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2010 Nagoya Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
I see where the first sumo exhibition (jungyo) of the summer season took place recently in Niigata Prefecture, and the rikishi who were banned from participating in the Nagoya basho were allowed to participate with the gang again. We also haven't seen any damning news since the middle of the basho, so I get the feeling that things have wound down for the most part and that sumo can begin the healing process. What has me curious, though, is exactly what protocol was breached to put this entire debacle the last few months in motion.

What I mean by that is there are a LOT of unwritten rules in Japanese society that everyone follows in order to maintain group harmony. And there were no doubt many unwritten rules surrounding sumo and how it should be covered in the media, what direction the police should look, what perception the public held, etc. And notice how I said there WERE a lot of unwritten rules because it's obvious that sumo has been exposed down to its very core where all of its misdeeds have now been thrown into the public light for scrutiny. So the question for me is how did this happen? Who was it in a position of enough power that was able to breach protocol and force open this floodgate?

Let me give you an example of these unwritten rules in Japan using Pachinko parlors. Simply put, Pachinko parlors are gambling halls, which is a huge paradox because as anyone following this recent baseball betting scandal can tell you, gambling is illegal in Japan. So why are there more Pachinko parlors in Japan than McDonald's restaurants? It's because the Japanese are a heavy gambling society. The government knows this; the police know it; the government workers and policemen love to gamble; and so pachinko allows everyone to get their gambling fix in a way that can be overlooked by the written rules and laws in place.

I actually know what I'm talking about too when it comes to pachinko, and I know exactly how the system works. I've hung out with pachinko pros, tagged along with them on all-day marathons (ever wondered why people line up in front of the parlors hours before opening time?), scouted machines for them (yes, you can actually scout a pachinko machine!), read the magazines that break down the different machines and how to manipulate them to get the highest payout possible, and on and on. I also understand the relationships that exist between the pros and the staff working at the pachinko parlor, and how each party benefits from each other's cooperation. I'm not a pachinko pro myself since I don't have the time to invest in it, and I've always maintained this other nagging side gig called a job. And then I guess there's the part about not even living in Japan at the moment, but trust me when I say I'm an expert on pachinko (I prolly know it as well as sumo).

If you've never entered a pachinko parlor, first of all you're smart unless you're into things like losing money, permanently damaging your ear drums, and breathing in the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes in an hour. Second, this is basically how it works. The parlor is divided into two sections...one with pachinko machines (the vertical pinball machines) and then slot machines on the other side. For pachinko, you insert cash into the machine in exchange for miniature pinballs that you will end up firing back into the machine in hopes that they land in a little slot giving you more balls to play with. For the slot machines, you insert 1,000 yen bills into coin changers that feed you 50 tokens that you can then play in the slot machines in hopes of winning more tokens.

In theory, you play pachinko or the slots and hope that you can increase the amount of mini pinballs or tokens so you can trade them in for glorious prizes prominently displayed in the parlor's lobby. In reality, you try and earn as many balls or tokens as possible so you can trade them in for cold hard cash at this discreet booth located just out back'a the facility. The exchange takes place in a window just barely large enough for a person to fit their hand through, and technically, this booth is not supposed to be part of the pachinko parlor's facilities, but since no one is being fooled here, these days it's all housed in the same building for increased security. Oh, and one more thing, the majority of pachinko parlors are owned by North Koreans or the yakuza.

The whole point of this tangent is to show how comical pachinko in Japanese society is. It's not gambling because you're not playing with real money. Furthermore, any increase you experience goes towards fabulous prizes like stuffed animals or iPods, not actual money (wink, wink). Finally, you're benefitting such charities as the North Korean economy and the Federation for Organized Crime just by playing.

So how does that relate to sumo? Just imagine these headlines showing up in a Japanese tabloid:

"Patrons at local pachinko parlor are actually gambling for money, not playing for prizes!"

"Man seen leaving pachinko parlor and exchanging his winnings for cash at secret bullet-proof window at back of building!"

"Lifelong pachinko patron reveals he's never once exchanged his winnings for prizes!"

"Pachinko parlor success linked to rise in North Korea's GNP!"

"Pachinko parlor chain has ties to the yakuza!"

Those headlines seem ridiculous and will likely never show up in the media even though they are all true and represent Japanese law being broken, but I think they are comparable to the recent headlines we've seen regarding sumo because rikishi gambling, ties to the mafia, and other vices are as old as the sport itself.

