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2013 Nagoya Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
The two major headlines heading into the Nagoya basho are Kisenosato's run at the Yokozuna rank and Sokokurai's return to the sport after being banished for allegedly participating in fixed bouts. Sokokurai's return is meaningless in terms of his contribution to the basho. He wasn't making waves when he was booted out of sumo, and until he starts making some noise, he's just another blob on a banzuke that ain't much to write home about. I think the bigger story regarding Sokokurai is why was he excommunicated based on one bout of sumo? When a Tokyo judge ruled that the Sumo Association's evidence was insufficient, the ruling was based on a single bout, and I don't know how you kick a guy out of sumo for just one bout. I would love to know the Association's ulterior motive when they cleaned house two years ago, but with no connections to the inside of sumo, it's not even worth speculating on.

So that brings us to Kisenosato and his run for Yokozuna. I think the best way to analyze this storyline is discuss the situation of M6 Baruto. Yesterday, the former Ozeki sent a shockwave through the sport by submitting his kyujo papers. Initial reports said that he could come back mid-basho, but now on the even of the tournament I'm reading that he needs about two more weeks to recover. Regardless of whether or not he shows up in Nagoya, Baruto is just 18 months removed from his first and only career yusho. I think that's significant because Ozeki are always gifted at least one yusho during their career. The only Ozeki who didn't receive the favor was Miyabiyama, but he fell from the rank in just over a year never to make it back, so there wasn't time to have him earn his rank, which is translated into English as "champion."

The point is that all Ozeki have traditionally been given at least one career yusho, so they don't have to retire without having their portrait hang in the Ryogoku Kokugikan rafters. So the question becomes are Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku going to get theirs? It's a fair question because the number one item on sumo's wish list is a Japanese rikishi yusho, but the Ozeki has got to do most of the work himself, and then his peers should cooperate in the end or perhaps the Ozeki has to buy people off as was likely the case with Kotooshu and his yusho. The Bulgarian's yusho came out of nowhere, and we saw sumo that was simply inexplicable and just didn't register, so when Wakanoho came out a few years later stating that he was paid to lose his day 1 bout during that basho, it all made sense.

Anyway, the big question that I have is will the tradition continue where Ozeki are given a token yusho? Now would be the time do it for sure, but as I stated last basho, you just can't hand someone the Yokozuna rank if they can't sustain that level of sumo for the foreseeable future, so it will be interesting to see how Kisenosato handles the pressure in Nagoya. I'm not saying at all that he's going to be handed the yusho, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him hoisting the cup in the end because tradition has always seen that Ozeki retire as champions.

With that said, let's examine the key rikishi this basho, which means we won't go much lower than the top seven guys on the banzuke. As is usually the case, Yokozuna Hakuho holds all of the keys this basho, and you never know when he's going to step back. It was curious to see that he ended his pre-basho workouts without sparring against a single rikishi he's going to face in Nagoya. The press was making a big deal out of it, and I don't know if that's coincidence or if Hakuho is saying right now, "I'm not going to yusho this basho." The last time Hakuho made a huge run in terms of consecutive wins, ticket sales and TV numbers went into the tank, so I'd be surprised if we saw another 15-0 yusho from the Yokozuna. There's not doubt in my mind that Hakuho could go 15-0 if he wanted to this basho, but I just don't think he's going to do it this time. Having said that, he's the obvious pick for the yusho, so I'll say that he hoists the cup two weeks from now with a 13-2 record.

If Hakuho doesn't yusho in the end, the odds are about 75% that Harumafuji will. In a telling keiko session a few days before the basho, Harumafuji worked Kisenosato in 13 bouts of keiko before the Ozeki was forced to retire from the session with pain in his leg. I haven't read anything else about Harumafuji, but if there are Yokozuna on the banzuke, it's a rarity that one of them doesn't yusho, so look for Harumafuji to be a playuh this basho. I see him winning 12 - 13 bouts.

