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Roundtable Report

The Natsu basho provided a glimpse of how exciting this sport can be if all of the top-ranked rikishi are present.Of course Musashimaru was out, but all four Ozeki and Yokozuna Asashoryu duking it out the last few days didn't suck.Dare I suggest that in Nagoya six of the top six rikishi will be healthy and rearing to go?If so, we'll have our best basho and first Yokozuna taiketsu since last year's Aki basho.

 

I'll start at the top with Asashoryu, who took the yusho with a 13-2 record.This was a huge yusho for the Yokozuna because it proved to everyone that his promotion to the rank was legitimate.I liken Asashoryu's run to the Yokozuna rank to that of former Yokozuna Wakanohana, who showed that it is possible to become Yokozuna if the timing is right and you do it when the other heavyweights are injured.However, unlike Wakanohana, Asashoryu has won a tournament in the top spot in only his second try, and this yusho is just a foreshadowing of a great career to follow.Like him or not, Asashoryu is going to dominate this sport for the years to come.He's taken three out of the last four yusho, and even with Musashimaru back, Asashoryu is still the favorite to win.

 

Asa's performance this time wasn't without controversy however.In consecutive bouts against Takamisakari and Tamanoshima, Asa continued to fight after the bell so to speak by giving Takamisakari a shove after both rikishi were out of the ring and on the kokugikan floor, and then continuing to push Tamanoshima back after the Maegashira had clearly stepped out of the ring.The controversy came to a head on day 9 during and after Asa's loss to fellow Mongolian Kyokushuzan.Asa's antics included chastising Kyokushuzan on the dohyo for baiting Asashoryu into a false start, questioning the ringside judge after the bout as to whether or not Kyokushuzan's foot had stepped out, and ripping his sagari (those little rope things that hang from the rikishis' belts) out of his belt like a whip towards Kyokushuzan.The criticism continued the next day as Asashoryu stared down Dejima before their bout.

 

My take on all of this is: so what?I do think that Asa needs to control his temper, especially with his demeanor towards those above him (like the ringside judges), but I love to see a rikishi absolutely pissed off when he loses. I think the press and general public in Japan will continue to harp on Asashoryu because subconsciously, they don't like to see a foreigner dominate their sport and do it with such an f-you attitude.Has everyone forgotten the style of Chiyonofuji so quickly?Chiyonofuji would stare you down before the bout, kick your ass during the bout, and wouldn't just beat you, he'd humiliate you with the way he won.The BBC contacted us at sumotalk.com for an interview request regarding Asa's gaining a John McEnroe like reputation in the sport.I think that's a perfect comparison.Like John McEnroe, Asashoryu has a temper; like John McEnroe, Asashoryu's got that killer instinct; and like John McEnroe, Asashoryu backs it all up on the playing field.You can't argue with someone who wins, and Asashoryu wins emphatically.Since there's no such thing as bad publicity, if anything the controversy surrounding Asashoryu is good for the sport.Expect Asa's critics to continue to find fault with him, and expect Asashoryu to continue to pile up the yusho.†††††

 

Back to the tournament itself, early on it was evident that Asashoryu was in top form, which spells trouble for the rest of the field.Unlike his performance in Osaka, Asashoryu had that fire in his eyes from day one, and it showed as he plowed his way to a kachi-koshi by day eight.Asashoryu did lose his cool and the bout against Kyokushuzan on day nine, but that was enough to inspire him in week two as he looked impressive manhandling everyone except Kaio.When Asashoryu faces the likes of Kaio and Musashimaru, he can't go for the knock out punch so to speak right from the get go.He's got to use his speed and mobility to secure an outer grip, run his opponent around a bit, and then use his sumo instinct to finish them off.It'll be interesting to see how he approaches his bout with Kaio in Nagoya.He can't belly up to him or he'll lose again...and the same goes for Maru.Asashoryu finished the tournament with a respectable 13-2 record that was two ahead of second place Kaio.

 

Ozeki Kaio was his usual self: catch-up sumo the entire way and just falling short at the end.Do you realize that if both Dejima and Tochinonada were injured the last two basho we'd probably be talking about Yokozuna Kaio?In both March and May, Kaio lost on days one and two to Tochinonada and Dejima essentially eliminating him from the yusho race just like that.Kaio rules the roost among the Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Sanyaku, but it's those "box of chocolate" losses that Kenji talks about that keep him from greatness.Kaio is better than everyone else for twelve days of the tournament, but it's those other three days that keep him from standing on top.Look out for Kaio in Nagoya though; I say he's the favorite going in if he can start off 3-0.Kaio finished with a respectable 11-4 record that included a dominant victory over Yokozuna Asashoryu on day 14.Kaio is the one who we need to speculate about becoming the sport's next Yokozuna, not Chiyotaikai.

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai finished with a respectable 10-5 record, but he lost his last three bouts of the tournament putting to rest any speculation whether or not he's Yokozuna material (he's not).Chiyotaikai is as solid of an Ozeki as you can ask for, but he performs best when there are no expectations on him.Chiyo's strength is his ability to beat the rank and file rikishi every time.His weakness is his incomplete sumo that puts him in big trouble when he faces someone well-rounded that isn't fazed by Chiyo's tsuppari.Chiyo should constantly win in double-digits, and he's good enough to pick up a yusho once every two years, but I think it's best if he fights in the shadows.He may get that chance in Nagoya: no Yokozuna expectations and the return of Musashimaru will take the spotlight off of him.

 

Ozekis Musoyama and Tochiazuma both eked out 8-7 records to keep themselves from falling out of the Ozeki ranks although their roads to the kachi-koshi were quite different.Musoyama was 3-6 at the end of day 9, and he still had two Ozeki and Asashoryu to face.In my day 9 comments I went as far to say that Musoyama would be Sekiwake next tournament, but he proved everyone wrong by making an incredible 5-1 run over the last six days losing only to Asashoryu.I have to hand it to the guy, he looked good the second half of this tournament.My only question is why can't you fight like that the whole tournament?Musoyama is my favorite rikishi of all time, and it's obviously not because of what he's done the last few years.I'd love to see the Musoyama of old rise up again and show us all what real power sumo is about.

 

His counterpart Tochiazuma picked up his eight wins in less dramatic fashion, but he got the job done.I just can't get his day 14 bout against Miyabiyama out of my mind.That's the bout where Tochiazuma clinched his eighth win by nearly jumping out of the dohyo himself at the tachi-ai causing Miyabiyama to fall flat on his face.It's sumo like that that makes it hard for me to root for this guy.Normally, I love the underdog (in this case, the under-sized rikishi like Tochiazuma), but I can't get excited about someone who resorts to such cheap tactics when he doesn't even need to.Come on Tochiazuma...you can beat Miyabiyama straight up.Knock of the hiki crap.Tochiazuma had only one win by yorikiri, and he was completely dominated by the cream of the crop.Who will ever forget his classic bout with Asashoryu in January of 2002?That may be the best bout of the decade so far, and what made it good was the bloodied Tochiazuma's absolute refusal to lose.He won the bout by yorikiri incidentally.†† We need to see more of that type of sumo from him, not the cheap pull-down stuff.

 

The two Sekiwake contributed two decent performances.Wakanosato was exactly where he should be at 9-6.Well, actually he should have had a better record than that, but he suffered a four bout losing streak in week two that took the momentum out of him.This guy is still the ultimate barometer of the sanyaku, however.His sumo is solid enough that you have to bring your a-game to beat him--and yusho--but he has too many slip ups that keep him from being crowned Ozeki.Dejima put forth a valiant effort but came up just short going 7-8.His 2-7 record over the last nine days killed him, but this was a case of Dejima's leg injury catching up to him.A 7-8 record as an injured Sekiwake is not bad at all, and sure Dejima will drop to Komusubi for Nagoya, but he's still right in the thick of things.