I've always branded a certain faction of sumo fans as the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil types when it comes to sumo. These fans were the ones who refused to believe that the Sumo Association was anything but this impeccable organization, a sacred Japanese cultural institution that was without blemish, so how dare those punks at Sumotalk mention yaocho, corruption, racism, and ties with the yakuza. Well, we always dared to talk about those things because they were so matter of fact. They just weren't subjects addressed in the mainstream Japanese media because like pachinko, it was understood that there are necessary evils that were off-limits for scrutiny in society or in the media.

So the whole point of this intro is what happened that caused the floodgates to open and every media organization to break protocol and try and "get theirs" by exposing the newest sumo "scandals" that had actually existed for decades? I don't have a definitive answer, and I certainly can't say things like "well, my sources tell me..." because I don't even have any sources. All we know for sure is that out of the blue, someone blew the whistle on Kise-oyakata's comping yakuza guys tickets to the Nagoya basho the last few years, and then someone leaked to the media that Kotomitsuki was the victim of an extortion attempt by a member of the yakuza who threatened to go public that the Ozeki bet on baseball games if he didn't pay the dude a chunk'a change in hush money.

If I may speculate, the likeliest sources of the leak are either the Japanese police or an insider within the Sumo Association itself. Let's examine three recent cases of so-called scandal the last year and note the similarity.

First, let's start with Kise-oyakata who provided the yakuza choice tickets to the Nagoya basho the last five years or so. High-ranking yakuza guys were sitting in the front row at last year's Nagoya basho in order to get some face time on television so their high-ranking boss in prison would be able to see them, and surely the police keeping tabs on these guys noticed it, but the news regarding Kise-oyakata didn't break until the spring of 2010, 7-8 months after the basho was over.

Second is the incident that led to Asashoryu's retirement. The incident took place on the night of day 6; yet, nothing was reported in the media until the day after the basho when suddenly the YDC was criticizing Asashoryu's behavior during the basho citing the January 16th incident.

Third is the revelation that Kotomitsuki was the victim of an extortion attempt by a yakuza guy who threatened to go public with the Ozeki's gambling habits if he didn't pony up some serious yen. The story was first reported in the media during the Natsu basho, but the alleged attempt occurred months earlier.

In all three of these cases, the media did not get wind of the incidents until well after they occurred, but the police knew about all of them right away, especially in the cases of Asashoryu and Kotomitsuki since police reports were filed. There is also no doubt that the Sumo Association knew as well because they work closely with the police and are informed of any developments involving members of their organization. A good example of this cooperation was the death of Tokitaizan. Before any of the details were reported in the media, Musashigawa-oyakata, who was the commissioner's right-hand man at the time, was the guy meeting with police and receiving updates on the investigation into the kid's death. This gave the Association time to sufficiently set up damage control measures. The result is that the media is fed the information well after the fact and in a format that is agreed upon prior to any information being released at all.

So the natural chain of events regarding the Sumo Association and any improprieties goes like this:

- An incident occurs involving a member of the Sumo Association
- Police are called to the scene and reports are sometimes filed
- Police notify the Sumo Association what has happened, and then the two parties negotiate on what details are released to the media, how things will be worded, and whether or not the public finds out at all
-The media then reports the information according to how it is explained to them by the police and the Sumo Association

Outside of this process are the tabloids, who will sometimes ferret information on their own like obtaining that audio tape of Miyagino-oyakata admitting he paid Asashoryu to throw a bout, or they will receive information leaked to them by insiders from either the police or the Sumo Association itself.

With the latest yakuza/gambling scandals, most people suspect that the police were tired of the Sumo Association's continued relationships with members of organized crime, and so they leaked this latest information in an attempt to send a statement that they will not tolerate any association between sumo and the yakuza.

That line of thinking is plausible, but I would be just as quick to say that the police have their own little agreements and collaborations with the yakuza, so there is a bit of contradiction there.

If the police weren't the ones who leaked the information, then it had to be someone from within the Sumo Association...someone like say a director...with an agenda. Perhaps it's a newly-elected director who has these sweeping ideas and obviously wants full power, and so he leaks devastating information that paints the old guard as this inept, out-of-touch group that needs to be removed for the good of the sport. I wouldn't put it past Takanohana to have played some sort of role in all of this, but the contradiction there is why would he allow two of his avid supporters to take such strong hits in Otake-oyakata (expelled altogether) and Onomatsu-oyakata (shit-listed as the go-between stable in the gambling scandal)?

I really don't have an opinion one way or the other. What I do know, however, is that someone with a serious agenda is behind all of this, and hopefully we find out someday. At least we still have the pachinko parlors to keep us busy in between tournaments because nothing turns on my gal like a new stuffed animal.

And speaking of the basho, I better get to the damage before the Aki basho banzuke is released.

