Tochiohzan was intimidated this basho, and if he couldn't beat Kaio or Chiyotaikai or guys over-ranked like Aran and Iwakiyama, how does he expect things will get better in the future? I'm afraid it won't.
Toyohibiki finished 3-12 but gave a better effort than Tochiohzan. The problem for the Nikibi, however, was that he abandoned his initial tsuppari attack far too early in his bouts settling for yotsu-zumo against guys who are going to smoke him like a Cuban cigar in that position. Toyohibiki did have a good win over Kotoshogiku, but for all intents and purposes, Tochiohzan and Toyohibiki are going to have to be satisfied with ruling the mid-Maegashira ranks like one-eyed men in a blind kingdom.
I've already hinted here and there that I loved M3 Iwakiyama's effort. No shame in his 5-10 finish considering he fought all five Ozeki and both Yokozuna. Dude was ranked way too high, but didn't give up at all, and that scores points with me. Excellent basho. You'll forgive Mario (not our Mario) if he eases up on his hot pursuit of the Gorilla for the next two months so as to give him more time with the Lady.
M3 Baruto's 11-4 was par for the course, thus his lack of a sansho this basho. Without fighting both Yokozuna and two Ozeki (of course the
NSK was gonna keep Kaio and Chiyotaikai as far away as possible giving him Harumafuji instead), a good basho for Baruto is actually beating a quality Ozeki. He didn't, and I don't think you seriously consider him for a sansho unless he's at 13-2 from here. The good news is he's back in the sanyaku for Aki.
M4 Miyabiyama comes close to filling out the last Komusubi spot, and although he'll be overtaken by Aminishiki, the Sheriff has to be happy with his 8-7 finish. You look at his wins...a mix of oshi and hiki (set up by the oshi), and it was vintage Miyabiyama sumo. I like him at the M1 rank for Aki because his size alone keeps the elite honest. Counterpart Takamisakari did great to finish 6-9 from this rank, and it's good for sumo to keep him out of harm's way.
M5 Aminishiki was back to his wily ways managing an 11-4 mark from this position. When Ami's bum knee feels better, it helps his sumo allowing him to move laterally, a direction he loves. His kimari-te were scattered across the board, but that's just his style. On one day he can obliterate Baruto with oshi-dashi and then henka an Ozeki in the yusho race the next. What's new? Like Baruto, let's wait to save further comment until Aminishiki is back up among the jo'i. He's your final Komusubi for Aki.
One has to be extremely happy for counterpart Tochinoshin, who was solid throughout finishing 9-6. The effort puts him at M1 for Aki where he will receive his second test among the jo'i. Let's hope he fares better, but something tells me he won't. You look at the guys he beat, and they were scrubs for the most part save Shotenro. His losses? Five of the six to kachi-koshi rikishi. He's going to receive nothing but quality rikishi in September. He's going to have lift his game a notch next basho.
Like Iwakiyama, M6 Bushuyama has to be happy with his 5-10 from this level, and like Iwakiyama, Bushuyama gave it his all, which is all you can ask.
Counterpart Tamanoshima is enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Not the kind of spurt that will have him threatening the sanyaku, but a few basho ago, he was struggling among the dregs. Do whatever you have to do to continue receiving the Makuuchi paycheck. That's gotta be better than the alternative, which is being issued a drab navy jacket, gray slack, and a hard folding chair so you can perform "security" in the hana-michi the first year of your retirement. All of Tamanoshima's losses were to kachi-koshi rikishi including a henka at the hands of Kasugao. Tamanoshima fought better than his record indicated in my opinion.
M7 Toyonoshima finally scraped out a kachi-koshi, but he didn't look comfortable again the entire two weeks. No coincidence that all eight of his wins came against make-koshi rikishi. And you also look at his winning techniques...half of them by pull or slapdown. I don't want to say he's circling the drain just yet, but he's close. Counterpart Mokonami has to be happy with a 6-9 debut from this rank. The Mongolian kept himself in great position to kachi-koshi the entire way, but he was done in as they say the final three days by veteran Shimotori and two veterans in Tamanoshima and Toyonoshima sending him to an 0-3 finish. Mokonami lacks the size, but his quickness and nose for the sport will help him survive this division. I liked what I saw, but I don't see greatness here.