That brings us to Ozeki Kisenosato and this supposedly magical run at the Yokozuna rank. The pros are that sumo needs this promotion to happen, and they need a Japanese rikishi to yusho. The cons are that Kisenosato just isn't that good and he's done nothing in the past to indicate that he's ready to yusho. Yeah, I get it that he won his first 13 bouts last basho, but it was against a crap basho, and he was obviously handed a few of those bigger wins. This basho I think the banzuke is even worse, so really, if Kisenosato doesn't start out 13-0 again, it's an underachievement. I don't know what's going to happen this basho, but the Ozeki hasn't gotten any better. The key term this basho is "tori-koboshi," which is a term used to indicate an elite rikishi suffering a boneheaded loss early in the basho. I don't see Kisenosato dropping one early, but I think his wins are going to feel forced, especially in week 2. I'm going to say the Ozeki finishes around 11 - 12 wins, but nothing will surprise me at this point.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku should have a repeat performance of his Natsu basho. In other words, he cleaned up on crappy rikishi and then lost to the elite rikishi in the end. I see him winning 10 or 11, and we'll see how seriously Kisenosato takes him this time around.

Ozeki Kakuryu's place in sumo right now is as a role player, and I don't see that changing in Nagoya. Give the Mongolian 10 - 11 as I expect him to cooperate late in week two.

Ozeki Kotooshu has become a useless rikishi, and like Baruto, he's just an injury away from retirement. Just watch how all of the other Ozeki do with this weak banzuke, and then watch Kotooshu struggle mightily with it. Look for another quick start followed up by horrible losses as he checks in with nine wins in the end.

Warning...the talent level drops off significantly at this point. Actually, I was being nice to Kotooshu by reserving that statement until after we discussed him, but the point it there is nothing to get excited about from here down to M3 where the wildcard, Chiyotairyu, sits. The Sekiwake ranks are populated by two Sakaigawa-beya rikishi in Myogiryu and Goeido, and it says a lot about this banzuke that Goeido actually suffered make-koshi last basho and still maintained his rank. There just wasn't anybody to promote in his place besides Myogiryu, but these two rikishi don't strike fear in the guys above them. I expect both Sekiwake to kachi-koshi but only by the skin of their teeth.

The Komusubi don't usually give me a stiffie, but seeing Shohozan and Tokitenku in that rank is going to turn me into a eunuch. All I can say is this is the best they could do? Unfortunately, yes.

I really don't think there's value in discussing more Maegashira rikishi than you can count on one hand. I of course love Chiyotairyu in the M3 rank, and I will be rooting hard for this guy to succeed. He's got Ozeki power and then some, so let's just hope he focuses on forward-moving sumo. I think Chiyotairyu's success is key to maintaining an exciting basho because there just isn't anyone else besides Kisenosato who can grab the fans' attention. I'm hoping we see the freight train Chiyotairyu who can win 9 or 10, not the pull-happy version who can only win six in that condition. He's your wildcard this basho.

Normally, M6 Baruto would garner discussion, but we've already mentioned that he's likely out for the duration, and if so, he'll be demoted to the Juryo ranks for Aki.

There really isn't anyone else worth discussing until you get all the way down to M15 Sokokurai, and even then, I found myself passing over his keiko reports for the most part. I really don't care about him until he starts exhibiting some game in the division. I expect him to be rusty in Nagoya because he's not going to have that ring sense right off the bat, and if that's the case, he suffers make-koshi. I think the only thing that gives him a chance of kachi-koshi is the banzuke is much weaker than when he left, but let's just wait to see how he moves when it really counts.

M16 Tokushoryu is are only rookie in the division, but not having seen him fight yet, I'll have to reserve comment until after the tournament starts. Remember the four rookies last basho? Neither do I because none of them are back in the dance for Nagoya. Juryo is just not pumping out quality rikishi, but hopefully Tokushoryu will be a breath of fresh air.

I anticipate a mirror basho of the Natsu basho, so here are my predictions:

Yusho:  Hakuho (13-2)
Shukunsho:  None
Ginosho:  None
Kantosho:  Chiyotairyu






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