Is there a record in the books that Yokozuna Hakuho is not in danger of breaking? At 47 consecutive wins, he only needs one more zensho yusho in Aki and then a perfect week 1 in Kyushu to surpass what was once considered an unbreakable record. At 15 career yusho, Hakuho only needs four yusho per year the next four years to tie Chiyonofuji's 31. If he can go 5-5-4-4 (and there's NOTHING right now to suggest he won't), he surpasses Taiho's 32 as early as 2014. He already owns the mark for consecutive zensho yusho in the modern era and most wins in a calendar year, so that leaves consecutive yusho currently held by Asashoryu at 7. Without a serious injury in the cards, it's tough to conjure up a scenario explaining how this won't come to pass because none of the current sekitori are capable of putting a stop to it.

The close calls he experienced in Nagoya are just part of the game, and even if he does end up losing a bout here and there, how is he not going to yusho with the runner-ups only able to manage 11-4 records? I know a lot of people pray for parity in sumo because they think it would result in interesting yusho races. Well, we have a LOT of parity in sumo these days. The only problem is there's one guy so far ahead of the status quo that the yusho has become inconsequential in sumo. Parity is horrible for sumo, and the only thing holding this together is the possibility of the aforementioned records getting broken.

In the Ozeki ranks, Baruto beat one kachi-koshi rikishi...Tokitenku, so no wonder he finished 8-7. Baruto simply had no de-ashi this body, which renders him a big target for rikishi with game. I talked at length during the basho about the Ozeki, so let's keep it short.

Harumafuji's basho was over on day 1 with his loss to Tochiohzan. Then when he lost to Kyokutenho, Kotoshogiku, and Aran over the next five days, he started to care. He would only lose to Hakuho the rest of the way, but it's so troubling how this Ozeki can't dominate the rank and file.

To Kotooshu's credit, he kept things interesting the first seven days, but losing to an M6 to get knocked out of the yusho race on day 8? Just goes to show how deep this parity does run in sumo.

Rounding out the Ozeki, Kaio is in serious trouble. After withdrawing with just six wins, the Ozeki must win eight in September or retire. The problem is with so much scrutiny on sumo right now, obvious yaocho cannot be risked. Kaio's in big trouble because these same rank and filers that are beating the other Ozeki can surely beat Kaio as well.

Bravo to the sanyaku where nary a rikishi was able to kachi-koshi. Suckiwake Kisenosato lived up to his rank with a 2-7 finish lowlighted by a loss to Homasho. As I've been saying for seemingly 18 months now, the Kid's inability to score a big win is what is keeping him out of the Ozeki conversation. Course, a make-koshi with this banzuke doesn't help much either. Counterpart Kotoshogiku isn't worth mention at 5-10, and it won't get easier with stablemate Kotomitsuki off the board.

Hakuba is an embarrassment, and he overachieved to win four. I don't know what's worse: Hakuba at full strength, or Homasho fighting with an injured neck. Hakuba's the biggest fraud in sumo since Takatoriki. Komusubi Tochinoshin suffered from that ailment known as easterneuro-itis, which means a nonchalant attitude until it's too late.  I do like the one-two Kasugano punch in Tochinoshin and Tochiohzan, and I expect those two to feed off of each other in the years to come.

Let's head to the Maegashira ranks where said M1 Tochiohzan has quietly been establishing himself as the best Japanese rikishi in the sport. On one hand, that's not saying much, but on the other hand, with Kaio's imminent retirement and Kotomitsuki's ouster, that will open up a vacancy in the Ozeki ranks. Call Clancy crazy, but his suggestion that Tochiohzan is the leading candidate for Ozeki now is not that far-fetched. It doesn't mean that Tochiohzan WILL reach the rank; it means that among all of the rikishi outside of the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks, he has the best shot right now. Part of what puts Tochiohzan ahead of Kisenosato is that he is able to beat the top four guys regularly now. In Nagoya, he handed both Harumafuji and Baruto early losses on his way to a business-like 9-6 record. See you at Sekiwake for Aki.

Counterpart Asasekiryu was way over-ranked at M1, and it showed in his 0-8 start and ultimate 4-11 finish.

M2 Aran lived up to his name starting out 1-4 but then grabbed the basho by the horns posting an in-your-face 10-0 finish. Sure, he fought mosta the Ozeki and the Yokozuna early on during that 1-4 stretch, but he handled Baruto on day 2 and then clobbered Harumafuji to start off that 10 bout win streak that included good wins over Tochiohzan and Kakuryu down the stretch. Physically, sign this guy up for the Brute Squad. Mentally, we still need more time to evaluate him. The Russian will be ranked at Sekiwake for September, but I don't think we've seen the last of his 2-13 outings from the jo'i. Let's take what we can get from him, though, and in Nagoya, Aran simply delivered showing his great potential with mostly straight-forward sumo.

