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2008 Natsu Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho Report   .  Meet Japanese girls here.
The Natsu basho got off on the right foot with some solid sumo the first few days, but by the middle of week two things had gone down hill fast. The tachi-ai henka is squarely to blame as it was used in multiple bouts with yusho significance, and things were getting so ridiculous that by the time Kotomitsuki defeated Hakuho on day 13 with a legitimate yori-taoshi, the crowd failed to react and even throw the customary zabuton cushions celebrating a Yokozuna loss. Things were salvaged a bit on day 14 when both Yokozuna won convincingly and Kotooshu soundly defeated Ama to clinch his first career yusho. During the NHK broadcast they focused several times on Kotooshu's father who was in attendance, and after Kotooshu made it official, the sheer joy on his father's countenance not only gave the television audience a rarely seen perspective, but once the Kokugikan crowd realized that it was Kotooshu's father they gave him a rousing ovation. It was really a touching moment to see the joy shared between father and son, and it was a cathartic conclusion to the basho that really seemed to win over the Japanese audience. Still, when the dust settled, you had two dai-Yokozuna standing at a lame 11-4, and you had an Ozeki standing in the winner's circle at 14-1, yet the Sumo Association does not consider him a Yokozuna candidate for Nagoya. That says a lot to me, and it validates what we were saying late in the basho...that the quality of sumo was unacceptable, especially to the elders of the sport.

Let's start with the yusho rikishi, Ozeki Kotooshu. On one hand, it's a moment that Kotooshu fans have been waiting to savor for years, but on the other hand, the Ozeki tainted his championship with tachi-ai henka in key moments. There's no other way to put it. You can go back twice this decade and find incidents when kadoban Ozeki took the yusho. Chiyotaikai did it in Haru 2003 and Tochiazuma did it in Hatsu 2006. In both cases, those two Ozeki were touted as Yokozuna candidates the next basho, so you have to ask yourself why Kotooshu isn't receiving that same consideration. Kitanoumi Rijicho answered that question after the basho saying "Yokozuna candidacy is decided not only by one's record but also the content of one's sumo." Kotooshu was flawless in 12 of his bouts when he fought moving forward, but in the two bouts where he side-stepped his opponents, you just couldn't overlook the opponent and the situation. The Sumo Association did notice and sent a message. You also look at Kotooshu's opponents, and it becomes clear that Kotooshu did not do enough to warrant Yokozuna consideration. Here is the list of his wins over kachi-koshi rikishi:

Day 1 Wakanoho - yorikiri: solid win
Day 7 Kisenosato - okuridashi: tachi-ai henka
Day 8 Kaio - yorikiri: solid win
Day 11 Asashoryu - yorikiri: solid win
Day 12 Hakuho - yorikiri: tachi-ai-henka
Day 14 Ama - okuritaoshi: solid win

So...Kotooshu has solid wins over four kachi-koshi rikishi: Wakanoho, Kaio, Asashoryu, and Ama. Those wins over Wakanoho and Kaio were meaningless, so you have two good wins over Asashoryu and Ama. You gotta do a lot more than that before the crusty elders of the Sumo Association are going to let you join their elite club. Then there's the shin factor that comes from sumo's underlying code of shin (heart) - gi (technique) - tai (body). In terms of technique and body, Kotooshu is only equaled by Hakuho. But in terms of shin, I can't remember a prominent rikishi who was weaker. The frustrating thing is you look at Kotooshu's winning techniques in his 12 straight-up wins and every single one of them was forward moving. Absolutely no pulls or hataki-komi, and who can blame him for wanting to get a little manlove in on Kakuryu on day 10?  But as good as he was on most days, I can't get the two tachi-ai henka out of my head in those key situations, and neither can the Association.  The next step for Kotooshu is not the quest for the Yokozuna rank; it's a quest for a henka-free basho.

Let's move onto the Yokozuna where I'll first start with Yokozuna Hakuho. Hakuho was the best rikishi in Natsu although his record won't show it. I can't help but draw the comparison to last year's Nagoya basho where Hakuho was flawless until he got henka'd out of the yusho race. He was rattled on day 13 when he lost straight up to Kotomitsuki, and that loss to Asashoryu on senshuraku was nothing. Through the first nine days of the tournament, you couldn't help but admire what this guy was doing. Hakuho is immovable at the tachi-ai, and you just can't get on the inside of him without giving up a solid outer grip. Even though he only has one yusho so far this year, I think it's clear that Hakuho is the best rikishi in sumo.