 

Komusubi Kyokutenho had a break out basho in May.He looked solid as ever going 10-5 and capturing a deserved special prize (I'd say Ginosho would have been more appropriate than the Kantosho).Kyokutenho will jump to Sekiwake for Nagoya and demand consideration to the Ozeki rank if he keeps this up.The unwritten rule is 33 wins in three consecutive basho from the sanyaku, so he's off to a good start, but I think it's still unrealistic for him to win 11 and 12 over the next two basho.His loss on day 15 to Toki just killed him in respect to a run to Ozeki, but this guy is solid.Typical of most Mongolians, he has a boatload of waza he can throw at you that combined with his height and his strength make him a presence now in the sanyaku.Kyokutenho is the leading candidate for Ozeki now in my mind.The other Komusubi, Tosanoumi, had a break down basho only managing 4 wins.This is uncharacteristic of the hardest worker in the division, and Tosanoumi will fall hard in the rankings, but expect him to knock on the sanyaku door again within the next few basho.

 

In the Maegashira ranks, Aminishiki was tops coming in at 11-4 and capturing a well-deserved Ginosho.He was poised to have the same kind of basho in Osaka, but he was injured in week two and had to withdraw.He could be knocking on the sanyaku door, and he'll definitely get the opportunity in Nagoya fighting probably from the M1 slot.Aminishiki's only drawback is his size, but he more than makes up for it with speed and technique.Also having an excellent--if not rather quiet--basho was M5 Miyabiyama who finished at 10-5.Miyabi's 0-3 start left him in the shadows the entire basho, but he'll be right back at the top of the Maegashira ranks for Nagoya.Remember he was right there in January when he suffered that ankle injury that dropped him way down.This former Ozeki will get a shot at all the big boys next basho, so we'll see if he's worthy of the sanyaku again.

 

M1 Tochinonada started strong on his way to an 8-7 mark.His three wins against Ozeki should be enough to bump him up to Komusubi for Nagoya.He deserves the promotion for his efforts the last two basho.We'll see if he can establish himself as a sanyaku mainstay.His counterpart M1 Takamisakari just couldn't get anything going after racing out to a 3-0 start.A 1-8 slide beginning on day 4 took the air out of his tournament, but he still stays on top as crowd favorite.In his bout on senshuraku against Dejima, he exhibited brilliant sumo to pull out the come from behind win.

 

Okay, I've put it off long enough: Kyokushuzan shocks the world capturing a kachi-koshi, a kinboshi, and a sansho all in the same basho.His eight wins are the reason for the improved dental work in my picture (due to my limited access to editing software in Japan, if someone wants to give me a better gold tooth, let me know).I don't really have anything new to say about Kyokushuzan's performance.It was as ugly as my grin.Here's the bottom line with this guy: I can't remember a single decent win, but I seem to be able to recall a heckuva lot of pull down upsets.Kyokushuzan will be at it again in Nagoya facing off against the jo'i.There's NO way he pulls off eight wins again.

 

Toki had a good basho slapping his opponents down to a 10-5 record.He's stuck in that endless cycle: nowhere good enough to stay among the jo'i but just good enough to sucker the bottom feeders into his slap-happy style boosting him up the banzuke elevator only to make-koshi his way back down.Buyuzan started off hot and was actually in the yusho hunt after 11 days, but as is usually the case he got his butt kicked when paired against the better competition the last four days.He finishes at 9-6, but this guy is actually good enough to work his way up to the jo'i (he won't stick once there).

 

In other topics, Asasekiryu picked up is first kachi-koshi in the division.He's slowly improving his tachi-ai.Kasugao suffered his first make-koshi as a sekitori.What's up with this guy and his obsession with the kubi-nage (neck throw) this basho?Did he not attempt that throw in every single bout?He better cure that bad habit fast or he's headed straight for Juryo.And look out because Asanowaka's back in Makuuchi for at least one more basho.Can someone tell me how he wins without spreading his fingers a single moment during his bouts?

 

We had a good basho in May, and I've got high expectations for the tournament in Nagoya.It really should be a barnburner with Musashimaru back and four healthy Ozeki.Also, like Osaka the Nagoya basho tends to have some interesting twists and surprises.If I can go out on a limb and make another "this-will-never-happen-or-else" statement it's this: if Musoyama takes the yusho, my alter ego "Michele" will take over my column for a month complete with photo gallery.Stay tuned.

 

Day 14-15 Comments

Days 14 and 15 brought some surprises to this basho, although the final outcome was no surprise at all.Day 14 was highlighted by the Asashoryu-Kaio match up, which promised to be a power-sumo struggle.Asashoryu had stayed perfect after his slip-up against Kyokushuzan, and Kaio had just dominated Chiyotaikai the day before to keep himself within arm's reach of the yusho.

 

Both rikishi displayed a strong tachi-ai with Asashoryu grabbing the quick right-hand outer grip.Kaio began to press Asa to the edge of the ring when Asashoryu attempted an ill-advised kote-nage throw.Kaio is too big and strong even for Asashoryu to throw without a completely dominant hold on the belt--which Asa didn't have.The result was Asa losing his outer grip, Kaio gaining his coveted migi-uwate, and the Yokozuna being thrown clear from the dohyo.With the impressive win, Kaio moved to within just one loss of Asashoryu.

 

In the previous match, Musoyama, whose back was against the wall with seven losses, was faced against Chiyotaikai.Musoyama charged hard and fast at the tachi-ai not giving Chiyotaikai any chance whatsoever to fire off a single tsuppari.Musoyama was up and under Chiyotaikai in a flash when Chiyotaikai put his hands on the back of Muso's head to try and pull him down out of habit, but Musoyama was in complete control.Chiyo was backed to the edge of the ring with both feet firmly planted on the tawara to keep himself from going out; however, Musoyama just threw him aside like a rag doll keeping Musoyama from losing his eighth and knocking Chiyotaikai from the yusho race just like that.

 

Tochiazuma displayed the absolute worst sumo of the basho on day 14 to pick up his eighth win.Faced against Miyabiyama, Tochi completely backed up and stepped aside at the tachi-ai to pick up the cheapest kachi-koshi possible.Tochi may have won his eight, but it wasn't deserved.Here's some advice for the Ozeki: try fighting like a man.Just ridiculous.Kenji and I harp a lot on Chiyotaikai, but Tochiazuma's sumo is worse; he's just not in the spotlight enough.

 

Wakanosato finally picked up his kachi-koshi against Dejima, who looked as if he took a gratuitous fall to pay back Wakanosato for losing to Musoyama.While we're on the subject of fixing bouts, do I think bouts are fixed?Yes.Do I care? No.If the Sumo Association was behind it--which they aren't--then sumo would be nothing else than a mutant form of pro wrestling, but if the rikishi get together and decide to trade wins and losses, there's nothing you can do about it.I don't think it cheapens the sport because no one will give away a win unless they can afford to.In other words, any rikishi who still has a shot at the yusho will never lose on purpose.

 

Which brings us to an interesting story line for day 15: Kaio vs. Musoyama.Kaio came into day 15 as the only rikishi left who could still capture the yusho from Asashoryu.Musoyama came into the day 7-7 and matched up against his good friend Kaio, who had the chance of sending Musoyama packing from the Ozeki ranks.I'm sure Kaio had a fitful night's sleep.There's no doubt in my mind that Kaio had every intention of winning the match coming in, but when it actually came time to perfom, it wasn't pretty.Musoyama charged hard again at the tachi-ai and kept Kaio at bay with his tsuppari (remember, Musoyama's seldom used tsuppari are second only to Chiyotaikai's in effectiveness).Kaio never did look comfortable as Musoyama worked his way inside where he was able to throw/pull Kaio down with little problem.At that instant, Kaio was eliminated form the yusho race, and Musoyama wrapped up an improbable kachi-koshi to keep himself in the Ozeki ranks for at least two more basho.

 

With Kaio's loss on day 15, Asashoryu picked up the yusho without even having to fight.However, he needed to be look impressive against Taikai to put his stamp on his performance over these 15 days.Asashoryu charged hard at the tachi-ai, and like Musoyama the day before, came in so fast that Chiyo wasn't able to fire off a single tsuppari.Asa quickly had both arms under Chiyotaikai's armpits and just flung him off the dohyo for an impressive win.This was a huge yusho for Asashoru because it is his first as a Yokozuna.

 

As improbable as Musoyama's kachi-koshi was, Kyokushuzan may have done him one better by pulling out eight wins himself.Are you kidding me?What's next...Komusubi Asanowaka?As promised, I will darken out my front tooth when I publish my basho roundtable and leave it that way for a month.Kyokushuzan was even awarded the shukunsho for beating Asashoryu on day 9.That has got to be the ugliest sansho performance I've ever seen, but he proved me wrong.

