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2009 Natsu Post Basho Report   |   Pre-basho Report Meet Japanese girls.
It's interesting how the 2009 Natsu basho mirrored the 2008 tournament. In both tournaments you had Ozeki taking the yusho, and in both tournaments, the résumés of the Ozeki were less than impressive not to mention that they both had to henka Kisenosato in key situations in order to guarantee the championship. For Kotooshu last year, he rocked the first six days moving forward hard at the tachi-ai and obliterating his opponents. It's something we hadn't seen from Kotooshu until then, and it's something we haven't seen since, so when Wakanoho came forward and said he was paid to throw his bout against Kotooshu on day 1 of the 2008 Natsu basho, it all made sense. Kotooshu would go on to henka Hakuho in week two meaning his only significant win the entire two weeks was over Asashoryu.

Fast forward now to this year's version of the Natsu basho. Harumafuji shot out to a great start defeating Goeido on day 4 in the basho's first critical matchup setting up an undefeated run that unlike Kotooshu's last year was legitimate. However, on day 11 against Kisenosato, who was sporting a nifty 10-1 mark, Harumafuji lost his confidence and side-stepped the Kid at the tachi-ai. The Ozeki would go on to suffer his first loss against Hakuho on day 13 meaning the only significant win he captured the entire two weeks was against Asashoryu on day 14. Oh yeah...Harumafuji did beat Hakuho in a playoff for the yusho, but that bout was as fake as Pamela Anderson's teats. If you're wondering how you can tell whether or not a bout is fake, look for these three signs:

1) The underdog wins
2) The losing rikishi has a chance to grab the belt or inside position but refrains
3) The losing rikishi puts his hand to the dohyo and usually stays on his feet.

Regarding that last item...quick, someone tell me when the last time Hakuho lost because his hand touched the dohyo. If you said against Asashoryu at last year's Haru basho then you'd be right, which was another bout obviously thrown by the younger Khan to give Asashoryu the yusho. Okay, so other than those two bouts, show me one single bout ever where Hakuho lost because his hand hit the dohyo and he didn't lose his feet. I'd even take it a step further. Show me ANY bout in sumo where a rikishi lost because his hand hit the dohyo and he never lost his feet. In one basho, assume you have 21 Makuuchi bouts a day and then times that by 15. If the count using my toes and fingers is correct, that means you have 315 bouts per basho. Then times that by the six basho per year, which brings us to 1,890, and out of those nearly two thousand bouts, how many times has any rikishi lost by putting his hand down where he didn't lose his footing? A total of two or three if that. Hopefully, you get the point. So when I see Hakuho "lose" in the fashion he did to Harumafuji, it's so damn obvious. Oh, and there's also the fact that Hakuho is a horrible actor.

But I don't really have a problem with it. The Mongolians are dominating the yusho and spreading it around. So what? It's kinda like cycling or car racing, two sports which I know nothing about other than you have teams whose members compete in the same race, but it's obvious you have the designated guy from the team who you want to win, and the other members do their part like getting in the way of the other opponents. Or, you could compare it to the Williams sisters in tennis. Venus and Serena throw their matches in the finals against each other all the time to spread the love, but does it mean that neither are worthy of a grand slam? Of course it doesn't. It's hard to get to the point of even reaching the final, so if all parties involved are on the same page, you are going to see championships in sports manipulated.

And that's what happened at the Natsu basho. I don't have a problem with Harumafuji actually taking the yusho as he was knockin' on heavens door as early as a year ago; I just didn't like the way he got to the final. The tachi-ai henka of Kisenosato was bush, and then he got his ass kicked by Hakuho. I warned everyone early on that Asashoryu would go 2-2 the last four days, so Harumafuji's toppling that Yokozuna on day 14 was big...but it wasn't THAT big. In short, I don't mind Harumafuji's taking the yusho in any given basho, but I thought his overall body of work this Natsu basho was weak and unworthy, and it was painfully obvious that the best rikishi did not win.

