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2014 Nagoya Post-basho Report (Page 2)

On that note, let's move to the individual rikishi and break down their tournaments starting with Yokozuna Hakuho who finished 13-2. It is my opinion that Hakuho is indeed the greatest rikishi to have ever graced the dohyo, and I think that if you placed him in the same environments that Taiho and Chiyonofuji fought in, he would be able to surpass their results. Having said that, Hakuho was not fighting at 100% in Nagoya, and no, that wasn't due to injury. I've been saying the last few years that I believe Hakuho has lowered the bar in regards to his sumo in order to give the appearance that the rikishi around him are at least sorta in his same league, and Nagoya was another example of where he left openings here and there, took a few losses for team Japan, and then ultimately walked away with the yusho at 13-2. Part of Hakuho's greatness lies in the fact that he can actually go out and give himself a two-loss handicap and still take the yusho without serious threat. It's probably a good thing that I didn't comment on the days when Hakuho lost, but just consider the winning technique in the Goeido bout: abise-taoshi. That kimari-te is rarely seen just because it's so hard to pull off. You literally have to be so strong that you can body your opponent over and down in the center of the ring without using a throw or a trip and in the case of Goeido, without even using the inside position to set it up. Hakuho simply runs circles around the competition in victory and in defeat, and that's part of what makes him so great.

Before I comment on Harumafuji and Kakuryu, I must reiterate my take after Kakuryu first received promotion to Yokozuna that we will never see all three Mongolian Yokozuna post records worthy of a Yokozuna in the same basho. It's not that they can't; rather, it's in order to maintain a semblance of balance and parity among all of the jo'i rikishi, which actually doesn't exist. Yokozuna are expected to post records worthy of the yusho which is 13 wins or higher, and so if all three of these guys did that and amassed 39 wins at a tournament, that leaves too few wins to go around elsewhere. I don't think we'll be hearing too much criticism from the YDC if the Mongolian Yokozuna are finishing with 11 wins per basho, so Harumafuji's 10-5 is par for the course. He was greased by both Oguruma boys that resulted in losses, he gave up wins to Osunaarashi and Kotoshogiku, and then he was defeated by Hakuho on senshuraku. Thing is...he was just going through the motions and he still defeated everyone else. I can easily tell if Harumafuji is serious about a basho if he sticks to a single attacking style like consistent nodowa from the tachi-ai or a lower charge focused on fighting from the front of his opponent's belt. When he's kinda all over the place and even mixing in henka himself, he's just lowering the bar a bit.

As for Kakuryu, it's really the same story: strategic losses to Osunaarashi (for what reason, I don't know) and Goeido and then losses to both Yokozuna. Other than that, he sleepwalked his way in Nagoya, gave up a few bouts here and there, and still finished 11-4 without trying. Just think about all it takes to get a guy like Kisenosato or Goeido to 11 wins and the Mongolians look sloppy and lethargic and can pull it off basho after basho. If you're scoring at home, not only would you not be reading this, but you'd see that the three Mongolians check in with 34 wins among them or average record of 11.3 wins apiece. They tallied 34 wins last basho as well, so expect that to be the baseline from here on out.

Ozeki Kisenosato was never quite on this entire basho finishing 9-6 thanks to a gift from Yokozuna Hakuho. Consider this: he was defeated in seconds by Goeido and Kotoshogiku in the same manner where those two dudes got an arm in early at the tachi-ai and defeated the Kid in moments. To think that Hakuho couldn't have done that as well is insulting. Further consider the picture at right. Hakuho is actually parallel to the dohyo! The only guy who can do that to the greatest of all time is Hakuho himself, not an inflated 9-6 Ozeki. Kisenosato's feet are crossed, his right hip is not driving into Hakuho, which is normal for a kote-nage, and the "throw" is entirely with one arm.  Show me other kote-nage bouts where the defeated ends up parallel to the dohyo with neither foot digging in. It's physically impossible for Kisenosato to execute such a throw from his position, especially against a guy like Hakuho.  Like this victory, I didn't buy a lot of Kisenosato's wins and then in defeat, he just got his ass handed to him. There was nothing to celebrate regarding Kisenosato in Nagoya.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku was a bit better, but I got tired of myself crying foul during many of his bouts during weak one. I think the key this basho was to get Kotoshogiku to eight wins as soon as possible, and once that mark was hit, dude went 4-3 the rest of the way. I understand that the competition was better in week two, but the Ozeki was fed Osunaarashi and Takayasu two of the final three days, and even then, I thought Osunaarashi went way soft on his kachi-age at the tachi-ai. Coulda been nerves from the Ejyptian, but I noticed a definite pattern of a lot of guys going soft against the Geeku. That he was in the yusho race until senshuraku was due to Hakuho's dropping down two notches and not due to a single big win from the Geeku.

