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2015 Nagoya Pre-basho Report

I find that when I comment on a lot of days during a basho that I sort of run out of gas when it comes to producing a post-basho report, and while that unexpected finish to the Natsu basho where Sekiwake Terunofuji picked up his first career yusho was tempting, there just wasn't anything new to say. Either that, or I felt the conclusion was so far-fetched that I didn't want to touch it. And I wasn't the only one who didn't participate in post-basho festivities.

The Sumo Association didn't even bother sending an oyakata over to NHK for their traditional hour-long Sunday Sports program the evening of senshuraku where they interview the yusho rikishi in studio. I'm trying to think if they have ever not sent an official from the Association to Sunday Sports before, and I just can't think of a previous basho where they didn't. At least send over a dude no longer affiliated with the Association with some credibility like Mainoumi or Kitanofuji, but instead of an official representative from the Association, we got these two losers for the Sunday Sports broadcast:

The guy on the left is Sumotalk unfavorite Demon Kogure Kakka who has a terrific voice but terrible sumo takes. He was flanked by a guy named Sugifuji or something like that, but I didn't even bother looking him up. I mean, you show up to a professional broadcast company like NHK wearing a blazer decorated with large stars or a custom Burger King crown, you have no credibility. If I went out in public dressed like either of these two clowns, I'd get my ass kicked...and rightly so! I mean, just look at those two.  I think they'd actually get made fun of at a gay pride event.  The point I'm trying to make here is that I think the Sumo Association wanted to stay as far away from the ending to that basho as possible because that comeback for Terunofuji was indeed "staged" by the Hakuho camp, and I suppose it was hard for me as well to really take it seriously to the extent that I wanted to do a post-basho report.

And just because Hakuho stepped aside and gave the yusho to Terunofuji, it shouldn't belittle in any way just how potent Fuji the Terrible has become. I had sent signals during the Natsu basho that Terunofuji's first yusho would come before year's end, but even I didn't think that he would be set up at the Natsu basho like that. Still, I base a lot of my comments on precedent, and we have certainly seen precedent where Hakuho will step aside and let an emerging rikishi take the yusho and / or receive promotion to an elite rank. I don't really like that this happens, but if you lower the bar for the Japanese rikishi, it only seems natural that the up-and-coming Mongolian rikishi will take advantage, and that's exactly what Terunofuji did in May, so props to Fuji the Terrible for his first career yusho and subsequent promotion to the Ozeki rank.

With that said, let's now turn our focus towards the pending Nagoya basho where I have seen a wide variety of headlines surrounding a good mixture of rikishi, so instead of focusing on he headlines one by one, I will weave in what's being said in the media as I comment on the various rikishi populating the banzuke.

Let's start from the top with Yokozuna Hakuho who has been making the usual PR calls for the Association. He's also been practicing a new tachi-ai that was employed by Futabayama, the sport's 35th Yokozuna. I guess Hakuho figgered since he's going for career yusho 35 this basho that he would adopt something from the style of the sport's 35th Yokozuna. The fact that he can actually do this and still come in as the heavy favorite to yusho is just ridiculous. Just imagine Jordan Spieth saying, "Okay...I now have two golf majors...Jim Furyk has two golf majors, and so in order to honor Jim, I'm going to adopt his swing at the British Open." Hakuho's ability to change his style like this on a whim and still yusho just demonstrates how dominant he is in the sport. He has not lost a step and still holds all of the cards every basho. Terunofuji may have something to say about that in a few years, but Hakuho is still the man.

As for his new tachi-ai which he intends to employ during the tournament (probably for PR more than anything), it's called "Ato no saki," or last is first. Supposedly, the guy doing the tachi-ai charges late (or last) thus reading his opponent's move and then seizes the advantageous position first. To me, it's just another gimmick that Hakuho can get away with and still yusho if he so chooses, and we'll see if the media continues talking about this new tachi-ai during the tourney. As for his performance in Nagoya, I'm going to predict a 13-2 record on his way to the yusho.

I really don't have anything new to say about Yokozuna Harumafuji. I think the Yokozuna is actually getting better by having Terunofuji in his stable, but unfortunately, I think Harumafuji will still come in as a role player going through the motions and doling out strategic losses. I look for HowDo to check in with about 11 wins and have another ho-hum basho that won't be criticized by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council because the Japanese Ozeki suck so bad.

Yokozuna Kakuryu is on record as saying there's a 95% chance that he makes his return at Nagoya. I read where Mainoumi is of the opinion that Kakuryu should consider retirement if he isn't able to fight for the third basho in a row. Just having that out there puts a bit of pressure on the Yokozuna, so let's see how he responds at Nagoya. From what I'm reading, his left shoulder is still bothering him, but he's in shape enough to throw his mage in the ring. I expect a ton of ring rust from Kakuryu, and when you have a slew of Japanese rikishi who need wins, it should be easy pickins against the Kak. I look for him to finish with eight or nine wins and struggle in his return.

In the Ozeki ranks, Kisenosato is being primed to take his first ever yusho. I'm not sure why there's all this excitement surrounding him in the media, but it's tangible. I guess the Kid had success against some of the Yokozuna during pre-basho keiko although his wins over Hakuho came with the Yokozuna dicking around with that new tachi-ai. Kisenosato also turned 29 a few days ago, and with his not getting any younger, he's really gotta yusho in the next year or it won't happen. I don't want this to sound like a prediction, but don't be surprised if Kisenosato takes the yusho in Nagoya. In all reality, my opinion is that the kid is good for four wins or so all on his own at this level, but look for him to flirt with 11 - 12 and possibly more. The pre-basho hype surrounding him is definitely there in the funny papers for whatever reason.

Next up is Ozeki Goeido, and it always makes me chortle when I read the headline, "Goeido looking to make a comeback this basho," (they use the word fukkatsu). Come back from what?? The dude has never won more than eight bouts as an Ozeki, and we all know that most of those wins are due to his opponents letting up. This is a perfect example that if you say something enough times in the media that people will actually start believing it. To say that Goeido is ready to make a comeback implies that he was once great or dominant. Trust me when I say he was never great and he was never dominant. This is just a PR ploy to give the appearance that Goeido is a credible Ozeki when he really belongs down around the M6 rank. I see the Father struggling yet again to reach eight wins, especially if they're going to buoy Kisenosato up a bit more.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku comes in kadoban, and the dude is really a sick dog that needs to be put down. It's harsh to say, but it's just ridiculous to watch them prop this guy up. Kotoshogiku is useless at this level, and he could maybe generate two wins on his own...with two henka. Let's just see what happens here in Nagoya, but the Geeku resembles Kaio when that great Ozeki was in his final few basho. I suppose they're going to keep him alive and active, so give him eight wins with none of them deserved.

Remember that old Sesame Street song, "Which one of these, is not like the other?" That's Terunofuji in a nutshell ranked as an Ozeki. This dude is the second best guy in sumo hands down, and it wouldn't surprise me at this point to see him actually ranked as Yokozuna at the end of twenty fifteen. Hakuho has never stood in anyone's way when they've legitimately risen up and threatened the Yokozuna rank, and after watching Hakuho gift Terunofuji the yusho in May, there's no indication that he's going to make Terunofuji earn anything by going through the Yokozuna. As I stated in May, look around on the banzuke and tell me who Terunofuji will have trouble with besides Hakuho. There's no one there, and so unless the Ozeki starts giving out freebies, he's going to win 12-13 by default. His only loss the last two basho that wasn't a fluke came against Hakuho. I mean, you had guys like Sadanoumi and Tokushoryu topple him, and then there was the diarrhea incident against Kaisei.

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