Which spells trouble for Asashoryu if he's dead-set on breaking the all-time yusho mark. Is it me, or does it look as if Asashoryu has lost a step since his return from that two-basho layoff? After being soundly defeated on day 1 at the hands of Kisenosato, Asashoryu found his stride by the end of week one thanks in large part to facing opponents who simply sucked this basho. He had two solid wins against the Sekiwake on days 9 and 10, but he was dominated by Kotooshu on day 11 and then henka'd out of the basho altogether that next day. After giving Kaio the win on day 13, Asashoryu enjoyed a solid win over Kotomitsuki before that circus on senshuraku against Hakuho. I don't really have a take on stare-gate after Clancy's breakdown of it in his senshuraku report. He said that Asashoryu's momentum carried him into Hakuho, and Kitanoumi Rijicho validated that point even though the usual Asashoryu detractors wanted to make a story out of nothing. Overall, you look at Asashoryu's record and take away the gift to Kaio and henka from Chiyotaikai, the Yokozuna's performance could be pro-rated to 13-2, but still...he just didn't seem to have that edge that he normally does. He has either lost a step or something was said to him behind closed doors after being banned for those two basho.

Let's get the rest of the Ozeki out of the way only because we're obligated to. Kotomitsuki has returned to his usual 8-7 ways after that push to the Ozeki rank a year ago. After a 2-0 start, he was unable to string two wins in a row the rest of the way, which is unacceptable when you look at how bad the jo'i was this basho and consider that he didn't face Kotooshu and Kotoshogiku. His day 11 bout where he had the fork stuck through Kakuryu only to blow the bout by inadvertently stepping out first at the edge is just another indication that this rikishi will turn it on maybe once a year and the coast the rest of the time. And while we're on the subject, Kotooshu has proven to be the same sort of rikishi. After his run to Ozeki, he sucked for 2 1/2 years straight before capturing the yusho this basho. And he may enjoy the ride a few more basho, but he better be careful if he really wants the Yokozuna rank because he can't maintain it. He'll turn out to be Wakanohana the second who completely fell apart after undeservedly obtaining the rank. And you also have to wonder if that is part of the Sumo Association's reasoning as well for not touting Kotooshu as a Yokozuna candidate so soon. I think they'd rather see him in the sport for 10 more years rather than promote another Wakanohana. But Clancy already brought up that point so let's move on.

It was the usual story for Ozeki Kaio...a kachi-koshi with help from his friends. Asashoryu gave him a win, Chiyotaikai gave him a win, and I also think Kotoshogiku let him have one. He had that good win against Baruto on day 1 (who didn't enjoy a good win against Baruto?), and then handled Ama on day 7, but other than that, you'd have to say his biggest win was against Wakanoho. Kaio will continue to survive as along as he can go 50-50 against rikishi ranked below him and have enough of the Ozeki and Yokozuna out of he yusho race by day 13 or so.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks was Chiyotaikai who was just awful this basho. He fluked his way to that win on day 2 over Kisenosato and then scored his last three wins of the basho by pull down, tachi-ai henka, pull down. The problem is...like Kaio, he only needs to perform average sumo early on and then get a little help down the stretch to survive. Both Kaio and Chiyotaikai have had outstanding careers, but I'm tired of watching the charity given to these vets.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Ama was good but not good enough to resurrect talk of Ozeki. As is usually the case, the Mongolian impacted the yusho race, but it was negative this time around as he needed a henka to defeat Hakuho. He was also manhandled by the other two yusho candidates in Asashoryu and Kotooshu, but he definitely had his moments. He bullied Ozeki Kotomitsuki on day 12 and then enjoyed rare win over Kotoshogiku the next day, but who will ever forget his win over Wakanoho on day 8? I thought the bout in Hatsu between Hakuho and Asashoryu was the bout of the year, but leave it to Ama to challenge with the best utchari win I've ever seen. Against upstart Wakanoho, the Russian had Ama on the ropes literally until the Sekiwake used his leg and perfect balance to flip Wakanoho around and down. With Kyokushuzan--the pioneer of Mongolian sumo--you had some memorable bouts, but they usually involved shenanigans at the tachi-ai and unorthodox sumo, but with Ama, he can dig down with the best of them and pull out that spectacular performance when he needs it. I like him at the Sekiwake rank because he can beat anyone at anytime.