 

As for the sansho prizes, Kyokutenho picked up his second kantosho in as many basho posting double-digit wins.Kyokutenho did lose on day 15 after having a firm outer grip on Toki's belt, however, to leave him with a sour taste in his mouth after an otherwise spectacular performance.That loss to Toki was huge because it virtually eliminates him from Ozeki consideration over the next two basho.Kyokutenho was forced to give an interview after the bout because he won a special prize, but he had difficulty even saying one word.I don't blame him.Losing to Toki after grabbing the uwate?That's as bad as betting Kyokushuzan can't win 8 fighting among the jo'i.

 

In other big news, Akinoshima suffered his eighth loss on day 14 sealing his retirement from the sport.It was a great run for the former Sekiwake, and one wonders what would have happened if Gojoro hadn't performed so cheaply the day before.Punk.

 

Kenji and I apologize that these reports were so late.Kenji is enjoying a long holiday away from a computer, and I flew to Japan just in time to catch the last few bouts on day 14 (from the airport tv, not the kokugikan).Look for our roundtable reports in the next few days (and my missing front tooth), and if anyone would like to send in their own roundtable report, we'll gladly publish it on our Viewer's corner page.

 

Finally, congratulations to Anjoboshi of Austria for coming out of nowhere to win our third Fantasy Sumo contest.Around the same time the Sumo Association announces the actual banzuke, we will release our own version of fantasy sumo players.The banzuke will reflect fantasy performances for the last two basho, and extra consideration will be given to those who participated in our very first contest.

 

Day 13 Comments

Wow, what a fantastic day of sumo!There's nothing better than seeing the Ozeki and Yokozuna face off with the yusho on the line.Asashoryu guaranteed himself at worst a playoff for the yusho in his win over Musoyama, but with a two-loss lead with two days to go, I'd say it's all but over.

 

Musoyama put up a worthy fight, but Asashoryu's sumo is just too good, and his split decision-making in exploiting his opponent's weakness mid-bout was the difference.Both rikishi fought hard at the belt from the tachi-ai until Asashoryu executed a perfect leg trip to topple his larger opponent.Asashoryu is now 12-1 and leads the rest of the pack by two. Musoyama falls to 6-7, so this is it: he must win his remaining two to stay at the rank.

 

In the penultimate bout, Kaio downed Chiyotaikai for the fifth time in a row to spoil Chiyo's hopes for the yusho and more importantly, his hopes for Yokozuna promotion.Chiyo came hard with the tsuppari, but Kaio is too strong and just absorbed the abuse like a mule in the middle of the ring until he caught Chiyo off balance and pulled him down.Chiyo is a warrior indeed, and he's still young; but for now, he doesn't look like a Yokozuna.Kaio now ties himself with Chiyo at 10-3 and both rikishi must beat Asashoryu to set up a possible three-way playoff on senshuraku.

 

Ozeki Tochiazuma finally forced out Tamanoshima after a lengthy struggle to notch is seventh win against six losses.It's just one more to go and keeps his rank.Tamanoshima falls to 6-7.Miyabiyama has come out of nowhere to post nine wins against four losses by manhandling Wakanosato.Miyabi came out pushing and never let Wakanosato get close to his belt.Miyabi dictated the pace and was awarded with the win.Wakanosato still sits on seven wins.

 

Wow, Kyokutenho is really establishing himself as an Ozeki candidate.After being dangerously pushed to the edge of the ring by the bowling ball Dejima, he dug in, grabbed Dejima's belt, and showed his yotsu-zumo prowess by muscling Dejima out.Kyokutenho should be awarded a special prize this basho.He goes to 9-4; Dejima stands at 7-6.

 

Tochinonada outlasted Tosanoumi in one of the best matches of the day to earn his kachi-koshi and a sure birth in the sanyaku next basho.He'll take over Tosanoumi's slot who falls to 3-10.Tosanoumi put in a great effort today--as he always does; he just came up short against the larger Tochinonada.

 

In other Maegashira bouts, Aminishiki picked up his ninth win against four losses making him a viable candidate for the ginosho.Toki evened his record with Buyuzan slapping him down silly; both rikishi are 9-4.And finally, Gojoro is a piece of crap.Facing Akinoshima, who must win eight or retire, Gojoro jumped way out of the way at the tachi-ai to easily push Akinoshima down.Just great.Is that one win so important as to take away the chance for a veteran to continue.Just an awful win Gojoro.Both rikishi are 6-7.

 

Day 11 Comments

Today was an all around solid day of sumo capped off with an amazing win by Asashoryu.Chiyotaikai looked solid, and all the Ozeki who weren't fighting each other won today.There were no significant changes in the leader board, but there is one surprise: Buyuzan, sitting in the Maegashira 12 slot, continues his torrid pace keeping himself one off the lead in the loss column.

 

I just can't say enough about the sheer determination to win exhibited by Yokozuna Asashoryu.Matched up against Sekiwake Wakanosato today, Asashoryu was on the ropes big time, but he dug down deep and pulled out the win keeping him atop the leader board with only one loss.As expected, the tachi-ai was solid with Asashoryu grabbing the quick migi-uwate.Wakanosato shifted his body, however, and cut off Asa's grip (uwate o kiru) leaving the two in the hidari-yotsu position.At this point, Waka had the clear advantage as he had his head buried under Asa's jaw, and Asa was standing too upright (koshi ga agatte iru).Wakanosato drove Asashoryu to the edge of the ring, but Asa arched his back and somehow grabbed the inside grip with both arms on Wakanosato's belt.Now in the morozashi position, Asa counterattacked driving Waka to the other side of the ring where he forced him down to the dirt for the victory.I know I've said this a million times, but if it's any other rikishi today, Wakanosato gets the win.Asashoryu jumps to 10-1, whereas Wakanosato is denied his kachi-koshi falling to 7-4.

 

While we're on the issue of the Yokozuna, the press in Japan is still harping on his behavior.I saw some criticism of Asa's demeanor against Dejima the day after his loss because he was "staring Dejima down." That's strange, I can't ever recall ex-Yokozuna Chiyonofuji ever staring his opponent down, nor did ex-Yokozuna Akebono ever get into a stare down match with Takatoriki.All I can say is Asa's critics better get used to his antics because he's going to be around awhile and dominate the sport.

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai dominated fellow Ozeki Tochiazuma to keep himself one loss behind Asashoryu.Chiyo dictated the match from the tachi-ai with his patented tsuppari, and there was little Tochiazuma could do.Chiyo drove Tochiazuma to the edge of the ring where Tochiazuma tried a last-gasp jump to the side, but Tochi's foot stepped out in the process.At 9-2, Chiyotaikai will have his hands full tomorrow and on day 13 when he will face Dejima and Kaio respectively.If either of those bouts is forced into yotsu-zumo Chiyo will lose, so he's got to come hard with the tsuppari andnever let up.Tochiazuma at 6-5 is still not out of the woods yet for that coveted 8-win mark, but at least he's got the three other Ozeki out of the way.

 

Ozeki Musoyama was impressive today against M4 Kotonowaka pushing him down and out of the ring with his strong tsuppari.He never gave Kotonowaka the chance to grab at his belt, and that was the key. Kotonowaka still looks good at 6-5, but Musoyama is still in deep trouble.He stands at 5-6, but he has to go 3-1 over the final four days against Wakanosato, Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Asashoryu...ouch!

 

Ozeki Kaio easily pulled down M3 Kyokushuzan today to earn his kachi-koshi.Kyokushuzan came out with his usual morote where he puts both hands at his opponent's throat, but Kaio just slapped the Mongolian down with little effort.Kaio has Mr. Ippun tomorrow, which could spell some trouble for the slightly injured Ozeki.Kaio's got to save up as much strength as possible for his epic match ups with Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai on days 13 and 14 respectively.Kyokushuzan falls to 5-6.

 

Sekiwake Dejima had surprisingly little trouble pushing out Tochinonada to creep ever closer to that eight win.He stands at 7-4, which is an excellent record fighting in the jo'i while injured.If Dejima can win three of his next four, I say he deserves the kantosho.Tochinonada probably fell out of the running for the shukunsho with his loss today, but 6-5 in the jo'i is nothing to cry about.He'll be a thorn in the sanyaku side in the basho to come.