If you revisit my list of Ozeki promotions on the previous page, you can go right down the line (skipping over Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku) and recall how truly great the runs were for each rikishi. And it wasn't just that they finished with over 33 wins; it was how they were picking up wins. I mean, we knew Hakuho was better than the Ozeki when he was a Sekiwake just by the content of his sumo, and his ascendancy to the Yokozuna rank was a given. With Goeido, there was no signature sumo that pervaded his performance the full fortnight. He looked great against Kotoshogiku on senshuraku and then got his ass handed to him by a four-win Ikioi. When I don't see consistency to a dude's sumo, I don't buy his 12-3 performance, and I will say right now that serious yaocho is going to be required to keep this guy up around numbers worthy of an Ozeki, and we can only wait and see if they'll hype him as a future Yokozuna. I guess with Tochiohzan's injury and Goeido's dominance over Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku that you'd have to call Goeido the best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke at the moment, but that is one scary prospect if it's really true. Is it clear just how big the divide is between the Japanese rikishi and the foreigners when Goeido is your flag bearer?

I can't remember a basho where the Komusubi actually made an impact, but they're in a tough spot. They can't beat the Yokozuna and they can't beat the three Japanese Ozeki ifyaknowhadduhmean. Aoiyama let up against all three and still finished 6-9. Noted gachinko, Aminishiki, pasted Kisenosato but did little else limping home at 3-12. The Komusubi rank has become a non-factor in sumo.

The only notable rikishi ranked M1 thru M3 was Osunaarashi who checked in at M3 in the West. I just don't feel as if we got a good sense for what he could do this basho, however, due to those curious wins over the two Yokozuna and then the two fat-free performances against Goeido and Endoh two of the next three days. In the way that I analyze sumo, I simply can't break him down. I watch him on day 3 with moro-zashi against Kisenosato; then give it up; then settle into hidari-yotsu where he goes for the right outer grip three times and then just moves his hand back every time before standing straight in front of the Ozeki as he's forced out. His tachi-ai was soft against Kotoshogiku, so there's six bouts he was involved in where the sumo didn't make sense to me. While he's still raw and will get beat by the veteran Japanese rikishi at times (Takekaze and Myogiryu were legit), my opinion is that he's better than anything the Japanese rikishi got. Osunaarashi was the perfect example this basho of why I loved watching the first hour of the broadcast and loathed the final 30 minutes for the most part.

M4 Takekaze's 9-6 effort is likely good enough to see him into the Sekiwake ranks for Aki. Dude had too many henka for my liking, but I liked how he put some of the youngsters in their place like Osunaarashi and Takayasu while putting Myogiryu's good basho in a bit more perspective. I've been talking about how weak the banzuke has been for awhile, and seeing the two words "Sekiwake" and "Takekaze" together for the first time will only enforce that stance.

I hate it that I'm starting to hate M5 Endoh. Okay, I don't hate the kid himself, but I'm really getting tired of this caricature that the media has completely manufactured. Endoh hasn't done shat in this division; he doesn't have a single signature win; and he cannot win eight legitimate bouts ranked M5 or above. Yet, dude has more kensho marched around his bouts than a Yokozuna who just picked up his 30th career yusho. Am I the only one who thinks there's something terribly wrong with that picture? Endoh is quickly becoming the next Goeido. Remember how pumped we were when Goeido first entered the division? I even went as far as to say if Japan produces a Yokozuna in the next 10 years, his name will be Goeido. I can't remember what year I said that in, but it's safe to say that prophesy will be fulfilled (or more likely won't...which means it will if that makes sense).