M2 Aminishiki got off to a decent start highlighted by a thorough ass-kicking of Baruto on day 7, but Shneaky's gotta lotta mileage on that body and wasn't able to finish the festivities withdrawing after six decent wins.

I think M3 Kyokutenho was completely uninspired as usual in Nagoya, but the fact that he was still able to finish 7-8 shows just how much parity there is in sumo right now. The same argument can be made for counterpart Tokitenku who gave a great effort and managed to finish 8-7 despite the toughest possible schedule. Tokitenku gave Hakuho a run for his money in Nagoya, but I took two points away from that bout. First, Hakuho was never really in trouble despite the close finish. Second, tall guys like Tokitenku give Hakuho the most trouble, so Hakuho's next loss comes from a guy who stands taller than the average rikishi.

M4 Goeido is our first rikishi forced to sit out for betting on baseball. I hope the Association doesn't waste everyone's time by sending him down to Juryo for September, but let me make a couple of points here. First, competitive guys love to gamble, so I don't have a problem that Goeido was a hardcore bettor. I now want to see that fully translated into his sumo. Second, if Goeido makes this sudden turnaround in a short timeframe and finally lives up to his potential, you can chalk it up to him no longer paying off gambling debts with losses.

I don't have much to say about counterpart Kitataiki's 6-9 finish although I do need to address Óscar who sent us a post-basho report from out of nowhere that was a decent read, so I linked to it from the front page. Bro, you wanna take a shot at Don Wesemann on his website, you better make sure you know your history first. You're still in the family because I can tolerate rookie mistakes, but deride me out of context regarding Kitataiki at your own peril.

M5's Toyonoshima and Miyabiyama were both forced to sit out the basho, but unlike Goeido, these two are inconsequential to sumo's future, so let's move on.

As far as I'm concerned, M6 Kakuryu painted a masterpiece this basho jumping out to a 7-0 start and then laying the wood to Kotooshu on day 8 when both guys were still undefeated. The Kak only lost to guys who threw down this basho, and his 11-4 was straight up and well-deserved. Like him or not, Kakuryu is probably a top 8 guy in sumo right now. Counterpart Toyohibiki was forced to sit our for gambling in Nagoya, but he also falls into the inconsequential category, so let's move on.

I really thought M7 Wakanosato was done in this division, so to see him pull off a 9-6 effort was an over-achievement in my opinion. And the only negative aspect to doing well from this spot is you're going to get vaulted into the jo'i for the next tournament. Like Makiko Uchidate, that ain't gonna be pretty. Counterpart Tokusegawa just keeps plugging along in the division as he finished 8-7 with his most notable win against Homasho on day 14. Tokusegawa hasn't made a huge splash in the division, but he's methodically gaining experience and assimilating knowledge that is going to make him a stubborn guy to deal with for the next few year. Tokusegawa is easily the best rikishi on the board who has yet to win a special prize.

M8 Wakakoyu was also forced to sit out, and it's a bit disappointing because I wanted to see if he could build on his 10-5 performance in Natsu. If he's back up here in Kyushu, he could be legit. Counterpart Yoshikaze shoulda been forced to sit this one out as well, and while I don't know how he finagled his way into the lineup, I do know it obviously affected him in Nagoya. He was like a condom in Justin Bieber's wallet--useless--needing a 4-1 finish to actually make things look respectable.

No comment on M9 Shimotori and his 6-9 finish, but what the hell happened to counterpart Kakizoe who went 3-12? Normally, Kakizoe'd be in Juryo, but the high number of sekitori forced to go kyujo due to gambling could keep him in the dance in September. Regardless, he was the ugly stepsister in Nagoya.

M10's Mokonami and Tosayutaka both eked out 8-7 finishes, but with this banzuke, both of these guys really shoulda done better.

M11 Takekaze provided two of the most memorable bouts of the basho despite his lackluster 6-9 finish. On day 12 he took Tokusegawa down via nicho-nage (a bout he actually lost) and then the day after he tripped up Tamanoshima by suso-harai. Still, Takekaze contributes nothing to the division. Counterpart Takamisakari's 9-6 is great news. Coupled with all the gamblers who will drop in the ranks, Takamisakari has bought that many more ranks on the banzuke for a song meaning he's going way up the charts for Aki. Not that he can challenge up that high, but just having him in the division keeps quite a few people interested.