 

In the battle of the two Komusubi, Kyokutenho exhibited his superior technique to capture his seventh win against four losses.I think Kenji is correct that he is soon to be a serious Ozeki candidate.This guy has the total package as shown by his oshidashi win today.It's back to the drawing board for Tosanoumi who suffered his eighth loss today, which will drop him back down to the hiramaku.

 

Don't look now, but M12 Buyuzan is making some noise from the bottom ranks.He's sure to be paired with members of the jo'i for the last few days where he'll probably fall out of the yusho race, but a 9-2 record from anywhere on the banzuke is fantastic.Buyuzan bullied Akinoshima today handing the veteran a costly sixth loss.Akinoshima can only afford one more or he's the next rikishi to retire.

 

Those Maegashira inching closer to that coveted eight win mark with 7-4 records are M5 Miyabiyama, M7 Aminishiki, and M10 Kotoryu.Currently, Buyuzan and Toki are the only Maegashira rikishi to have already won at least 8.While we're on the topic of side burns, M14 Takanotsuru thankfully withdrew from the tournament after losing 10 straight (11 if you count his default loss today).Things were getting just plain ugly with this heavyweight who looked so good in his Makuuchi debut in January.He cited an injury to his...er...uh...something or other as the reason for withdrawal.

 

Stay tuned everyone because this basho should really heat up the last four days.I say that a 13-2 mark guarantees the yusho.

 

Day 9 Comments

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Asashoryu storms out to an impressive 8-0 start looking invincible; he then unexpectedly stumbles to a hiramaku rikishi which ends up infuriating him to no end; he's got the red ass for the remainder of the basho where he cleans up on the rest of the field going 14-1.It's dťjĀE vu all over again.The only difference this time around is he's going to have to face Chiyotaikai and Kaio the final two days.I give Asa the advantage over Kaio this tournament just because Kaio's not 100%, but it's 50-50 with Chiyotaikai if they go into senshuraku separated by one loss or less.

 

In the final bout of the day, fellow countryman Kyokushuzan stunned...no wait...toppled...no wait...backed up sufficiently enough after the tachi-ai to pull Asashoryu down to the dohyo before the Yokozuna could drive his senpai out of the ring.The key point to the bout was prior to the tachi-ai when Asashoryu committed a false start and finished it off by knocking Kyokushuzan on his butt.He immediately extended his hand and helped Kyokushuzan up, but I think this whole process disrupted Asashoryu's rhythm and mindset coming into the bout.In the real tachi-ai, Asashoryu didn't come as hard, and Kyokushuzan backed up after the initial hit pulling Asashoryu to the dirt.Asa made a frantic attempt on his way down to push Kyokushuzan's leg out first, but Kyokushuzan wasn't exactly at the ring's edge, which gave him enough room to easily evade the Yokozuna's outstretched arms.Had Asashoryu not committed that false start, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have won today.Nevertheless, Asashoryu suffered his first loss on day 9 bringing him back to the pack with only a one loss lead over the likes of Chiyotaikai, Kaio, and Wakanosato.

 

Kyokushuzan picks up his fifth kin-boshi overall and ups his record to 4-5.Is it possible Kenji jinxed me by reminding us of the promise I made that if Kyokushuzan wins 8, I'll blacken out a front tooth in my picture for a month?Asashoryu faces Dejima on Day 10, and normally this would be a huge challenge, but with Dejima's bad leg and Asashoryu's current rage, I don't think tomorrow's match is close.The look on Asashoryu's face after the loss today told it all.Look out Dejima.Maybe this is a kick in the butt that Asa needs heading into his remaining bouts with Dejima, Wakanosato, and the four Ozeki (barring injury to anyone).

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai avenged his loss last basho to M3 Tamanoshima by steamrolling him out of the ring with his usual tsuppari.The tachi-ai was solid and looked the same as last basho, only today Chiyo continued pushing his opponent instead of backing up and trying to pull him down.Chiyo's sticking to his bread and butter paid off as he dominated Tamanoshima.Chiyo looked sharp today, but how is he going to fare when he faces someone he can't bully?I guess that loss to Wakanosato on Saturday is still fresh on my mind.Chiyo moves to 7-2 and is still in the running for a consecutive yusho.Despite the loss, Tamanoshima is holding is own among the jo'i standing at 5-4.

 

Ozeki Kaio pulled down Komusubi Tosanoumi to keep himself in the hunt as well at 7-2.There were no cheap tactics here; Kaio just took what his opponent gave him.We all know that Tosanoumi's bad habit is charging with his head too low, and after a solid tachi-ai from both rikishi and some tsuppari exchanges in the middle of the ring, Tosanoumi's head was so low that Kaio slapped him down without even moving out of the way.Who's the hottest rikishi in the field?Kaio has a seven match win streak, which does nothing but build up his confidence going into week 2.Tosanoumi slips to 3-6.

 

In the first match-up between fellow Ozeki, Musoyama and Tochiazuma both displayed their bad habits before Tochiazuma eventually won the match.The bout began with a solid tachi-ai, and as both rikishi were jockeying for position, Tochiazuma attempted to pull down his opponent; however, Musoyama didn't fall for it and ended up driving Tochiazuma dangerously close to the ring's edge.I say "dangerously close" because with Musoyama it's not over until his opponent has actually stepped out, and as is usually the case, Musoyama allowed Tochiazuma to somehow evade his charge at ring's edge and turn the tables by pushing Musoyama out.Not a pretty win, but Tochiazuma will take anything he can get.The kadoban Ozeki now stands at 5-4.Folks, allow me to be the first to introduce our new Sekiwake Musoyama who currently maintains a 3-6 record.

 

Sekiwake Wakanosato was nails today as he showed the difference between a legitimate Ozeki candidate and someone trying to break into the sanyaku by forcing out crowd favorite M1 Takamisakari.Waka really gave his opponent no chance today muscling him from the tachi-ai, grabbing his belt, and forcing him back before he could counter.With Takamisakari, it seems the longer the yotsu-zumo bout lasts, the better his chances to win become.Wakanosato dominated today, however, putting him not only in good position to start a new run to Ozeki, but keeping himself right on the heels of the leader at 7-2.Takamisakari falls to 4-5.

 

Sekiwake Dejima made short work of M2 Takanonami.Dejima's got the much taller Takanonami's number.The tactic is simple: charge hard at the tachi-ai and use your brute strength to drive up under your opponentís armpits forcing him to back up and out of the ring.At 6-3, Dejima inches that much closer to the eight-win mark.Takanonami falls to 2-7 and just doesn't seem to care this basho.

 

Komusubi Kyokutenho showed that good technique is better than brute strength as he forced M5 Miyabiyama out to capture his 5th win against 4 losses.This was yotsu-zumo from the get go, which favors the Mongolian.Kyokutenho is right on pace for his usual 8-7 mark.Miyabiyama dips to 5-4.

 

As for the rest of the Maegashira, M12 Buyuzan and M11 Toki lead the way with 7-2 records apiece.Buyuzan manhandled M9 Jumonji today cooling Jumonji's run off a bit by pushing him out with seemingly little trouble.Jumonji suffered his second loss in as many days dropping him to 6-3.Toki used the seldom seem hikkake to twist down M12 Aogiyama leaving the kaeri-nyumaku with a paltry 3-6 record.

 

In surprising fashion, M4 Kotonwaka pushed out (yes, I did say pushed) M1 Tochinonada to improve to 6-3.Today marked another win for Kotonowaka in under five seconds.I wonder if I jinxed Tochinonada the other day by saying he was one of the top three in the field.Since then, he's responded by losing two days in row to fall to just 5-4.M7 Aminishiki was impressive again today finishing of the struggling M11 Shimotori for his 6th win against three losses.Ami is ready to join the jo'i next basho.Shimotori at 1-8 will get a little relief tomorrow as he faces M14 Takanotsuru, who at 0-9 is showing no resistance.I don't think I can recall a bout where Takanotsuru actually tried to grab his opponent's belt.He's going south in a hurry.

 

And last but certainly not least, M15 Akinoshima stands at 5-4 after forcing out the aforementioned Takanotsuru.The grizzled veteran needs just three more wins to stave off retirement.