On the other side, the Geeku was okay in Natsu. Every time I see multiple Sadogatake boys finish 8-7 in the same basho, I can't help but think that if they were facing each other, none of 'em would be able to maintain their current ranks. Kotoshogiku was solid in that he beat up on the guys ranked below him, but he couldn't handle anyone above him...and no, Chiyotaikai doesn't count. The Geeku never did score that big win in Natsu and needed Futenoh on senshuraku to secure kachi-koshi. He was ho-hum in May.

In the Komusubi ranks, Kisenosato is a few stupid losses away from the Ozeki rank. I mean the dude finishes 10-5 with the following losses:

Day 2 Chiyotaikai - oshidashi
Day 10 Baruto - hataki-komi
Day 12 Wakanoho - yori-kiri

Those are three must-wins for the Kid and then when you consider he was henka'd by Kotooshu on day 7, it's scary to think what the Komusubi could accomplish if he went mistake free. The good news is he is still just 21 years old. Furthermore, look at the kimari-te of his wins. All but one of 'em were by forward-moving sumo. Barring injury, the days of Kisenosato fighting from the Maegashira ranks is gone. He has more than enough energy, he's got enough experience now, and he shows a will to win like few others. It's all good for Kisenosato who is the number one candidate to replace the next Ozeki who leaves.

Counterpart Asasekiryu was average this basho scoring a few early wins over Ama, Kaio, and Chiyotaikai to jump out to a 3-1 start, which is outstanding for a Komusubi; but a rikishi at this rank can't afford to finish 2-6 the final eight days. Asasekiryu has gone from a finesse rikishi to a guy that slows things down and tries to lull his opponents to sleep.

The M1 rank was embarrassing this basho. You have two guys in Kokkai and Baruto who have mammoth bodies yet they finish with 8 wins between 'em and joint 0-6 starts. Kokkai's win over Chiyotaikai just shows how bad the Ozeki was this basho, and after a pull win over Miyabiyama on day 10, he scored his last win on day 13, which was a solid yori-kiri effort against Bart. Kokkai couldn't trust in his sumo this basho and looked to be trying to survive out there instead of making use of his strength. And Baruto wasn't much better. Chalk up yet another poor performance when ranked higher than M4. Baruto just can't react to the speed of the guys at this rank. Who cares if he can beat guys by yori-kiri 8 ranks down the banzuke? None of that matters if he looks this bad among the jo'i. I wasn't surprised by the make-koshi, but I was surprised by the lack of effort.

Speaking of lack of effort, M2 Kyokutenho epitomized that this basho going a paltry 4-11. He just can't take the heat up here. Course, if I had to shell out a million bucks or more to buy a share of oyakata stock (he'll likely succeed Oshima-oyakata), I'd probably coast as well picking up the easy money from the mid-ranks. Counterpart Wakanoho is fast becoming one of the most likeable guys in sumo these days. He has a passion for the sport--something you don't see in the other Eastern European rikishi Kotooshu included. Like Kisenosato, this guy is damn young, so give him a year or two to get some experience under his belt and watch the hell out. The only red flag I see with this kid now is his penchant for pull sumo. He had some nice wins over names like Chiyotaikai, Aminishiki, and Kotoshogiku, but they were all pull down wins. If he can learn to fight moving forward every bout, he's going to be a bitch to handle by year's end. Nothing but upside for Wakanoho who'll be right back at it in Nagoya after an 8-7 showing. Excellent effort.

M3 Miyabiyama is just filler a this level these days. I mean, dude gives you the effort, but in order to be classified as a Hutt, you gotta make sacrifices elsewhere. You know, things like speed and agility. I think a 6-9 showing at this rank for the Sheriff is just fine. Counterpart Kakuryu's 5-10 effort wasn't. I think the Kak has become a bit intimidated in these parts, but he did score a tsuri-dashi win over Chiyotaikai. I think if Asasekiryu can fight at the Komusubi ranks these days that Kakuryu will be able to as well when he has as much experience in the sport. Dude was a total non-factor though in Natsu. Hey, just like Asasekiryu!

No comment on M4 Tokitenku's 6-9 effort, but you can't ignore good ole Aminishiki on the other side of the aisle. Sneaky did exactly what an M4 should...avoid the tougher rikishi above you the best you can and just pound on the guys below you. Of his five losses, all were to kachi-koshi rikishi and then his ass-kicking of Kotooshu on day 13 put a few things into perspective regarding just how good the Ozeki was fighting. But...like all former sanyaku rikishi, it doesn't matter what you do down at this level. You have to impress again in Nagoya from the Komusubi rank. After Ami's solid effort in Natsu, he deserves the rank more than anyone.