I'm not sure what was messier in Nagoya, M12 Gagamaru's basho or the floor of a major league baseball dugout after a game. Gagamaru showed great poise in May and held is own nicely when visiting up from Juryo, but in Nagoya he was a completely different rikishi who looked so inept that it even gave Kiyoseumi a glimmer of hope in regards to returning to the division. If there was a positive to Gagamaru's sumo, it was that each of his five wins were straight-forward and overpowering. But it was the other 10 days that made it hard to watch this lumpa jelly try to maneuver on the dohyo sometimes failing to even get fully out of his stance at the starting lines before being toppled to the dohyo. I thought several of Gagamaru's losses looked suspicious, but there were other bouts of his that were just plain awful. I'll give this guy one more chance in the division, but we haven't seen such a bad debut in the division since Koryu. Good riddance. Counterpart Kokkai was his usual unpredictable self, but he got his eight.

M13 Homasho was somewhat compelling this basho, but we've seen this act before where he wins in double-digits from the bottom of the banzuke. Homasho also got more pub than usual because no one else really challenged for the yusho besides Kakuryu, but when paired against rikishi from the upper echelon, he only managed a 1-4 record with that lone win coming against basketcase, Kisenosato. There's nothing else to say about Homasho until he does something--anything--from the upper half of the banzuke. One of the most depressing aspects of the Nagoya basho was counterpart Kimurayama stringing together a 3-0 finish to finally pick up a Makuuchi kachi-koshi. Since this basho had an asterisk next to it due to all of the gambling kyujo, go ahead and put an asterisk next to Kim's kachi-koshi.

Few rikishi are free falling as fast as M14 Tamawashi who managed to put on the brakes in week two and actually win a few bouts leaving him with a 7-8 record. Tamawashi has been all upper body of late, so despite his big frame, he's gettin' worked pretty good. Counterpart Okinoumi is the final Makuuchi rikishi forced to go kyujo for gambling, but something tells me he's not going far in this division anyway.

It's always good to see M15 Bushuyama pull a 5-1 finish out of his teets to muster a senshuraku kachi-koshi. Can't say the same for counterpart Hokutoriki who picked one up himself on the tourney's final day.

Heading up the rear of the division were Tamaasuka and Shotenro, two rikishi who finished 5-10, and two rikishi who clearly can't cut it in the division. And the unfortunate thing is both rikishi had game but have been debilitated by knee injuries.

The Aki basho banzuke is about 10 days away, and word has it that NHK will restore its regular broadcast. It will be nice to get sumo back to some sort of normalcy, but the lack of promising Japanese rikishi will continue to hinder this sport for the next half decade.

2010 Nagoya Basho Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
It Hakuho's lack of a serious rival the last few basho spelled trouble for an interesting Nagoya basho even before all of these recent scandals surfaced, and now that everything related to the Sumo Association is in complete disarray, the tournament itself is the last thing on anyone's mind. As for the current scandals, it was a huge time bomb ticking away that finally exploded. I'll of course get to Kotomitsuki in a minute, but let me start by illustrating a real scenario to you and see if you notice any problems.

You have say 12 rikishi killing time at an exhibition by playing a game of cards in the dressing room for money. Seems harmless right? You get 12 guys carrying around copious amounts of cash together in a room with no females, no porno flicks, and a deck of cards...what are they going to do? Of course they'd do what any other group of guys besides sailors would do: they'd gamble. In any sport, you hear all the time about card games breaking out on the team bus or the team flight. Or you might hear about teammates on a day off hitting the links and gambling on holes of golf. It's just natural and what any normal guy would do. The difference, however, is the word team. If you're on the same team, go ahead and gamble with each other any way you like because no matter how deeply a teammate gets into debt, he can't pay the debt by throwing a game or a match

In other words, to have multiple rikishi from different stables playing high stakes card games out in the open at actual sumo venues is unconscionable to me. Goeido is having a rough day and has lost 5K to Miyabiyama in a card game. The basho is three weeks away, so Miyabiyama says "tell you what...give me the win at the next basho and you don't owe me a single yen." In my opinion, card games among friends or teammates are not only harmless but a helluva lot of fun. But gambling at a sumo venue with a guy who you will inevitably face at the next tournament? Unbelievable that the Sumo Association let that kind of behavior go on openly. And talking of yaocho...this just introduces a whole new element of what would cause a rikishi to throw his bout. Not that it would ever happen of course.

Okay, before we move to Kotomitsuki's situation, let's review a bit of mathematics.

If A=B and B=C then A=C. Simple enough.