 

Day 7 Comments

After the first week of sumo, the leaderboard is exactly as everyone expected.Asashoryuís perfect record thus far gives him sole possession of the top spot with Chiyotaikai keeping pace at just one loss.A host of rikishi led by Kaio, Wakanosato, and Tochinonada are within striking distance with 5-2 records. Week 2 is shaping up to be a dandy.

 

Today, Yokozuna Asashoryu was perfect again has he fought off Tamanoshimaís charge with effective tsuppari until he could grab the larger rikishiís belt.Though Asa was backed up slightly at first, he never was in trouble and picked his spot perfectly to go for Tamanoshimaís belt.Asa secured the moro-zashi grip (inner grip with both hands) and easily forced his opponent out to keep his record spotless at 7-0.Tamanoshima falls to a respectable 4-3.Like his match yesterday, Asashoryu continued to fight his opponent after he was already out of the ring.Yesterday, Asa gave Takamisakari a shove even though both rikishi were clearly out of the ring, and today he swiped at Tamanoshimaís leg after Tama had already stepped out.This trend has been drawing some criticism, but today I think it was a matter of Asa wanted to make sure his opponent was finished.I think itís a sign of complete mental toughness; and while Asashoryu isnít nearly as graceful in victory as predecessor Takanohana, heís developing his own unique style that lets his opponents know who the boss is.Asashoryu will have a tough test on day 8 as he faces the red hotóand much largeróKotonowaka.Kotonowaka beat the Yokozuna last basho, so revenge should be on Asashoryuís mind.Heís really got his work cut out for him though as Kotonowaka is just too heavy to move back with tsuppari, and anything can happen when fighting Mr. Ippun at the belt.Donít be surprised to see an upset on day 8 although how often does Asa lose to the same rikishi twice?

 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai looked solid again today shoving pint-sized Kaiho out of the ring in two shoves.Chiyo was simply overwhelming moving his record to 6-1, and itís great to see this kind of sumo from him.†† Granted, his opponentís size today was a big factor in the way he won, but no one has more effective tsuppari than Chiyotaikai.I expect Chiyotaikai to keep pace with the Yokozuna all the way to senshuraku setting up an epic match between the two on day 15.Kaiho stands at a dismal 2-5.

 

Ozeki Kaio was beaten todayĀErĀEhĀEon today after a moni-ii declared him the victor in his bout with Wakanosato.As expected this was power sumo at its best with neither rikishi allowing the other to gain an outer grip.Kaio eventually pushed Wakanosato to edge of the tawara and was on the verge of finishing him off when somehow, Waka evaded the charging Ozeki and managed to move out of the way throwing Kaio down and out in the process.It clearly looked as if Wakanosato had won; however, two ring-side judges called for a mono-ii, and the cameras showed that Wakanosato barely stepped out of the ring before Kaio hit the dirt.It was the correct call giving Kaio the yori-kiri (force out) win.Both rikishi are still in the hunt at 5-2.

 

Ozeki Musoyama was perfect against Kyokushuzan pushing the Mongolian out with ease.Thereís not much to say about this boutĀEyokushuzan didnít side step at the tachi-ai, and Musoyama took advantage by plowing the smaller rikishi out.Musoyama picks up an important win; however, he still stands at 3-4.Heís got to go on a hot streak before he faces his fellow Ozeki and the Yokozuna in week 2.Kyokushuzan stands at 2-5.

 

Ozeki Tochiazuma assured us that day 7 would not be the day when all Ozeki finally won on the same day.He was baited into Takanonamiís meat hook trap (I wonít bother describing it), which allowed the Maegashira to trip the Ozeki in the middle of the ring with an impressive sotogake move.This was a costly loss for Tochiazuma who now falls to 3-4 with a lot of ground to make up in order to keep his Ozeki status.Takanonami notched only his second win to go to 2-5.

 

Sekiwake Dejima fell today to Komusubi Tosanoumi in a surprising yotsu-zumo bout between the two.Neither gave an inch at the tachi-ai, so the two bellied up in the middle of the ring for some good íol belt sumo.Theirs was one of the most entertaining matches today with Tosanoumi picking up a rare yori-kiri victory.Dejima falls to 5-2, which all but eliminates him from the yusho race, but still keeps him in great shape to nab that kachi-koshi.After a rough start, Tosanoumi improves to 3-4

 

Komusubi Kyokutenho was beaten handily today by the mammoth M1 Tochinonada to fall to 3-4.Tochinonada is the dark horse this basho.Heís already fought the four Ozeki and Asashoryu, so heís got it relatively easy the rest of the way.At 5-2 he is still a major contender for the yusho.In my opinion, Tochinonada is the third best rikishi in the field right now behind Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai.Keep your eye on him.

 

In the Maegashira ranks, M4 Kotonowaka handed M1 Takamisakari his fourth loss in as many days to the disappointment of the sold out crowd.At 5-2, Kotonowaka is having an excellent basho thus far, and he should provide a huge challenge to Asashoryu tomorrow.Kotonowaka hasnít skipped a beat in nearly a decade always keeping himself in the high Maegashira ranks.Takamisakari fell to 3-4.M5 Miyabiyama made it four in a row today against M6 Kasugao after losing his first three bouts.Miyabiyama was to attend a friendís wedding party that night, so he said he was determined to pull out a win, so he wouldnít have to face his friends having lost.Kasugao falls to 2-5.

 

M7 Aminishiki handled the hard charging M12 Buyuzan today to even both rikishisĀErecords at 5-2.Aminishikiís technique has been excellent the last few basho, which will reward with a date amongst the joíi for next basho.M9 Jumonji continues to surprise moving his record to a stellar 6-1 by defeating the veteran M15 Akinoshima in a torinaoshi.In the first bout, it was vintage Akinoshima throwing his opponent down with the kubi-nage throw at the edge of the ring; however, a mono-ii correctly showed that both rikishi hit the dirt at the same time.Jumonji won the second bout causing Akinoshima to drop to 4-3.

 

Whatís happened to M14 Takanotsuru?Heís only won 4 of his last 23 bouts in the division.Today he fell to M9 Iwakiyama dropping his record to 0-7.Takanotsuru was born with a deformed foot, which may be the reason he has absolutely no de-ashi this basho.Heíll have to work things out in Juryo come July.Iwakiyama improves to 3-4.Also in the stink-it-up department, M11 Shimotori was handily beaten by M13 Yotsukasa to fall to 1-6.How does Kotoryu feel right about now being the only one to lose to Shimotori?Okay, I may be a littler harsh here; after all, Shimotori is coming off an injury last basho, but if he doesnít pick things up in a major way, heíll be joining Takanotsuru in the Juryo ranks in Nagoya.

 

Day 5 Comments

We're one third done, and we've only got one rikishi left with a perfect record in Asashoryu.We can usually make a forecast by day five as to the top contenders for the yusho.They include Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, and the surprising Tochinonada.Kaio, Tochiazuma, and Wakanosato are on the fence with Dejima falling off hard today.

 

Asashoryu was good as gold again today as he smartly defeated the much taller Takanonami with tsuppari.With Asa's short stature, the last thing he wanted today was to get into a yotsu-zumo struggle with the veteran Takanonami who likes to wrap his meat hooks over the top and latch onto your belt.Asa came out of the tachi-ai with a solid nodowa (push to the throat) that moved Takanonami back a few steps.He next came in with some fierce shoves that subsequently knocked Takanonami out of the ring in short time.There is a huge difference in the way Asashoryu is winning this basho in comparison to his performance last basho.He's got that same tenacity in him that he had during his run to Yokozuna not to mention a one-win lead over the rest of the pack.That's huge because it's hard to make up ground on a Yokozuna.

 

Chiyotaikai finally put his pull-down demons behind him today when squared against Tosanoumi.For the last several basho he's faced Tosanoumi, he has simply backed up at the tachi-ai and let Tosanoumi do his thing...fall forward on his face.But there was no way he could have down it again today and still kept any hopes alive for Yokozuna promotion.The thing is, as he proved today, he doesn't NEED to pull Tosanoumi down.Chiyo's the all around better rikishi and can put Tosanoumi away quite easily with his vicious tsuppari.Great job today Chiyo, although you have got your hands full tomorrow with one of the hottest rikishi there is.How ironic was it today that Chiyotaikai won as soon as Tosanoumi went for the pull down move?Tosa was rewarded with a hard shove off the dohyo that sent him sprawling upside down off the clay.Chiyotaikai stands at 4-1 with Tosanoumi struggling at 1-4.