Anyway, Goeido couldn't handle the early hype and fell down as far as the Juryo ranks for a spell. They won't let that happen to Endoh, but it's the same scenario. The kid showed early flashes and great technique at the belt, but the guys around him are simply bigger and better. At some point, it's also gotta mess with your head when a guy like Takarafuji has you all but slapped down and then suddenly stops and stands straight up letting you force him back without argument because you don't know what's up or down anymore at that point. We have a guy who contributes reports in Swedish named Stefan Hager, and he's been doing it for years, and Stefan will sometimes add a few extra comments in his emails to me. Dude is straight as an arrow in terms of accepting everything that happens on the dohyo at face value, but he even emailed me on the day Endoh beat Kaisei and said, "You know, it actually looked like Kaisei didn't try today." Ya think?

I don't think rikishi like Endoh or Goeido or Kisenosato know going in that they're going to be gifted a win, but they have to know after the fact. And I think it really messes with their heads. They don't know how good they really are, and how will they know if a move they tried in a bout they won due to mukiryoku sumo on the part of their opponent is really effective or not? I think it's a real predicament for these guys because they want things to be straight up yet they know they're not worthy of all the hype that's been given to them. That would grind on anyone mentally. Anyway, Endoh will likely find himself in the sanyaku next month as the final Komusubi, but everyone knows including him that he doesn't deserve it.

My favorite rank of the hira-maku, M6, did not disappoint this basho. Terunofuji from the East finished with a 9-6 record, and you can't help but to watch him fight and think, "Damn, he's a beast." The elders on the board must watch a guy like this and think, "Why can't we produce one of these?" And it's only going to get worse starting next basho when Ichinojo--another Mongolian--makes his debut. Terunofuji threw Endoh around like a chew toy on day 1; he defeated Osunaarashi in a straight up affair between the two thugs; he toppled Myogiryu despite giving up moro-zashi; and hey, he even learned how to throw his first bout against Goeido on day 14! This kid is the complete package. He will likely win with the inside position, and he's pretty damn good even when he gives up moro-zashi. The only way to really beat him is to make him move laterally and try to sneak in for the cheap win. He'll figure out how to defend that too in short order, so watch out for this kid.

On the other side of the aisle, Myogiryu had a great basho finishing 11-4 which should see him make a return to the Sekiwake slot alongside Takekaze. I do think he'll struggle up that high, however, because there will be too many trees that outweigh him at that level of the banzuke. Humor me and entertain this next thought as well: if there are bouts to be thrown the last 30 minutes of the day (and there will be), they won't be wasted on Myogiryu.

Let's conclude this nonsense by touching on two more rikishi the first of which is M11 Takayasu who used an 8-0 start to keep himself on the leaderboard late in week 2. On one hand, I was quite excited for the kid because I've rooted for him since he first entered the division, but on the other hand, it's hard for me to hype a former sanyaku rikishi who wins in double digits low on the banzuke. Had he defeated the likes of Myogiryu (11-4), Jokoryu (10-5), Kotoshogiku (12-3), or even Takekaze (9-6) when the pressure was high on senshuraku, it would have been one thing, but he really didn't come close in those bouts and only beat up on the dross of the division. Let's grade him for real when he fights among the jo'i again.

Finally, I'll conclude with M17 Arawashi who had his best basho in the division finishing 10-5. I think what I enjoyed about his sumo the most was that it was all legitimate. After a rough start (he was 1-3 after four days), Arawashi found his groove with quick tachi-ai that enabled him to get established on the inside, and then he was great at the belt the rest of the way finishing 9-2. Watching guys like Arawashi or Sadanoumi fight of late remind me when I used to attend the sumos in Kyushu. I'd usually arrive at the venue around noon and then watch the non-sekitori division from the front row. I noticed quickly that some of the best sumo you'll ever see occurs in the Makushita jo'i. These are the guys who are on the brink of finally earning a paycheck, and the sumo in the upper ranks of the Makushita division is simply cutthroat. It really was my favorite part of the entire day, and watching guys like Arawashi and Sadanoumi kind of reminds me of that hunger displayed by rikishi trying to establish themselves on the banzuke. I even found myself enjoying Tokitenku this basho because in that dude you have someone who is on the brink of demotion from the division, and so you can see his desire to win and continue to pull that Makuuchi paycheck.

The upper Makuuchi division is largely being fueled by politics these days, and we rarely see a bout that is actually enjoyable. As a result, the interest for me right now starts early on in the broadcast and then starts to wane right about the time the high profile rikishi start walking down the hana-michi. And I don't see anything changing in the near future, so consider yourself warned for Aki.

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