So let's assume that A=Kotomitsuki and B=gambling on baseball and c=the other rikishi and oyakata who bet on baseball, then why was A kicked out of sumo for doing B when C did B too but only got a one-basho suspension. It's dizzying, I know, but the same applies to Otake-oyakata as well. Tokitsukaze-oyakata bet on baseball too, so why did he just get a demotion while Otake-oyakata was booted out of sumo altogether and then forced to divorce his wife on top of that?

The answer is that sumo needed a fall guy, so Kotomitsuki took it for the rikishi, and Otake-oyakata took it for the elders. Consider this. Of the last half of day 1 Makuuchi bouts, only one bout features two Japanese rikishi going head to head in Kisenosato and Aminishiki. Contrast that with three bouts that feature two foreigners going head to head. Furthermore, those three bouts featuring only furries are included in the day's final four bouts. With foreigners literally taking over the sport, the Sumo Association simply could not afford to eliminate 16 more Japanese sekitori beyond Kotomitsuki. Someone had to pay the price for the current gambling scandal and association with the yakuza, so he was the obvious choice since Kotomitsuki was featured in that initial tabloid story that led to the ultimate revelation that multiple rikishi and oyakata bet on Japanese baseball games through yakuza channels. His rank made it seem significant; yet, the Sumo Association lost little since the Ozeki was in the twilight of his career. And they even compensated him on the way out.

The root cause of this whole mess is the fact that you had an organization being run by junior high school graduates. Sure, sumo has always been run by retired oyakata who entered the sport in their teens, but they were always able to cover their bases because information didn't flow as it does now, and they were always able to control it. When Asashoryu was around, he was the target of the media, so all of these other problems went largely unreported as everyone focused on scrutinizing Asashoryu, but since the Yokozuna's retirement, it has been open season on sumo, and just look what has been drummed up in just a few shorts months.

I love sumo as much as anyone, but I have zero sympathy for the Sumo Association based largely on their mistreatment of Asashoryu. I always argued in Asashoryu's favor because I knew the things he was being criticized for were the exact same things of which his Japanese predecessors were guilty, and I have little tolerance for a double-standard, especially when it involves racism. And speaking of racists, I finally saw Mitsuru Yaku's name surface in a recent news story. You may recall in my Natsu post-basho report that I asked where Mitsuru Yaku and Makiko Uchidate had gone. The two couldn't wait to run their traps with every Asashoryu story, so I was (not) surprised that they hadn't commented on the recent gambling scandal and sumo's association with organized crime. Yaku finally opened his mouth, but the only thing he did was criticize Yokozuna Hakuho. Hakuho was asked in the press what he thought of the punishment handed down to Kotomitsuki and others, and the Yokozuna made a few waves by implying that he disagreed with the Association by saying, "I thought the punishments were too harsh." So, Yaku finally resurfaces, and the only thing he says is, "I don't think Hakuho is really in a position to say that," referring to the fact that Hakuho admitted he sometimes played cards with the boys.

So, according to Mitsuru Yaku:

Illegal gambling = OK
Associating with the yakuza = OK
Questioning the Sumo Association = Not OK...if you're a foreigner.

And for the record, I still haven't seen the word hinkaku used once in the dozens of daily articles that have been written surrounding these latest scandals.

I could go on and on, and I probably will during the basho in my daily comments since nothing else significant will be going on, but if you've listened to my comments and read my blog over the years, none of what is occuring now in sumo should be a surprise to anyone, so let's break down the basho.

Yokozuna Hakuho has lacked a rival since Asashoryu's retirement resulting in two pretty boring basho, so add on top of that the huge distraction surrounding the sport right now, and it makes it that much easier for the Yokozuna. There have been zero significant keiko reports the entire basho as the gambling scandals superseded the public's need to know results from the keiko ring, but it doesn't matter. Hakuho in a landslide. Who cares what condition he's in. Not achieving a zensho yusho in Nagoya would be an upset.

Baruto leads the Ozeki ranks as he should based on his performances the last few tournaments. I took a little bit of flak from Estonian fans after my Natsu post basho report where I stated that I thought we had just seen Baruto's best shot, and I expected more 10-11 wins per basho than I did 13-14 wins per basho. I think the current distractions will affect the foreign rikishi less, but since everybody who is anybody is a foreigner (cept for Kisenosato), it cancels that line of thinking out. Not having read anything about Baruto's condition, I'll meet the Estonian fans halfway and declare Baruto good for 12 wins. Allow me to comment on the giant after I see him fight a few times.

It will be business as usual for Harumafuji and Kotooshu. The key to the success of these two is beating those guys ranked below them who always seem to give them a hard time. Guys like Aminishiki for Kotooshu and Kotoshogiku for Harumafuji. If these guys can get on an early run, we may have a speck of drama in week two, but it all comes down to their ability to defeat their demons. Harumafuji for 10 and Kotooshu for 11.