Having said that, let's comment on the rikishi individually starting with Ozeki Harumafuji. Harumafuji was solid the first 10 days, and you could see him building momentum with each win. Since I said in my pre-basho report that I thought he would beat Hakuho, it made sense for me to say on day 6 that he had a 33% chance to yusho (nice downgrade to 5% the next day, Martin. How'd that one turn out?). In Natsu, Harumafuji enjoyed two things that we hadn't seen from him as an Ozeki: 1) a fast start with no stupid losses, and 2) his tachi-ai where he literally goes for the throat of his opponent. But while Harumafuji looked good physically, the pressure of the yusho hunt obviously got to him against Kisenosato on day 11. It was a disappointing bout because it took a lot of the legitimacy out of an otherwise nice run. The key for Harumafuji moving forward is to keep his sumo at this level. The mental toughness will come, so let's hope that he challenges for a lot more yusho. How nice was the drama the last three days when you had huge bouts each day? That doesn't happen if Harumafuji isn't in the yusho race to being with, so props to the Ozeki for creating the drama.

Let's bump back up to the Yokozuna rank where Hakuho has been in a giving mood for most of the year. The Yokozuna started a bit slow evidenced by five different kimari-te the first five days, but he settled back down to yori-kiri and uwate-nage form the rest of the way save that beautiful suso-harai against Harumafuji. Hakuho was primed not only to match Asashoryu's previous feat of two consecutive zensho yusho, but he shoulda passed his senpai in consecutive bouts won as well, but a Kotooshu henka on day 14 nullified any of that. It sucks to see a tachi-ai henka relegate a deserving rikishi from total domination to jun-yusho rikishi, but it's happened before and will most certainly happen again. It's funny though how the YDC and the Japanese media were raising a stink afterwards about Harumafuji's henka of Kisenosato, but no one said anything of Kotooshu's act against Hakuho. Of course the reason has to do with ethnicity, but to put a positive spin on things, it shows just how desperately sumo needs a Japanese rikishi to do well. Getting back to Hakuho, the Yokozuna is basically calling his shots these days, and after giving away two of the three yusho this year, I'll tell you now he's takin' it in Nagoya.

Let's move on to Yokozuna Asashoryu who cooled off in the end to finish at 12-3. If you thought Hakuho's kimari-te were all over the board the first five days, take a look at Asashoryu's winning techniques the entire 15 days. What stands out the most are his yori-kiri wins...or lack thereof. He defeated the following rikishi by force-out: Tamanoshima, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio. Ouch. What that means is that the Yokozuna made no impact at the tachi-ai and was unable to dominate his opponents. Asashoryu was charging high the entire basho, and yeah, I know it gave a few of you a stiffie to see him start out 12-1, but against the meat of the order the final four days, he went 2-2. The Yokozuna turned in a poor keiko effort prior to the basho, and it ended up costing him in the end. Hakuho showed in Natsu that he can recover from half-hearted keiko and a slow start, but Asa's got a lot of miles on that body, both physically and mentally, so in order for him to ever yusho again, he has to show the intensity 10 days before one, not after losing to Aminishiki on day 3.

Let's drop back down to the Ozeki ranks where Kotooshu was yet again ho-hum at 9-6. Yes, he gave Kaio a victory on day 10, but he got back a cheapie against Hakuho on day 14. The problem with the Bulgar is that he has a problem stringing wins together. He started out 3-1 after a day 1 loss to Goeido, but he failed to put together more than two wins in a row after that. Kotooshu's recent announcement of his engagement will not inspire him to new heights. Rather, it's a manifestation of how fat the Ozeki has gotten off of life in Japan. With heavy caish flowing in and a gal by his side, what more does he need? From the looks of his sumo, he's as content with life as can be, which means more mediocrity from Kotooshu atop the dohyo.

Ozeki Kaio is hardly worth commenting on. His only win over a kachi-koshi rikishi came on day 2 against Kakuryu...oh, and his spectacular sumo against Kotooshu on day 10. I read with amusement the Sumo Association's recent public reprimand of Baruto for giving up in his senshuraku bout against Chiyotaikai. I see. Blame it on the foreigner. Great idea, Japan. You have Kaio and Chiyotaikai who are embarrassing sumo with their yaocho that are so obvious that even the NHK English announcers are picking up on it; yet, the Association goes for Baruto. Until changes are made in the requirement for Ozeki to keep their rank, this problem will continue.

Whereas Kaio at least beat Kakuryu, Ozeki Kotomitsuki had zero wins over kachi-koshi rikishi until senshuraku when Kaio bent over and grabbed his ankles giving Hit and MISS his kachi-koshi at 8-7. Just ridiculous. Like Kaio and Chiyotaikai, Kotomitsuki's age has caught up to him. A year ago, Kotomitsuki would never lose if he had the outer grip and his opponent didn't. If you recall his wins over Hakuho, they always occurred when Mitsuki had the outer grip and the Yokozuna went without. This basho, however, Kotomitsuki found himself with the same circumstance against Hakuho, but this time, the Yokozuna was able to recovery and win rather easily. The quicker the Japanese Ozeki vacate rank the better. And as I mentioned on day 13 I believe, the top two candidates to replace them are Japanese. Sooner the better.