 

Kaio had his best bout of the tournament so far forcing out Komusubi Kyokutenho with relative ease.This promised to be a great yotsu-zumo bout, but Kaio secured the left outer grip from the get go and just used his weight and strength to push Kyoku out with his body.Kaio's leg injury isn't allowing him to throw down his opponents, but all he needs is the uwate, or outer grip, and he'll be fine.Job well done for the Ozeki who now moves to 3-2 after a shaky 0-2 start.Kyokutenho falls to 2-3, but things will get easier from here on out as he has faced most of the Ozeki and Asashoryu.

 

Musoyama was dominated by Tochinonada today, but with Musoyama's shoulder problem, there is just no way he could attempt to throw the mammoth Tochinonada.A healthy Musoyama and the current Tochinonada may have produced one of the best bouts of the tournament, but with Musoyama's injuries, there was little he could do.Take absolutely nothing away from Tochinonada, however, as he is powering is way through the jo'i.Today's win makes Tochinonada 3 for 3 against the Ozeki, and he will try and make it a perfect 4 for 4 tomorrow against Chiyotaikai.That will definitely be the highlight bout of the basho so far.That may determine who is still contender for the yusho and who falls to pretender.Musoyama slips to a dangerous 2-3, whereas Tochinonada shines at 4-1.

 

Standing ovation for Ozeki Tochiazuma today.He absolutely dominated Takamisakari giving the crowd nothing to get excited about.The two rikishi met head on at the tachi-ai with Tochiazuma gaining a secure left outer grip.This gave Takamisakari his coveted right inside grip on the belt; however, Tochi's arm was pressed so tight against Takamisakari's arm, there was little the Maegashira could do with it.Before Takami had any time to think of his next move, Tochinoda threw him down emphatically to earn his third win against two losses.Takamisakari falls to the same record, but he needs to keep his head high...he's definitely holding his own among the jo'i.As a side note, Takamisakari brought a blue towel with him to the dohyo today.Yesterday, he forgot to psyche himself up because he didn't realize it was time to fight, so by bringing the towel, he was given a reminder by the yobi-dashi.Classic Takamisakari.

 

Sekiwake Dejima suffered his first loss today being pulled down by Tamanoshima.Tamanoshima stopped Dejima in his tracks at the tachi-ai, and when Dejima went for a second push, Tama moved to the side and pulled down the injured Sekiwake.It was smart sumo displayed by Tamanoshima who moves up to 3-2.Dejima stands at 4-1.Tamanoshima is just too big for Dejima to move with bad wheels.Fellow Sekiwake, Wakanosato, won today by default as the ailing Kotomitsuki withdrew from the tournament.Kotomitsuki will continue his slide down the banzuke.Wakanosato moves to 4-1.

 

As for the Maegashira ranks, what's gotten into Jumonji?At 4-1, he is proving that last basho was no fluke.Jumonji has got a great sumo body; he's just never put together any consistency to keep him firmly planted in the Makuuchi division.That seems to be changing as he dominated Kasugao today enforcing his victory by pushing the Korean on top of a jiichan in the second row.Kasugao falls to 2-3.

 

In the battle between 3-1 record holding Aminishiki and Toki, Ami showed that his brilliant technique is no match for the one dimensional Toki easily pushing Mr. Lambchops from the ring in two seconds.Aminishiki stands at 4-1; and Toki falls to 3-2.

 

Buyuzan continues to emphasize that he belongs in the Makuuchi division for good.His well-rounded sumo completely kept Asasekiryu from getting any kind of offensive position today as he moved his record to an impressive 4-1.Seki falls to 3-2, but his tachi-ai is improving daily.

 

Finally, Akinoshima at 3-2 is holding on at the bottom rung.It was vintage Akinoshima yotsu-zumo today as he defeated the much younger Shimotori.Give the grizzly veteran the uwate, and he's still as dangerous as ever.Shimotori fell to 1-4.

 

Day 3 Comments

This basho is signed, sealed, and done.Allow me to be the first to congratulate Asashoryu on his first yusho as a Yokozuna, and his third tournament victory in the last four tries.I know we're only three days in, but I've seen enough.In my opinion, Asashoryu overcame his toughest foe of the field today in beating Tochinonada, and no one else looks sharp enough to keep pace with the Yokozuna.Asa is fighting exactly as he did during his pre-Yokozuna run, and no other rikishi capable of taking the yusho is in top form.

 

In the most anticipated bout of the day, Asashoryu looked solid once again in defeating the much larger Tochinonada.I would rank Tochinonada as one of the top five rikishi in the division right now: he's huge, he's healthy, he can push you out, and he shines at yotsu-zumo.At the tachi-ai, Asashoryu gained a firm right-handed outer grip; however, Tochinonada's bread and butter is the hidari-shitate (inner left grip), and he attempted a mammoth throw of the Yokozuna that only Asashoryu could have survived.After expending energy and position on the throw attempt, Tochinonada left himself vulnerable to the Yokozuna's speed and firm belt grip.Asa spun Tochi off balance and ended up pushing him out of the ring from behind.Overall this was an excellent display of chikara-zumo (power sumo) from both parties, and I can't wait for Tochinonada to take his place in the sanyaku.Asashoryu looks unbeatable to me at this point, and maybe someone will catch him off guard for a day, but he should lead this thing wire to wire.

 

Something is in Chiyotaikai's head.He looked awful today in being slapped down by up-and-coming Takamisakari.Chiyo actually went for the belt today at the tachi-ai, but once there he was completely lost.With the right side of his body too open, Takamisakari easily slapped the Ozeki down by the left shoulder much to the delight of the crowd.Although I hate to do this, I'm going to call out Kokonoe-oyakata (former Chiyonofuji) and say what are you doing messing with Chiyo's technique the week before the most important basho of his career?The week leading up to the basho, Chiyo began practicing yotsu-zumo with the makushita rikishi in his stable.The goal was to have Chiyo charge hard with the right shoulder and grab the hidari-maemitsu (left frontal belt grip).Adding yotsu-zumo skills to Chiyo's resume would make him look that much more complete of a rikishi in the eyes of the Yokozuna Promotion Council.I'm sure the strategy worked great against the makushita rikishi in the practice ring, but look what happens when you try it in a hon-basho against one of the hottest rikishi in the field.Today's loss was embarrassing.If Chiyo needs to work on anything, it's strengthening his mental resolve to force himself to move forward in the ring instead of backwards.Take nothing away from Takamisakari, however, as he is establishing himself more and more as a force in the jo'i.At 3-0, he stands along side of Asashoryu, Dejima, and Aminishiki as the early leaders.I do think that Kaio will get him on day 4, but if Takami can pull out another win, I can't wait for his interview afterwards.He looks unintimidated by anyone right now.

 

Kaio picked up his first win today against Tamanoshima, but it didn't look good.He was doing his best to pull a page out of Musoyama's book and lose the bout after having his opponent pushed up against the tawara, but a hard shove with his butt finished off the Maegashira.Tamanoshima falls to 2-1, but he is still fighting well and nearly pulled off the upset today.Something looks wrong with Kaio.I'm not seeing the usual stability in his lower body, although, he's had some tough opponents for his sumo style these first three days.The jury's still out, but a yusho is out of the question.

 

Musoyama looked great today showing flashes of his brilliant past coming out hard with the tsuppari and never letting up until his opponent was pushed out of the ring.Granted, his opponent was the fledgling Kotomitsuki, but it was great to see the Musoyama of old pick up his first win.The only question is will he continue the same strategy here on out?Musoyama's first two opponents--Takamisakari and Kyokutenho--have close to the same build as Kotomitsuki, so it baffles me that he doesn't use his effective tsuppari against the lighter rikishi.I'd love to see the tsuppari at the first of every bout here on out.