M5 Tochiohzan was just plain bad this basho. You look at his rank of M5 and think "that's a tough place on the banzuke", but Oh managed an 0-8 start fighting mostly rikishi ranked below him. A 5-2 finish somewhat salvaged the disaster, but I think Tochiohzan proved this basho that he isn't cut out for jo'i sumo. Call it a lack of shin.

I was genuinely glad to see Toyonoshima finish 11-4 this basho. Ami will get the nod for the Komusubi rank thanks to strength of schedule, but Toyonoshima will be at M1 ready to test the jo'i again. And the crazy thing is....most of his losses were flukes, so he could have conceivably finished 13-2 or 14-1. You had the okuri-taoshi loss to the Cop on day 6 and then consecutive losses to Wakanosato and Homasho--both rikishi he should have beaten, but I shouldn't get too worked up. He's another former sanyaku rikishi, which means nothing impresses me lower in the ranks. What I want to see his his confidence back for Nagoya because Toyonoshima can beat anyone.

On one hand, I guess I'm happy for Fruitenoh's 9-6 performance from the M6 rank, but on the other hand, that means we'll see him among the jo'i come July. To his credit, all but one of his wins contained "yori" in the title, but next basho he is going to get pounded. And speaking of getting pounded, don't look now but Hokutoriki went 10-5 from the same rank!!

Takamisakari did extremely well to finish 7-8 from the M7 slot. The important thing for the sport of sumo is to keep him in the Makuuchi ranks for as long as possible because he undoubtedly puts fannies in the seats. And I'm not talking about "keeping him around" in the sense that Kaio and Chiyotaikai are still hangin' around. The Cop's sumo is good enough that he can handle the mid-to-lower Maegashira ranks.

Counterpart Goeido underachieved again at 8-7, but that's fine. On one of the days during the basho, they had Mainoumi and another guy list their top three candidates to become the next Ozeki. Mainoumi's top three consisted of Ama, Kisenosato, and Goeido. It's a smart choice as I think all three of those guys will grace the rank one day. I see so much of a young Kisenosato in Goeido's sumo in terms of costly mistakes, inability to finish opponents off, and days of lackadaisical sumo, but like the Kid, Goeido will pull it all together and become one of the top Japanese rikishi for the next decade...alongside Kisenosato. Goeido's basho was diluted significantly with his day 14 and senshuraku losses to Yoshikaze and Tamanoshima respectively. Yoshikaze and Tamanoshima!! Let him straighten a few things out, and he will take his rightful place among the jo'i based on his ability and tutelage from one of the greatest ever.

Tochinonada's 9-6 from the M8 rank is par for the course, but I was surprised that Takekaze got worked as bad as he did from the same rank. This former Komusubi finished 6-9 against mostly average opponents, and three of those wins were by pulldowns. There was nothing good that came from the Takekaze camp in Natsu.

The danger to M9 Kasugao's 3-5 start was that an untimely injury resulted in what ends up being a 3-12 record...from the M9 rank. You do the math. Counterpart Roho securd his kachi-koshi on day 13...with a henka of course, and then promptly withdrew from the basho citing one of those injuries that takes a week to recover from. All of these guys are fighting injured, so you'd think Roho could give a little bit more effort. It just typifies the rikishi he has become.

Nothing memorable from M10 Dejima who finished 8-7 while counterpart Wakanosato was swell at 10-5. I love watching guys fall asleep against Wakanosato and give up the inside position making the former Sekiwake nearly unbeatable when he gets it. Toyonoshima was a prime example of a rikishi fighting well only to get burned by the Barometer.

M11 Iwakiyama was on fire through nine with his 7-2 start, but something in the chanko at the Sakaigawa-beya dictates that you have to largely suck once you're close to kachi-koshi (Goeido started 7-3...finished 1-4; Toyohibiki started 6-1...finished 2-6), but I was happy to see the Hutt nab that kachi-koshi on senshuraku against Hakurozan. Iwakiyama's value in the ranks these days is it allows us to continue making our childish Donkey Kong jokes. Counterpart Homasho has gotta do better than 9-6 from the M11 rank. The majority of Homie's losses are by pulldown, which means he isn't getting enough punch at the tachi-ai.