I have this sneaking suspicion that Kaio will get eight wins although not having that extra Ozeki around in Kotomitsuki will make things a bit more difficult. Kaio picks up number 8 on senshuraku.

Sekiwake Kisenosato has got to step up. Japan is banking on two rikishi right now: Kisenosato and Goeido, which means that the Kid will receive plenty of love in the press and plenty of recognition if he starts off fast. He'll have everything in his favor, and an Association on his side, but Kisenosato's inability to score a truly huge win in the last year or so is what has held him back. Winning 9 but losing to the top four doesn't cut it. The Kid has to start going 2-2 against the best if he hopes to replace Kotomitsuki. It will give the nation something to rally around, but I don't see Kisenosato winning 10. Give him the usual nine.

It will be interesting to see how Sekiwake Kotoshogiku reacts after Kotomitsuki's departure. Add that to the fact that he was one on the initial list of rikishi who would probably be under house arrest for this basho, but somehow he got out of it. I don't remember the details; I just remember Sadogatake-oyakata defending his guy and saying that he would participate in the basho. I just think too many things have hit too close to home for Kotoshogiku to concentrate in Nagoya. 7-8 wins.

Komusubi Hakuba flat out does not deserve his rank, and I can't believe the Association rewarded him with a sanyaku berth. Course, they oyakata obviously had other things on their minds the last few months like "how are we going to cover all of this up." On one hand, I want to say that Hakuba will be exposed, but on the other hand, plenty of rikishi have been dumb enough to constantly fall into his trap, so why would anything change? I see Hakuba actually flirting with kachi-koshi but falling short in the end.

Komusubi Tochinoshin seems to have finally come of age. He didn't look intimidated at all last basho as he pilaged and plundered the Ozeki ranks, and I expect great things from the Georgian again. Shin will have that brutal week one schedule, but I think he can win 3 of his first 7 and then sail from there. Give the Private 8 wins.

M1 Tochiohzan is another rikishi who has come of age. Like Tochinoshin, this guy was useless among the jo'i for the longest time, but he has figured things out and is no longer afraid to go chest to chest with the big boys. An isami-ashi loss to Kotooshu was the difference between kachi-koshi and make-koshi last basho, but Oh doesn't make that mistake again. Eight wins supplanting Hakuba as a Komusubi for Aki. Counterpart Asasekiryu showed very well last basho, but there's a huge difference between M4 and M1. You make that run for the sanyaku from the M4 rank. From the M1 rank, you just hope to survive. Sumo's remaining Asa is lackluster with 5 wins.

M2 Aran is a huge wildcard. He was fantastic last basho, but he was also ranked at something like M10. Who can forget his 1-14 showing the last time he was this high. I can't. I don't think the Russian has overcome his jo'i demons as Tochinoshin and Tochiohzan have, so look for him to wilt and dry up like a nightcrawler in the hot sun. No real comment on counterpart Aminishiki, whose status has been "just there" the last few basho.

Kyokutenho and Tokitenku are not exactly the guys you want to see rounding out the jo'i, and my feeling is that the two will get pasted in Nagoya. Nine wins between them.

Goeido checks in at M4, but with Kotomitsuki gone, he is now the highest-ranked rikishi who will be forced to sit out the Nagoya basho for his involvement with gambling on baseball. It's my opinion that Goeido was the key factor for not expelling all of the rikishi who gambled on baseball. While he hasn't lived up to his potential of late, you just can't afford not to have this guy around in the future if you're Japan. Counterpart Kitataiki would normally be primed for that M4 run, but with Goeido's absence, he becomes the 16th man on the charts meaning he rounds out the jo'i. It will be fun to see how he does, but my man comes up short of kachi-koshi with 6 wins stemming from well-fought bouts each day.

Both M5's, Toyonoshima and Miyabiyama, will sit out, but that's not a huge loss.

M6 Kakuryu is primed for a huge basho if he wants it. He has nobody around him, and he will be spared the jo'i, so I expect the Kak to climax at about 11 wins. Counterpart Toyohibiki will sit out due to gambling.

M7 Wakanosato is done. Even a year ago, Croconosato would have KK'd at this rank, but he is running on fumes. I see him struggling again to the tune of six wins. Counterpart Tokusegawa is an interesting rikishi who is slowly but surely rising up the ranks. I like Tokusegawa to make a run at Nagoya using his large body and great technique to capitalize on the utterly weak competition around him. 9-10 wins.