M8 Kokkai's struggles continued mightily as he was only able to muster a 5-10 record from these parts. The reason is simple: ask yourself to define Kokkai's sumo these days. You can't. He's neither a tsuppari guy nor a yotsu guy. That leaves him without a pot to piss in, so the question is will he be content fighting in the Juryo ranks? With the alternative being joining the army back home, I'm pretty confident the answer is yes. Kokkai ain't in Juryo just yet, but he's lost out there atop the dohyo these days. 6-9 for counterpart Kakizoe equals a great showing. Dejima'd take it in a second.
No new comments on M9's Takekaze (8-7) and Tochinonada (6-9) other than to say Takekake's two tachi-ai henka to end the basho and clinch kachi-koshi was a surprise to only two rikishi: Bushuyama and Tokitenku. How did they not seeing coming?
M10 Shotenro had the break-out basho a somewhat new guy has to have to put him on the Makuuchi map. And to think what could have been when you look at those back to back losses against Yoshikaze and Takekaze on days 4 and 5. Shotenro beat a handful of quality rikishi along the way and showed his ability to fight at the belt or to best you with the shoves. He's already a more promising rikishi in Kakuryu, so expect him to take a few lumps starting next basho but to find himself seated among the sanyaku in a year's time. This Mongolian's a keeper.
Counterpart Tokitenku has emerged from that funk he began about a year ago when he couldn't kachi-koshi to save his life, but he's gotten older and slowed down a step, which means he no longer cares about the sanyaku. That makes his 9-6 from this level a success.
M11 Yamamotoyama isn't quick enough laterally, and he doesn't have the luxury of an all-out forward attack. If he tries such an attack, his lower body can't keep up with him leaving his opponent a window to escape from near the edge. His body simply couldn't take the two bouts in a row against Wakakoyu on day 9. This guy is like jerry-rigging something with rubber bands and paper clips. You'll get some use out of the contraption at first, but once it gets going it's going to fall apart quickly. At 4-11, he a goner to Juryo, and while he will likely rise back up to the division, I just can't see him fighting at higher than M10.
Counterpart Tamawashi rhymes with TamaSoftie for a reason. While I didn't think
Tamawashi was soft in previous basho, he was terrible in Nagoya...sorta along the lines of Tochiohzan. His 5-10 effort may have been enough to keep him at the bottom wrung of the division, but it'd be better for him if his pay was docked and he was forced to mingle with the crowd filling in their seats prior to Makuuchi. He needs a wake-up call because I don't think he's this bad.
M12 Asasekiryu was on the brink after a 4-6 start from this level, but inspired by a default win over Yamamotoyama on day 11, Sexy
cruised to a 4-0 finish. In musical terms, I'd rate him on the level of say Loverboy. There was a time when he was pretty good, but now he's satisfied with playing gigs in Reno and those other fluke Nevada border towns to earn a scant living.
Counterpart Yoshikaze's 6-9 from this level shows just how much he overachieved the last coupla basho when he was fighting near the jo'i. He'll barely survive on the banzuke in Aki, but he's more than savvy enough to finagle a good record in September.
M13 Futenoh finishing 6-9? His falling to Juryo would be no loss as long as we have at least one guy in the division with a sweet settuh
stilettos (that'd be Kasugao). His counterpart was Dejima who finally took the knee and retired from the sport. To sum up Dejima's career, he was a promising rikishi coming out of college who rode the coat tails of the Musashigawa-beya to the Ozeki rank at a time when the Futagoyama-beya was dying and Asashoryu was a year away. He showed flashes of brilliance in his freight train charge, but there was just too much henka and pull in his game to really take him seriously.
No comment on Shimotori who finished 9-6 other than his sweet counter kiri-kaeshi against Tamanoshima on senshuraku, which was one of the few highlights of that day. Counterpart Tosayutaka squeezed out a kachi-koshi in the end, but he lost a ton of close ones. When this kid learns how to win better, he'll be like counterpart Toyonoshima in his heyday. I was impressed all around with this rookie.
M15 Homasho's 10-5 was actually an underachievement for this former Ozeki killer. He can't be losing to guys like Shimotori, Futenoh, and Mokonami if he wants to be taken seriously as a top rikishi in the Maegashira ranks. He'll probably be ranked exactly where he should be for next basho.
Counterpart Kasugao was absolutely awful. Yes, I know he did kachi-koshi, but it took multiple tachi-ai henka to do it. When people start reading your henkas and kicking your ass, it's time to think up a new strategy. Guys like this contribute nothing to sumo and only detract.
And finally, rookie Wakakoyu brings up the rear in more ways than one this basho. His 4-11 finish speaks for itself as this guy is not yet prepared for the division.