Commenting on Chiyotaikai at this point is worthless.

And speaking of worthless, let's move to the Sekiwake ranks where Baruto led the way with an unsavory 4-11 performance. We learned after the basho that Baruto tweaked his ankle in his day one bout against Tamanoshima. Ya think? The Estonian obviously was not himself the entire fortnight. Dude couldn't bend down to save his life resulting in losses to the likes of Aminishiki and Takekaze. If I was Sekiwake and lost to those two, I'd be swinging from the shower rod, so no wonder Bart had the life sucked out of him on senshuraku. Baruto gets a pass this basho due to injury.

Suckiwake Goeido doesn't. The only consolation I can take from Goeido's debut at this rank is that he sucked even worse in his Komusubi debut (he finished 5-10) but came back the second time around and was nails. The same thing will happen with this kid. Goeido is one of those guys who holds the sport with such reverence that he knows he has to lose to Chiyotaikai, and he seems too awed when fighting the Yokozuna to actually beat them. That is gradually changing, but you look at his mid-basho slide, and you can see how he turned in such a lousy basho. On day 6 against Kakuryu, he hesitated at the tachi-ai, and it cost him. He had Chiyotaikai on day 7, an obligatory loss, and then he faced both Yokozuna the two days after. Four straight losses and good-bye basho. It's all good though. He'll be back here before the year's out.

In the Komusubi ranks, Kakuryu fully deserved his Ginosho. In fact, look at the records of four of the six rikishi he lost to: Asashoryu (12-3), Hakuho (14-1), Harumafuji (14-1), and Kisenosato (13-2). The other two losses were at the hands of Kaio and Baruto, which means he cleaned house on the rest of the field...as a Komusubi should. Kakuryu's smaller stature dictates that his kimari-te will be all over the place, and yes, he had that henka of Kotooshu on day 8, but that was pure karma...what, after Martin had finally praised him the day before. Kakuryu not only deserves his Sekiwake rank, but he can kachi-koshi in Nagoya as well.

As for Tochiohzan, dude was just a bit overwhelmed by the pressure of being a sanyaku rikishi. He came out of week one with two wins over Chiyotaikai and Kotooshu, which is fine for a Komusubi, but he lost his kachi-koshi bid when at 6-7 the pressure got to him, and he lost his last two to Kyokutenho and Aran. Tochiohzan will be back, and he's probably got a run to Sekiwake in him, but I don't think he's mentally tough enough to go higher.

In the Maegashira ranks, what can you say about Homasho? The problem with Homie was his brutal week one schedule where he faced no one ranked lower than Sekiwake the first eight days. He came close a few times, but the life was beaten out of him, so when he lost to Takekaze on day 9 (that right there would drive most people to suicide) then got his ass kicked by Goeido the next day, he was on the canvas and couldn't get up. I doubt Homasho was injured. He's just a middleweight rikishi going up against heavyweight opponents. Thankfully Yoshikaze went half-assed giving Homasho his only win on senshuraku. Expect another great run in Nagoya from the bottom of the ranks.

Counterpart Aminishiki was too rusty in Natsu coming off of his injury suffered in January that caused him to withdraw. Lack of competition allowed him to rise to M1 in May, but he is not all there physically; hence his 5-10 finish.

Takekaze did well to finish 4-11 from the M2 rank. In fact, that equaled the performance of Sekiwake Baruto, a rikishi he actually beat. Problem is Takekaze is useless this high in the ranks anymore. Counterpart Kyokutenho showed the contrary going 4-0 the last four days with wins over Goeido and Tochiohzan to seal kachi-koshi and a return trip to the sanyaku. I love Kyokutenho at this level when he tries.

Like Takekaze, I thought M3 Tamanoshima did extremely well to finish 5-10, and like Takekaze, Tamanoshima defeated Baruto. Still, he's at least three notches over-ranked, and it showed. Which brings us to Toyonoshima who looked awful...sorta like the way a guy would react if something bad happened to his former stable master; something like being sent to the hole for six years. Six years? Sheesh, what do you have to do in Japan to get life? The problem with Toyonoshima is he just doesn't have the stature to compete among the jo'i anymore. You have guys like Goeido, Tochiohzan, and Kakuryu who are bigger and better; then when Kisenosato kicks ass, Toyonoshima becomes a non-issue.