Let's bypass the usual crew this low in Tosanoumi (6-9), Tamakasuga (8-7), Kakizoe (6-9), and Tamanoshima (9-6), and get to M14 Tochinoshin, the most promising rookie this basho. After a nifty 3-0 start, Tochinoshin ran into a few yotsu veterans in Tamanoshima and Wakanosato and then a heavyweight in Toyohibiki. The three bout losing streak had to have hurt the kid's confidence because he allowed himself to lose to guys like Tosanoumi, Iwakiyama, and Kakizoe. Shin righted the ship nicely with threes straight wins down the stretch against Homasho, Takekaze, and Futenoh, but came up just short of his KK losing to Dejima on senshuraku. It was a rough start for the Georgian, but I see some potential there. He's a strong kid with good yotsu sumo skills, which will allow him to pull a Makuuchi paycheck for years to come.

Can't say the same about the other two rookies, Kotokasuga and Hakuba, who were just weak throughout. At M16 you get the worst of the division and a handful of Juryo guys to boot, but they couldn't handle anything thrown their way. Kotokasuga is too old and slow, and Hakuba is too lightweight. Ama is small, but he packs a punch at the tachi-ai. Hakuba has to learn to make some sort of impact at the initial charge as well, or he'll never sniff a kachi-koshi in the Makuuchi division.

And just like that, the Natsu basho is in the books. We've had two sloppy basho in a row now, but we've already got some great storylines heading into Nagoya. I've got a couple of blog entries up my sleeve covering yaocho and race in sumo that I'll post in between basho to tide us over for the next few weeks. Until then.

2008 Natsu Basho Pre-basho Report   .  Meet Japanese girls here.
For the first time in a long time we've had a break in between basho where there was absolutely no controversy. After the 2007 Hatsu basho you had the tabloid, Shukan Gendai, raise those ridiculous allegations about Asashoryu needing help to win 80% of his bouts. They continued with other yaocho articles for the next few weeks and even published a few more after Haru. Then you had allegations of rough keiko last year by Asashoryu and Hakuho before Natsu and then of course came the lynching of Tokitaizan in June. As if things couldn't get worse, the Association covered up the killing and unjustly focused the attention on Asashoryu suspending him for two basho for no just reason. Then you had Asashoryu go into that mental tailspin followed by the Association's cover-up over Tokitaizan's death exposed and on and on it went. Finally we have no news in between basho, and is it me, or did it seem like a really long time in between tournaments? No worries. The Natsu basho is days away; everyone's healthy; and Tokyo seems to always produce quality tournaments, so let's break down the rikishi starting with Khan 1.

Asashoryu regains the prestigious East slot after his 22nd career yusho in March. After losing the yusho to Hakuho in January where he practiced furiously prior to the basho, the Yokozuna returned to his old ways of practicing one day and taking the next day off before Haru. For Natsu the Yokozuna changed things up again practicing two days in a row and then taking a day off. I think the presence of Hakuho warrants the extra practice, but the Yokozuna doesn't want to overwork himself before the tournament only to be worn out at the end with Hakuho staring at him across the starting lines. Other than the slight change in his routine, the only real news regarding Asashoryu is the supposed left calf injury. Asashoryu has been saying it wasn't completely healthy, but I think he's sandbagging there. From the keiko reports I've read, Asa's ready to go. As for his sumo, since his comeback from that two basho layoff, I don't think his tachi-ai has been as good as before he left. Keeping that lower body firmly planted to the dohyo will be key for Asashoryu, but even if he isn't perfect, I think he'll will his way to the yusho for no other reason than he hasn't won in Tokyo since January 2007. I see yet another ai-boshi-ketteisen against Hakuho on senshuraku with Asashoryu winning another quickie.

Like Asashoryu, Yokozuna Hakuho has been his same ole self prior to the basho getting off to a slow start and practicing with generally weaker opponents. In the injury department, there was a mention here and there about Hakuho's lower back pain, but that shouldn't play a role in Natsu. Nothing matters really with the two Yokozuna. The bottom line is nobody comes even close to them, so the yusho will be decided essentially by which one of them screws up less. As for Hakuho's sumo, the Yokozuna has largely fallen into his passive ways since securing promotion to the sport's highest rank. Even at the Nishonoseki Ichimon joint keiko session, it was reported that Hakuho largely reacted to his opponents' styles, and the majority of his foes were Juryo guys. I'd love to see Hakuho go back to his ways of oshi-zumo from the start to set up the yotsu-zumo kill, but all indications from the keiko ring indicate that we'll see a reactionary Hakuho. Still, he goes 13-1 before losing to Genghis on senshuraku.