And that's a wrap on the Nagoya basho, a tournament that gave you exactly what you were looking for whether you're a purist who thinks sumo is squeaky clean, whether you're a conspiracy theorist who worships Oliver Stone, or whether you're a realist who understands that rikishi do each other favors.
Allow me to conclude with a personal experience. There's a dude who I always play
racquetball with in the states. He's four or five years younger than me, he's quicker than me, and he's a good all around athlete. The only problem for him is that I'm better than he is at
racquetball. When we play, we usually go five games, and they are very competitive games, but the reason they're competitive is because I dumb down my game to make them as such. I don't necessarily try less; I just handicap myself so he can keep up with me and win games. Any shmuck off the streets who watched us play would think that we are on the same level and playing some fierce
racquetball, but an experienced racquetball player who watched our games would quickly observe that I never serve it to his backhand side, I choose to keep points alive when I could obviously go for the kill, and I let fatigue get the best of me when he's committing unenforced errors and playing himself out of the game. If we played straight up honest
racquetball, he may be able to take one game from me out of ten if his serve was on, but for the most part, I'd wipe the floor with his ass.
There are multiple reasons I do what I do. First, he's one of my best friends, and I want to continue playing
racquetball with him. Second, he hates to lose, and letting him beat me 3-2 or even 4-1 sometimes gives him a sense of accomplishment. And third, it allows me to hone certain parts of my game like my serve to the opponent's forehand side. It's a win-win for both parties, and nothing that really matters gets compromised in the
process since we both get great exercise, we both experience the joy of the game, and we enjoy a healthy competition. And, most importantly, he has no idea that I let him win.
Take from that what you will. See you all in Aki.
2009 Nagoya Pre Basho
Report Meet Japanese girls.
They say you can't have it all. You know...a balanced banzuke, the top rikishi working hard prior to the basho, and custody of Michael Jackson's kids (because you love them, not because of the copious amounts of caish they're entitled to). The last two basho we had absolutely solid banzuke, but the problem was the elite rikishi didn't work as hard as they should have during the
pre-basho workouts providing for some shoddy sumo. And while we do have an unbalanced banzuke in Nagoya, we have the top guys working their arses off, and I'll take that every time since the rikishi who can actually yusho are extremely limited anyway. Oh, and before we analyze the said rikishi, may the Queen of Pop rest in peace.
Let's start with Ozeki Harumafuji who is not officially up for promotion to Yokozuna this basho despite his first career yusho in May. The reason is two-fold. First, Harumafuji's performance in Natsu was not worthy of a Yokozuna. He didn't have a resume of huge wins (didn't have any really when you look at content and context) and did not give anyone the feeling that he is Yokozuna material. Remember when Hakuho was a new Ozeki, and you just knew that it was a matter of a few basho? Hakuho had that stability and presence that Harumafuji doesn't have...yet. I won't be surprised to see Harumafuji grace the Yokozuna rank (deserved or not), but he's still got a lot of work to do. The second reason why he's not seriously being considered for promotion is he'd have to yusho again, and everyone in the know regarding sumo knows that ain't gonna happen. Trust me on this one; Hakuho was the man even before last basho concluded.
The upside to Harumafuji for Nagoya is that he's been working hard. Course, when has he never worked hard? The point is he could have easily let down after securing his first yusho, but he hasn't. The downside for Nagoya is the pressure of sustaining yusho-worthy sumo again. I expect Harumafuji to get off to a nice start, but watch for a couple of losses scattered over the first 11 days or so that will render him a pretender at basho's end. He's solidified himself as the best Ozeki without question, but Harumafuji wins no more than 12 in Nagoya. I'll give him 11-4.
Let's hop back up to the Yokozuna rank and start with Hakuho, who deservedly sits in the prestigious East slot. Hakuho has had his usual quiet pre-basho offering the same exact comments after every keiko session (I'm going at my own pace), which will be followed by the exact same comments after every one of his bouts (I just got into my flow). Nobody likes to take liberties when translating more than me, but jeepers, shake it up a bit, Hakuho. Whenever I read your quotes I instinctively reach for Clancy's Bible so I can study Isaiah to wake myself up. What I'm really trying to say is that Hakuho is in his groove meaning he'll be unshakable throughout the fortnight. In fact, I'd give the odds at a zensho yusho at 50-50. He'll do no worse than 14-1 as he hoists the Emperor's Cup in the end. He's just that much better than the rest.