 

Ozeki Tochiazuma picked up his second win today, but it was cheap!It's a good thing Kenji's not reporting today or Tochi would be ripped a new one.Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai's styles and bad habits are eerily similar.The only difference is Chiyo has been in the spotlight more due to his recent yusho and Tochiazuma's frequent kyujo.Nut up Tochiazuma...the last thing I need to see is an Ozeki back up at the tachi-ai for a cheap win.As far as I'm concerned, your only win came on day 1.

 

As for the sanyaku, Komusubi Kyokutenho forced out Sekiwake Wakanosato leaving both rikishi with 2-1 marks.Interesting how Wakanosato can win yotsu-zummo bouts against two giants in the division on days 1 and 2 and then come back to lose a yotsu-zumo bout against the much lighter Kyokutenho.It's business as usual for Kyokutenho: quietly working his way to 8 wins.Sekiwake Dejima moved his record to 3-0 by forcing out Kotonowaka in a matter of seconds.Dejima is in no shape right now to belly up with Kotonowaka for over a minute, so it was important for him to finish of the M4 as he did.After the win, Dejima was walking gingerly back to the dressing room, so I think his right kneee is really bothering him.He needs to push to get that eighth win early on because his body may not hold up the entire two weeks.

 

In the Maegashira ranks, M2 Takanonami put Kyokushuzan in his place by simply standing straight up at the tachi-ai, lifting the Mongolian up off his feet, and politely setting him outside of the ring.Both rikishi are 1-2.It makes me wonder why anyone would dare lunge into a Kyokushuzan tachi-ai.Besides Takamisakari, Aminishiki is the only other Maegashira to still stand at 3-0.He put on a clinic today toppling then unbeaten Jumonji with an outside leg trip.Brilliant sumo from such a small rikishi.Kasugao also pulled off a slick kotenage throw after a shaky tachi-ai with Tamarikido.I have high hopes for the Korean, who has never suffered a make-koshi as a sekitori.Also looking good at 2-1 is Iwakiyama who is having his way with the Maegashira cellar dwellers.And finally, is Asasekiryu for real?He's done much better the last two days from the tachi-ai and has been awarded with a win both times to move to 2-1.

 

On the docket for day 4, Asashoryu is matched against fellow Mongolian Kyokutenho.We all remember what happened last basho, so you can be sure Asashoryu will have plenty of motivation this time around.Tochiazuma has his hands full with Tochinoda; Chiyotaikai should get a breather with Kyokushuzan; and Takamisakari has a huge test with Kaio.Anybody want to bet me that Kotomitsuki gets his first win against Dejima by side stepping him at the tachi-ai?Didnít think so.

 

Day 1 Comments

Well we're off with a rather mediocre day of sumo.The first real chikara-zumo (power sumo) didn't occur until Wakanosato beat Takanonami, and there wasn't much to speak of after that.Was it me, or did it seem like every bout ended in a matter of seconds?You know it's a strange day when even Kotonowaka beats his opponent in under five seconds.And who gave the schedule makers the day off when coming up with the day 1 matchups?Didn't we see the Ozeki and Yokozuna face the exact same opponents on day 1 last basho?

 

I'll start at the top where it was business as usual for the Yokozuna and Ozeki.Asashoryu easily dismantled Tosanoumi by withstanding Tosa's initial charge and a hard first tsuppari.Asa was driven back a few steps from the tachi-ai, but in the blink of an eye he managed to evade the charging Komusubi and had him in the moro-zashi grip before Tosanoumi knew what hit him.Tosa's reaction was classic once Asa had him by the belt.He put up no fight whatsoever and gracefully let Asanoshoryu walk him out of the ring.I don't condemn Tosanoumi at all...save your energy for tomorrow.Asashoryu won with his speed today.

 

Chiyotaikai just can't resist the hiki-waza.You could see it on his face after he pulled down Kyokutenho to earn a day 1 victory.Even the crowd's silent response to the victory sent the message that this is disappointing sumo.While he at least hit Kyokutenho straight up at the tachi-ai, as fast as he hit him he jumped to his right and let Kyokutenho basically fall on his face by himself.What happened to all the pre-basho keiko charging with the right shoulder and grabbing the left mae-mitsu (frontal belt grip)?It just goes to show how hard old habits are to break.

 

In a replay of last basho, Tochinonada once again toppled Ozeki Kaio on day 1.This time Tochinonada did it with his patented shitate-nage throw.He may be the one rikishi in the field whom Kaio is the underdog to.I don't think it necessarily forecasts a bad basho for Kaio; rather, Tochinonada just has his number...and the size to go with it.Takamisakari made it two in a row on opening day against Musoyama.Takami became the immediate favorite for the ginosho after twisting Musoyama down with the maki-otoshi move to a thunderous ovation from the crowd.Takamisakari may just be carrying sumo's popularity in Japan square on his back.Just when you thought he couldn't outdo himself in the pre-bout rituals, he's now added alternating back step kicks to the dohyo that you can actually hear over the broadcast.

 

As for Musoyama, where does he think holding both hands in tight near his chest after the tachi-ai is going to get him?Come out with the tsuppari or at least go for your opponents belt.Don't just sit there like a standing fetus and let your opponents have their way.This was a bad loss for Musoyama; I think he struggles to win his eight.Fellow kadoban Ozeki Tochiazuma displayed the most impressive showing among the Ozeki.He kept his opponent, Kotomitsuki, directly in front of him trading tsuppari back and forth gradually forcing Kotomitsuki back until Tochiazuma sent him out with a final shove.Tochiazuma looks as if he hasn't skipped a beat, and he's got a great shot to challenge Asashoryu for the yusho.

 

Both Sekiwake won impressively with Wakanosato's win over Takanonami the best bout of the day.Both rikishi immediately went to the belt, and it was business usual for Takanonami trying to wrap his arm over the top of his opponent and grab his belt.Waka would have nothing of the sort and patiently waited until he grabbed the outer grip before driving Takanonami to the edge of the ring.As he does so often--and so well--Taka put his foot on the tawara for leverage, but Wakanosato was just too strong as he threw Taka down.Wakanosato's sumo was worthy of an Ozeki today.He needs to keep this up to take Musoyama's place in the elite rank.Fellow Sekiwake, Dejima, has seen Kyokushuzan's act enough that he knew exactly what to do: drive up under his outthrust arms and throw him out of the ring like a ragdoll.Dejima experienced pain in his right knee before the tournament, but with an opponent like Kyokushuzan, it's difficult to tell exactly how the knee is doing.Good first win though.

 

Impressive in the Maegashira ranks was the aforementioned Tochinonada.He looks poised to jump back to the sanyaku for next basho.Kasugao also had a good outing earning a hard fought victory by throwing Hokutoriki down by the neck (ouch!).Tamanoshima showed some impressive versatility today in chasing down the smaller Kaiho and managing to throw his opponent down a split second before he himself hit the dirt.This guy may be for real.And Akinoshima got this basho off to a great start by not only winning on day won, but putting Asanowaka in his place.

 

Not so impressive today was Takanowaka, whose timing looked way off as the cat-quick Aminishiki threw him from the ring.And Asasekiryu has picked up right where he left off last basho--absolutely no punch at the tachi-ai.He was manhandled today by Yotsukasa.

 

Pre-Basho Report

My big hope going into this basho is that it seems the major tournaments held in Tokyo produce a higher quality of sumo than the ones away from the sport's headquarters.The issue of so many top rikishi injured that has plagued sumo for the past little while is not even news anymore.And while one may argue that Musashimaru is the only one sitting out so far this basho, an absent Yokozuna makes a huge difference in the excitement and overall quality of the tournament.

 

The biggest change that has caught my eye before this tournament is the strict nature of the banzuke rankings.A prime example is Kotomitsuki, who fought at sekiwake in March going 6-9.Normally, this would have only bumped him down to Komusubi or maybe Maegashira 1, but the Kyokai decided to drop him down to M2.Like me, perhaps the Kyokai was sick of seeing a Sekiwake display such awful sumo for three straight tournaments, so they decided to send a message.†† On the other end of the spectrum, Tochinonada who posted an impressive 9-6 mark at M2 was only promoted up one notch to M1 when in the past this would have guaranteed him a rank in the sanyaku.I like the strict nature, and I only wish it was easier for an Ozeki to be demoted.