I usually don't like to get too personal in my comments here, but you know how you can go back through your life and come up with a few traumatic incidents that really shook you and tested your will to keep living? I think the first one for me happened when I was 13 or 14, and it was a Friday night, and I was all excited ready for Friday Night Videos to start, and they played that video "Hello" by Lionel Ritchie where this blind gal sculpts a bust of Lionel's head out of clay. I mean, the premise was sweet and all, but when they actually showed that clay head on the screen I was so shaken I didn't stop wetting the bed until I turned 20. Another such incident was when I finally put the name "Amy Winehouse" to a face, and then there was the time this year in January when I was at a mountain retreat and this big truck was trying to make it up this icy driveway. I saw the dude spinning his wheels furiously and sliding this way and that, and so I got out and gave him some instructions and then guided him up the driveway. During the process, his wheels were nigh unto smoking from the friction, so he leaned out his window and said to me, "can you smell my rubber?". I mean, you just don't recover from things like that so easily.

Anyway, the point of all this is to express just how horrified I was when I read the keiko report where both Kotomitsuki and Kotooshu were at a practice session with Asashoryu, and they both turned down the Yokozuna when he called them into the ring. Does it get any weaker than that? Sure, Asashoryu has a history of roughing up keiko opponents, but Ozeki are different, and the Yokozuna knows it. There was no way he would have tried to hurt either of the Ozeki in the practice ring. Furthermore, isn't one of the highest honors in sumo to have a Yokozuna offer you the chance to bump chests with him? If neither Ozeki has the stones to face Asashoryu in the keiko ring, they're already out of the mindset that they can beat him during the tournament. No wonder these two aren't on the list of my favorite rikishi. As for their performances during the basho, Kotomitsuki will have to work for his kachi-koshi (I'll give him nine wins in the end), and Kotooshu will magically pick up his kachi-koshi by about day 12 and then just wilt like a picked flower in the hot sun from there. Give him nine as well.

Ozeki Kaio has enjoyed a nice resurgence of late, and it's been fun to watch his experience befuddle the opposition to the point where the veteran Ozeki can still kachi-koshi despite his age (he'll turn 36 in a few months). Kaio is getting as much out of his body as he can right now, and you have to respect him for that even if he can't win 10 these days. I see him finishing a convenient 8-7.

As for Chiyotaikai, I suspect he's the most likely Ozeki to be kadoban next basho. Like Kaio, Chiyotaikai's body is giving out on him, and like Kaio, Chiyotaikai is giving it everything he has, but unlike Kaio, Chiyo's weakened tsuppari attack and inability to fight at the belt makes him much more vulnerable. Since we can't seem to have a basho without at least one Ozeki failing to win his eight, I'll dub the Pup for the honors this time around. Seven wins if he makes it the whole 15 days.

The two Sekiwake are about as fresh these days as a forgotten pair of used sweat socks in a locker. Ama had a terrific Nagoya basho last year and then took full advantage of Asashoryu's absence to end the year on a hot streak, but he has cooled off so far for 2008. His 1-3 start in January ended talk of Ozeki promotion, and he needed a 4-0 finish in March to salvage an 8-7 record. I think the Mongolian struggles again to get his kachi-koshi, especially when you note the beef at the M1 rank. Give him 8-7. Counterpart Kotoshogiku has managed to keep the Sekiwake rank for consecutive basho now, but he largely does it because he doesn't have to face two Ozeki. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it'd be nice to see these two Sekiwake impact a basho instead of fighting with their backs against the wall just to get kachi-koshi. Leave that to our current crop of Ozeki, none of which are fighting any better than Ama and Kotoshogiku. In fact, I don't think any of the current Ozeki could regain their rank (win 33 over three basho) even if the top of the banzuke looked like this:
East   West
Stephen Hawking Yokozuna Boy George
Richard Simmons Ozeki John Mark Karr
George Michael Ozeki Marilyn Manson

But I digress.