M8 Wakakoyu will sit out for gambling, but unlike Tokusegawa, he's not ready to make a run from the mid-Maegashira ranks yet. Counterpart Yoshikaze was on the list and back off the list for rikishi banned from fighting this basho. The board of directors actually met to specifically examine his case, but they finally determined his sins didn't warrant a kyujo. Still, I don't see how he isn't affected by the current scandal in Nagoya, so I see Yoshikaze limping home with just seven wins.

M9 Shimotori would normally make-koshi at this rank, but with a lot of the mid-rank beef being sidelined under house arrest, Shimotori will likely overachieve in Nagoya...which means eight wins for him. Counterpart Kakizoe should capitalize here, so watch him break free from his usual 7-8 win rut and actually win nine!

I like Mokonami in the M10 rank. I believe that generally the foreign rikishi will suffer less from what's going on, so I see Mokonami hustling his way to a fairly early kachi-koshi. Counterpart Tosayutaka showed promise a few basho ago, but he has struggled recently. I see him rebounding in Nagoya to pick up at least a kachi-koshi.

M11 Takekaze is a toss-up regardless of where he's ranked, and counterpart Takamisakari is no longer a shoe-in to kachi-koshi from the bottom third. I don't see either of these guys winning more than nine.

Which brings us to M12 Gagamaru, our lone rookie this basho. Course, we're already familiar with Gentleman Gaga as he fought multiple times in the division last basho seemingly unfazed as he won his first two bouts only to fall to a pull down at the hands of Hokutoriki later on. And that will be the key to his success right there...avoid the tachi-ai henka and pull-downs. Chest to chest, this guy would win 12-13 bouts from this level, but the problem is his opponents will not always accommodate. Gagamaru's fat for sure, but he still moves well, so I expect him to have the best record this basho from the Maegashira ranks. When was the last time a rookie performed well earning him a kantosho? I can't even remember the last time it happened, but Gagamaru has a great shot to do it. 10 wins in a stellar debut. Counterpart Kokkai is as unpredictable as the next sumo scandal, so no further comment.

And speaking of unpredictable, M13 Homasho checks in near the bottom of the division. It used to be that Homasho would score double-digit wins this low, but ain't so now. Homie's overall health has to be questioned as well, and not having read any keiko reports regarding him of course, I have no idea, but my guess is he struggles to get eight. Counterpart Kimurayama is the poster child for dudes who struggle to win eight. In fact, Kim has never scored kachi-koshi in the division, so why ruin things now? As detailed in Kenneth Starr's report (remember all of that?!), Kimurayama's tachi-ai has a sharp curvature to the left. Another painful 7-8.

What happened to M14 Tamawashi? He was headed for the sanyaku six months ago, but has all but sucked since then. Tamawashi has a great sumo body, but he was listless in May managing only 3 wins from the M7 rank. Let's wait and see how he performs the first few days, but I don't expect greatness from The Mawashi. Seven wins. Counterpart Okinoumi is the final Makuuchi rikishi who will be forced to skip the tournament due to betting on baseball.

M15 Bushuyama makes his return to the dance and not a basho too soon. What, without even a live broadcast to go by, you can imagine what the daily reports are going to be like this basho, so making references to Bushuyama's rack will be high on the priority list. Give Dolly eight. Has counterpart Hokutoriki lost that step to where the Lil' Yokozuna can no longer bully the guys at this low level? Let's hope so. Give him his eight though.

I still remember M16 Tamaasuka making his Makuuchi debut in Nagoya five years along with Hakurozan. Tamaasuka was extremely talented and looked to have a very bright future in the sport, but he suffered a knee injury shortly thereafter, and has never been the same. It's gonna be a struggle again I'm afraid. Seven wins. Speaking of knee injuries, counterpart Shotenro showed serious promise until a knee injury of his own suffered near the end of last year has completely derailed the Mongolian. Shotenro struggled last basho in the Juryo ranks and somehow managed a promotion with an 8-7 record from the J2 rank, but we'll just have to wait and see how healthy he is in Nagoya. Don't get your hopes up. 6-7 wins.

That's a wrap on the rikishi who will participate, but this is going to be a crazy basho where anything could happen considering the circumstances. We will try and cover the action daily, but it will depend on our access to the bouts. Watch our forum for a posting from Mario (Kajiyama) around day 1 on accessing the daily wrap-up. The good doc should come through for us as long as NHK makes good on that digest program and broadcasts it overseas.

Finally, since everything has gone to hell the last few months, we thought we'd shake up the reporting order to counter. Martin has your back on day 1, and we'll see what happens from there. Here are my predictions for the basho:

Yusho - Hakuho
Shukunsho - none
Kantosho - Gagamaru
Ginosho - Tochinoshin (had to pick someone besides Kisenosato for once)






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