 

With a lackluster Osaka basho cleared from my mind, here are my thoughts for the Natsu basho:

 

Yokozuna Asashoryu still has his work cut out for him this basho.No one should be more excited to see Musashimaru come back in Nagoya than Asashoryu.Asa proved to be an invincible Ozeki, but his performance as a new Yokozuna left a lot to be desired.Sitting in the prestigious higashi slot isn't going to do anything to relieve the pressure of being the top dog.This will be a make or break basho for Asashoryu as far as winning over his critics.One thing I've noticed about Asa is he hates to lose and rarely will he ever lose to the same rikishi twice in a row.He'll likely be tested on day 1 with Kyokutenho, but I just don't see him giving up the careless losses as he did in Osaka.As mediocre as Asa looked in Osaka, he was still in the race for the cup up to the final day, and I expect nothing less of him this time around.Remember the Asa who won at least his first 8 bouts for four straight tournaments?I think this is the Asashoryu we'll see in Tokyo.Look for Asa to lose no more than three and take the yusho if he wins his bout on senshuraku.

 

The Ozeki should pack a powerful punch this basho.Chiyotaikai is coming off the yusho in Osaka, and Tochiazuma should finally be ready to go.The big question mark is Musoyama who looks as if he'll be forced to compete despite dislocating his shoulder in Osaka.The Association refused to grant him exempt injury status, which means Musoyama is kadoban and will be demoted from Ozeki if he doesn't win at least eight this basho.I would really be surprised to see Musoyama not win eight, but he's shown us some downright ugly sumo the last few months.

 

Tochiazuma is also kadoban, but something tells me he's going to have a breakout basho.He's home in Tokyo, he's had plenty of rest, and he says that the recent death of Yamawake-oyakata affiliated with Tochi's stable will inspire him.Remember what Chiyotaikai did last basho as a kadoban Ozeki with plenty of time to recuperate?I have high hopes for Tochiazuma this basho.

 

I would normally have chosen Kaio as one of the favorites to yusho this time around, but he suffered an injury to his thigh in some pre-basho keiko (practice) with Chiyotaikai.The injury is not serious, but it has put Kaio on the shelf for a few days.We'll see how it affects him, but the last thing Kaio needs at his age are nagging injuries.I think Kaio will be good to go come shonichi, but his body has to be in perfect condition for him to yusho.

 

It will be interesting to see how Ozeki Chiyotaikai responds after his win in Osaka.Technically, he is not up for Yokozuna promotion this basho, but if he can come out and put a stamp on the rest of the field and go 14-1, the Yokozuna Promotion Council will have to reconsider.Chiyo was neither brilliant nor overpowering in Osaka, but he's coming off a great win over Asashoryu on senshuraku.Keep your opponents in front of you, move forward and not backward, and you'll be in the yusho hunt come senshuraku.

 

Wakanosato and Dejima come into this basho as the two Sekiwake.I've been a little bit disappointed in these two the last few basho.Each has shown flashes of brilliance only to turn around and suffer head-scratching losses to the mid-Maegashira.Both of these rikishi have all the potential in the world and the good sumo bodies to back it up, but they are not showing the mental toughness to seriously contend for the Ozeki rank.That being said, I'll be very surprised if these Sekiwake don't hand the Yokozuna and Ozeki several losses.

 

Though a little bit less threatening than the Sekiwake, the two Komusubi--Tosanoumi and Kyokutenho--will take every inch you give them.The Kyokai has shown that reaching the sanyaku as of late is no easy task, so major props to these two for standing among the best.Can we expect anything different from these two than what we've seen over the past year?Nope; it's going to be solid 8-7 records for these two with Tosanoumi forced to fight in roller skates every third bout or so causing him to slip head first to the dohyo and Kyokutenho picking off some of the big boys while ho-humming his way to another kachi-koshi.

 

The upper Maegashira ranks pack a major punch.Tochinonada leads the way at M1, and while he was snubbed for a sanyaku rank for this basho, he has been fighting at sanyaku strength for two basho in a row.This guy is huge and has excellent yotsu-zumo skills that don't make it a necessity to have the ideal position to win.Tochi's counterpart at M1 is everyone's favorite Takamisakari.Takamisakari had one of the best weeks of sumo we've seen in a while during week two of Osaka.Takami may be undersized, but he is deceptively strong and seems to have the advantage on his opponent the longer the bout goes on.As much as I love to watch this guy in interviews and before his bouts, sometimes his quirky antics overshadow his outstanding sumo.

 

M2s Kotomitsuki and Takanonami are no slouches themselves.Both have tournament victories, and Takanonami is a former Ozeki.These guys have been off their games the last few basho, but their potential to rise up and impact this basho is huge.You never know when one of them is going to turn it up; both of these guys have legitimate shots at upsetting the Yokozuna and Ozeki.

 

M3 should be an interesting rank to watch with Tamanoshima and Kyokushuzan.Tamanoshima made his mark in Osaka by handing Chiyotaikai his first loss.Tamanoshima's bulk and diversity make him a tough rikishi to handle.After a brilliant week one in Osaka, he stumbled a little in week two; but he has still managed to position himself within reach of the sanyaku.He's going to get the chance to prove his legitimacy this basho as he'll likely face all the top guns.As for Kyokushuzan, if he wins 8 this basho, I'll black out one of my teeth in my picture posted throughout this website for a month.

 

M4s Kaiho and Kotonowaka are night and day in size and style, but they always manage to keep themselves ranked amongst the upper Maegashira.Remember, both of these guys have beaten Asashoryu in the last 6 months.M5s Miyabiyama and Hokutoriki also add a nice punch to the upper Maegashira.Former Ozeki Miyabiyama is slowly working his way back up to the sanyaku where he belongs, and Hokutoriki will finally try and break through with 8 wins against most of the jo'i.

 

Takanowaka comes in at M6 after falling all the way from Sekiwake after skipping last tournament.The last time we saw him in action he was falling face first to the dohyo after a wicked Kotomitsuki uppercut to the jaw.Taka banged his knee on the rock-solid tawara at the edge of the ring and still hasn't fully recovered.As of two weeks prior to the basho, he was still not practicing all out with fellow Makuuchi rikishi, but spending a great deal of time rehabilitating his lower body in a swimming pool.He'll have some rust to work off, but his #6 rank keeps him just out of reach of the big boys for at least the first week.Taka should have a good basho and jump right back up to the top of Maegashira for Nagoya.His counterpart at M6, Kasugao, had the ugliest kachi-koshi I've seen in Osaka, but hey, 8 wins are 8 wins no matter how you get them.This guy has been outstanding in three out of the four weeks he's competed in Makuuchi.If he's to obtain his third kachi-koshi in as many basho, he'll probably have to do it facing most of the sanyaku, but I'm excited to see how he does.This guy is as stubborn as a mule when he wants to be.

 

M7s Tokitsuumi and Aminishiki round out as solid of a top 7 Maegashira as you'll ever see.The jury is still out on Tokitsuumi's condition.You'll remember he did the splits during his bout with Takanonami in Osaka where he seriously injured his hamstring.I doubt he'll be ready to go this basho, but there's been no word of his kyujo yet.

 

Other Maegashira rikishi to take note of are Iwakiyama at M9, who injured himself mid-way through the tournament in Osaka but is better than his rank; M11 Shimotori, who is in the same boat as Iwakiyama--coming off an injury and better than his rank.And also keep your eye on Asasekiryu, who looked completely lost in Osaka.All indications were that he would just sizzle in the top division, but he hasn't shown any brilliance yet.He'll be fighting the dregs this tournament, so if he doesn't produce anything I'd be surprised.

 

Akinoshima is at the bottom rung at M15, so keep your eye on his quest to stay active in the sport as a rikishi.Itís win eight or retire for the grizzly veteran.There are no rookies to Makuuchi this basho, but Aogiyama, Yotsukasa, Otsukasa, and Asanowaka have rejoined the ranks after stints in Juryo.

 

I predict a solid basho for May with the yusho line at two losses.I'm going to have to go with Asashoryu again.I think he is too determined to let himself have another basho like he did in Osaka, not to mention the fact his sumo is a notch above everyone else.Shimotori grabs the kantosho, and if a shukunsho and ginosho are awarded, they will go to Tochinonada and Asasekiryu respectively.

 

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