Counterpart Asashoryu made an extremely interesting move by announcing his divorce from his wife a week before the basho started. In an official statement, he said the reason for the decision was because of his sub-standard performances at the Haru basho and Natsu basho and the necessity to focus on the Nagoya basho. Since when did marriage become so trivial? It was really no secret that Asashoryu was having marital issues, and his wife did take the kids back to Mongolia to live several years ago, so my guess is that the speculation was running rampant, and Asashoryu decided to beat the media to the punch. Regardless, the Yokozuna has already put it behind him and has been working his ass off prior to the basho. One person who hasn't put it behind him is our friend Mitsuru Yaku. In case you didn't notice (who did?...only one scrub media rag even bothered to pick up the comments), Yaku was reportedly livid at the timing of Asashoryu's announcement saying, "I would understand it if the
announcement was made during a rikishi's off time like a week after the basho, but it's intolerable for him to make his announcement right now. He's not a celebrity and why put the
announcement on a blog?" Just two questions for Yaku: why is it intolerable to make the
announcement now? And why is it that you can't generate any headlines doing anything other than bashing Asashoryu? Oh, and for the record, Asashoryu IS a celebrity. For those of you who read the Japanese headlines, if you've ever wondered why Mitsuru Yaku's name is always written in the hiragana, it's because the kanji in his name mean "insignificant." This guy is another Quasimodo (lame), and the sooner he disappears the better we all are for it. Exactly zero people jumped on your bandwagon and also became miffed at Asashoryu.
Sheesh...two Yokozuna and two tangents. As for Asashoryu's pre-basho workouts, I've been impressed. Yeah, he may have been beaten by Harumafuji 7-9 at a session at the Naruto-beya, but Asashoryu's work ethic has been moved up a notch this basho. As is usually the case, he was able to heal his "injuries" by going back to Mongolia, so expect a Yokozuna that is fully there both mentally and physically. It will also be interesting to see if there is any detectable change in Asashoryu's demeanor atop the dohyo now that he is "focused" after his divorce. Regardless, I like Asashoryu to hover around the 13-14 win mark, and there's a chance that he and Hakuho enter senshuraku at 14-0. He's not good enough to topple Hakuho this basho, but he's your jun-yusho rikishi.
Let's head back down to the Ozeki ranks where Kotooshu occupies the top West slot. I've read zero reports regarding the Bulgarian, so assume status quo. 10 wins.
Which brings us to the three remaining Slow-zeki, Kaio, Kotomitsuki, and Chiyotaikai. At a recent keiko session that included Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Kaio at the Oshima-beya, Kaio opted not to practice with the Yokozuna or Ozeki. I don't blame him, but that tells you all you need to know. He opted to practice with Kyokutenho, which is exactly Kaio's strategy these days: kachi-koshi by beating the non-sanyaku mainstay rikishi. It doesn't matter how many wins Kaio gets, but let's say eight for good measure.
Ozeki Kotomitsuki comes home to Nagoya, which means...absolutely nothing at this stage of his career. He may be able to ride the hometown momentum to 10 wins, but then you look at Bart down in the Maegashira ranks out of reach of everyone but the Sadogatake Ozeki, and it actually hurts Kotomitsuki. I think the veteran will be able to take advantage of guys like
Toyohibiki and Iwakiyama to get kachi-koshi for sure, but even the hometown spin won't be able to lift him out of non-factor status. 9-6.
Rounding out the Ozeki is Chiyotaikai, who can no longer win eight bouts in a basho all on his own. Does he get some charity in the end, or is he forced to go kadoban again? I think the former since the other Ozeki should have enough going into the second week to help out. How's this for a
ballsy prediction: 8-7!
Moving onto the Sekiwake, Kakuryu leads the way in the East slot. Kakuryu is not really what I call strong Sekiwake material, but you have to give the Mongolian credit for learning how to win among the jo'i. The Kak will probably grease his usual two opponents, but he'll win at least six legitimately meaning he holds onto his rank for Aki. 8-7.
Across the aisle, Kisenosato makes his deserved return to the rank. It's deserved because he is one of the top five rikishi on the banzuke. The Kid will have no jitters as he's been here before. There's just too many in the upper Maegashira who haven't, so Kisenosato should easily kachi-koshi. 8-9 wins.