The Komusubi rank is compelling just because of Kisenosato. The Kid is on the verge of greatness, but he needs to handle the rikishi M1 - M3. If he can go 5-1 against that lot, I see him flirting with double-digit wins. I'll give him 9. Counterpart Asasekiryu slipped into the final Komusubi slot after and 8-7 showing from the M1 rank. The question with the latest banzuke was did Kokkai and/or Baruto deserve the slot over Asasekiryu. The Association obviously rewarded Seki due to his strength of schedule, and I agree with the decision. A 12-3 mark from M5 is fantastic, but try and win even eight from M1. I think Asasekiryu is knocked out of the sanyaku finishing 7-8.

Which brings us to the most exciting rank on the banzuke this basho...M1. Kokkai's brilliant 12-3 performance in Haru has landed the Georgian where he really belongs. What's more exciting is the switch Kokkai has made from awkward oshi-zumo to sound yotsu-zumo. I can't wait to see how he does at the Natsu basho with his yotsu attack. He should beat three of the Ozeki and half of the sanyaku. Notice how I said "should". Kokkai's got the size and strength to do it; the question is will he be intimidated at this rank? I see the Georgian finishing 8-7 in the end after losing a handful of close, close bouts that if won would have put him in double digit wins. Kokkai needs a good start to succeed in Natsu.

Filling out the West end of the M1 rank is none other than Baruto who finds himself this high in the ranks for the first time in too long. The last time Baruto was ranked at M1, he was gone from the basho a few days in after suffering a knee injury. The problem then was the same problem that Baruto will face in Natsu...the speed here among the jo'i. Give Baruto a sniff of the belt, and he can beat any of the rikishi ranked above him, but the problem is can he get it? Baruto's biggest weakness is a slow tachi-ai that rarely gives him the advantage, and I think it will make him pay in Natsu. If the Estonian can get off to a fast start (even 3-0 would be great), he will bring a lot of excitement to the tournament, but I really do see him struggling to a 7-8 finish. What Baruto needs to truly be successful this high up is a tsuppari tachi-ai similar to Akebono's. Akebono had horrible balance, but he was good enough at the start to neutralize his opponents to the point where he could gain the smothering belt grip or knock his foes off balance to the point where they couldn't recover. If Baruto could learn that, he'd be a Yokozuna, but I just don't see anyone teaching him how to be great.

I like Kyokutenho at M2 simply because he has a lot of experience fighting the current Ozeki, and he can beat all of 'em if he grabs the belt. I thought Kyokutenho would abandon his sumo in March in favor of easier waters lower in the ranks, but he gave it his all and finished 9-6 from the M4 rank. I expect a similar effort in Natsu, and if we get it, Tenho wins 8. If he starts out 0-3, he'll finish 4-11.

Counterpart Wakanoho is also compelling at the M2 rank, and he deserves major props for his 8-7 finish last basho from the M4 rank. One problem is that M4 is just out of the jo'i while M2 is smack dab in the middle of it. I don't see how this kid wins 8 from this level. A lot of his wins last basho were by hataki-komi, and he he did pick up that default win due to a Koto-no-show. We should get the same energy from Wakanoho that we saw last basho, but I see him getting down early and struggling to just four or five wins.

Miyabiyama at M3 will keep the jo'i honest, but as I've repeated the last few basho, he doesn't have enough in the tank anymore to succeed at this level. I see him finishing 6-9 at best. Counterpart Kakuryu will receive a huge test this basho. Not only is he back among the jo'i, but Asashoryu is on the board this time not to mention the tough competition above him in Kokkai and Baruto and below him in guys like Aminishiki and Toyonoshima. I think Martin sports a stiffie throughout this fortnight as Kakuryu continues to come up short to the tune of a 5-10 record.

M4 Tokitenku has slowly been nudged down the ranks by the younger, better competition. Fortunately for him, he's out of the spotlight at M4 and should get his eight because of it. Counterpart Aminishiki is in a similar position, but there's no doubt he'll sneak his way to a decent 9-10 wins.

M5 Tochiohzan finds himself near his highest rank ever (M4), and last time he was up this high he finished a disappointing 4-11. The good news is there's a huge difference between M4 and M5 as Oh will likely not see any of the Ozeki or Yokozuna unless he gets off to a hot start. Since the dudes above Tochiohzan will mostly be occupied with the sanyaku, Ozeki, and Yokozuna, Tochiohzan will get a majority of guys below him, names like Futenoh, Hokutoriki, and Takamisakari. These are guys he's familiar with, and more importantly, guys he can beat. If his back isn't bothering him, I see Tochiohzan winning 8 or 9. Counterpart Toyonoshima has lost that edge that allowed him to survive higher up the banzuke despite his (lack of) size. Like Tochiohzan, he'll be out of harm's way enough to where I think he'll get his eight, but this former Komusubi may have already peaked.