Kyokutenho manages to find the Komusubi rank yet again, and you have to hand it to the Chauffeur, for as old as he is getting and for as little as he cares, dude found a way to increase his pay for two months. The crazy things is he can probably sustain it for another basho. You look around at the other non-mainstays in the jo'i and Kyokutenho has the best body, he has the best technique, and he's a savvy veteran, so no wonder he's Komusubi. He flirts with eight yet again.
Counterpart Kotoshogiku is toast. A 10-5 record from the M5 rank in May sent the former Sekiwake back up to the sanyaku, but the competition is completely different this time. The Geeku will win five or so, but it's back down to the rank and file for September.
Since I seem to say the exact same things every basho about the same guys, let's focus on the highlights in the Maegashira ranks.
Some may think Aran is gonna get his ass kicked this basho, but I'm not so sure. Yeah, he'll get his ass kicked by the Yokozuna, but this guy knows how to win. Like his predecessor Roho, it ain't pretty, but don't be surprised if Aran can finish with 6-7 wins.
Counterpart Goeido is Maegashira in name only. This kid has a history of showing nerves the first time he graces a new rank leading to his unspectacular finish at the Natsu basho, but if Kisenosato is in the top five rikishi on the banzuke, Goeido is as well. Watch for Goeido to steamroll his way to 9-10 regardless of his week one schedule.
M2 Tochiohzan is ranked right about where he should be. Oh has got to toughen up mentally. 6-7 wins. Counterpart Toyohibiki his extremely compelling. The last time the Nikibi was at this rank, he was injured and had to withdraw from the basho meaning this will be his first real test at fighting among the jo'i. I expect him to match Tochiohzan punch for punch, so look for a respectable 6-7 wins as well.
M3 Iwakiyama will be lucky to get three wins. Guys like him up this high are the reason that none of the Ozeki should make-koshi if ya know whattuh mean. Counterpart Baruto is one reason why I say the banzuke is unbalanced. This guy is a sanyaku rikishi at worst, and with other guys under-ranked (like Homasho), we'll probably see some guys on the leaderboard in week two that have no business being there. I don't see how Baruto doesn't win ten as he is just out of reach of everyone but the Sadogatake guys.
M4 Miyabiyama is too slow to succeed at this rank. Six wins. Counterpart Takamisakari is overmatched this high. 4-5 wins.
Watch for M5 Aminishiki to have a nice basho. He's low enough in the ranks, yet he's got a great keiko partner in Harumafuji, so I expect Ami to threaten the sanyaku in Aki. 9 wins. You look at counterpart Tochinoshin and say he shouldn't be over-ranked here, but he is. Gotta remember...they don't call the Kasugano-beya soft for nothing. Six wins.
Bushuyama at M6? No way Jose as Dolly musters only 4 wins. Counterpart Tamanoshima will do little better.
Toyonoshima has got to turn things around quickly. He's slipped all the way down to the M7 rank, and it wasn't because he fought a brutal schedule last basho. Like arch-rival Kotoshogiku, this guy may have peaked. Eight wins barely.
Counterpart Mokonami makes his debut in the division at an incredibly high rank on the banzuke. All I know about Mokonami is he's small and he's Mongolian. Sounds like a combination that can kachi-koshi...lower in the ranks. I don't see how Mokonami overcomes the veterans to win his eight here, but no worry...ranked this high on the charts all but ensures he doesn't fall to Juryo in September. 5-6 wins.
M8 Kokkai is right about where he belongs. Counterpart Kakizoe isn't.
Watch M10 Shotenro who is quietly succeeding in the division. I like him to kachi-koshi.
At M14 is another newcomer in Tosayutaka. Tosayutaka set the record a few years ago for most consecutive wins upon his debut. I want to say it was like 27 in a row, which is good for yusho in the bottom three divisions and a near miss for Makushita. When guys set records such as these, they are legitimate. I'm not saying Tosayutaka is going to take the division by storm, but in three years, he'll be one of the best rikishi Japan has going for it. I like him to kachi-koshi at this rank.
M15 Homasho is under-ranked. Who cares if he jumps out to another good record? Homasho has got to put up higher in the ranks.
Finally, Wakakoyu, our third newcomer this basho, brings up the rear at M16. I've never seen the dude fight and don't know anything about him. Allow me to comment on his sumo after I've seen him fight a few days.
That's a wrap on my pre-basho report. I apologize it's so late, but there has been golf to be played, fish to catch, a wife to dote on, kids to coach in baseball, flu viruses to avoid, and a plethora of other engagements that keep me offline too often these days. No worries though. If the rikishi can take it easy in between hon-basho, so can I. See you on day 1.