M6's Futenoh and Hokutoriki won't get pasted here simply because the real beef is higher up the charts. Fighting largely the same rikishi as last basho, I expect both of these guys flirt with kachi-koshi but come up with just 15 wins between them. I'll give Jokutoriki the KK nod.

Takamisakari is prolly too high for his own good here at M7. I don't expect more than six wins. Counterpart Goeido floundered in the mid-Maegashira ranks last basho probably due to his calf injury prior to the tournament. He should be healthy here in Natsu, and he's also practiced with Asashoryu several days. I'll go conservative at 9-6 because like Kisenosato when he was young and green, Goeido has a knack for losing bouts that he has a stranglehold on.

Tochinonada is in the perfect slot on the banzuke for him at M8. I expect 8 uneventful wins from the Gentle Giant. Counterpart Takekaze is compelling this low after his Haru basho stint at Komusubi. Takekaze is still a good rikishi, and his rise to Komusubi wasn't a fluke. It's just that once he got there, he was clearly overpowered. He couldn't handle the onslaught of superior rikishi in week one, and then was worn out the second week. I expect a 10-5 performance this basho as most rikishi will likely overlook the former Komusubi.

M9 Kasugao is the perennial underachiever in the Makuuchi division. Look for him to start out strong as usual only to find a way to blow it down the stretch. 9-6. Two years ago, counterpart Roho would have cleaned up at this rank, but he's completely given up on competitive sumo. Give him six wins.

M10's Dejima and Wakanosato seem to always find themselves staring across the aisle from each other. Long time sumo fans may have a tough time ignoring these two, but I don't see what they have to offer even at these ranks unless you're interested in breaking down Dejima's purple legs and sweet rack.

M11 Iwakiyama is too slow and overmatched these days to rise higher than his current rank. 6-7 wins. Homasho will be the one to watch in the banzuke's lower third as he has no competition surrounding him. None. Look for a repeat performance to last basho...fast start against the scrubs and then a struggle against rikishi with good records in week 2.

Two veterans occupy the M12 slot in Tosanoumi and Tamakasuga. You'd think Tosanoumi would be the one to hang around these parts, but it's been the King who's been pulling the Makuuchi paycheck of late. I don't see anything changing.

No comment on M13 Kakizoe nor Tamanoshima.

At M14 we see our first newcomer in Tochinoshin. Kokkai's countryman is tied for tenth fastest to rise to the division, but I haven't seen him fight enough to really comment on him. My instinct tells me we have another Wakanoho on our hands...a promising rikishi but one who won't quite live up to expectations a la Kotooshu and Baruto. By day 3, I'm sure I'll have a good reading on him and will comment further.

Hakurozan makes his return to the division in the M15 slot. I actually think this guy is trying again, but like his older brother, he's monkeyed around too long with crap sumo that he has no momentum and no style. I do think he'll manage 8 wins due to his competition. Counterpart Toyohibiki will prolly struggle yet again this basho. Dude can't nail down how he wants to fight in the ring and he's paying for it. I think the problem with the Nikibi is his lower body. Hopefully Asashoryu have given him some pointers to help stable things up. I hope I'm wrong, but I see Toyohibiki struggling mightily to win even eight. I'll say 7 wins.

We wrap up the banzuke with two more newcomers in the M16 slot in Kotokasuga and Hakuba. Kotokasuga is one of those dudes that has been around forever finally making it to the dance after 15 years in the sport. I really want to root for him, especially after reading that story about his recent engagement and how he hasn't make-koshied since he met his gal, but things never go well for guys who take ages to get here. The good news is the competition around him largely sucks; the bad news is he's old. I will say he gets eight wins this basho but disappears from the division all together after Nagoya. Hakuba is yet another Mongolian, which means he's plenty hungry. He's also a good tactician (I can't say all Mongolians are good tacticians because of Ryuo) who should enjoy a decent Makuuchi career. I'll give him 9 wins in his debut.

That does it for me until my usual day 2. My predictions are as follows:

Yusho: Asashoryu 14-1
Kantosho: Takekaze
Ginosho: Goeido
Shukunsho: Kisenosato 






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