Speaking of Kisenosato, he needed a basho like this. You can't get too stiff about his 13-2 finish that included a henka loss to Harumafuji, though, because he fought few jo'i rikishi: no Sekiwake, only two Ozeki in Kaio and Harumafuji, and one Komusubi in Kakuryu. Yes, he did beat Kakuryu convincingly on senshuraku and pasted Kaio of course, but I think the Sumo Association was feeding him soft rikishi to keep him on the leaderboard. Still, it doesn't mean that Kisenosato couldn't have beat anyone he faced. Where this 13-2 performance helps most is his confidence. Who didn't want to see Kisenosato involved in a playoff on senshuraku? While the competition could not compare to the guys ranked a few notches above him, he was fighting well enough to beat anyone. It's just too bad that he let Kotoshogiku get him on day 6, and then it was even worse to see Harumafuji henka him on day 11. When the yusho rikishi henkas you, you know you're a player. Excellent work Kid.

And how about counterpart Aran? You could just see something click in the Russian mid-basho, and it allowed him to go 4-0 down the stretch to attain kachi-koshi. Now, the key is for Aran to keep that kind of sumo going into the next basho. What kind of sumo am I talking about? Three yori-kiri wins and one shitate-nage win in his last four. Aran's first four wins? Okuri-dashi, oshi-dashi, and two hataki-komis. Hopefully, you get my point. Hopefully, Aran gets it as well. This kid could be dangerous if he commits to forward moving sumo as he did the latter half of Natsu.

No use commenting on M5 Tochinonada. The Gentle Giant is too slow now to gain much of an advantage against his opponents, and his 5-10 finish is proof of that. Yoshikaze finally performed to expectation finishing 4-11. I enjoyed his brief run the last few basho fueled by great fighting spirit, but Cafédoesn't belong at this level.

It was nice to see Kotoshogiku finish 10-5, but doing that from the M6 rank takes a little bit of the luster off considering he's a former Sekiwake mainstay. The positive for Kotoshogiku was that everyone of his ten wins were forward-moving. Then you have Arbo renaming his patented gaburi shoves as dry-humping, and he's right up there will Bushuyama status. Great basho for the Geeku that included wins over Kisenosato and Aran.

Counterpart Chiyohakuho incredibly jumped out to a 2-0 start, but he unfortunately got injured on day 4 after Kisenosato showed the difference between the top-level rikishi and a newcomer to these parts like Chiyohakuho. That day 4 bout was the epitome of an ass-kicking, and while you don't want to see a guy get injured, that was an awesome display from Kisenosato. Get well soon, Chuck.

M7 Asasekiryu is losing it. Like Asashoryu, Sexy has a lot of miles on his body, and it's showing as he no longer makes an impact at the tachi-ai and secures that deep inside position that he needs. 5-10 = no good. Counterpart Wakanosato sat out the entire fortnight with an injury meaning he'll fight in the Juryo ranks in Nagoya.

Look at Iwakiyama's 9-6 from the M7 rank. The problem with that is it'll move him up among the jo'i for Nagoya where he will thoroughly get his ass handed to him. I love the Gorilla...hell, I even bought his arcade game off eBay and have it in my basement, but he wants nothing to do with the jo'i at this stage of his career. Same goes for counterpart Tamawashi who finished 6-9. I know everyone wants to kachi-koshi, but it's best for Tamawashi to stay in the mid-Maegashira ranks for now.

M9 Tokitenku's 7-8 finish from this rank indicates that he is no longer a factor in this division. The same can be said of counterpart Yamamotoyama who also finished with the same mark. The difference between the two is that Yamamotoyama is such a novelty because he's so fat. Other than that, Jabbamotojabba cannot go much higher than this. There's just too much speed to counter him the higher he gets.

M10 Futenoh is definitely on the decline. 6-9 from this rank is bad considering his opponents mostly had the middle name "nobody" in common. Counterpart Shimotori who also finished 6-9 is another one of those guys who will bore us a few more years as he alternates between Makuuchi and Juryo.

Miyabiyama's 9-6 from the M11 rank is a sign that the Sheriff can still carry his weight among the low hanging fruit. Counterpart Toyohibiki needed his 11-4 as a confidence boost higher in the ranks. You'll remember that he was ranked among the jo'i a couple of basho ago and was beginning to receive some hype, but an injury sent him back down to Juryo. This guy prolly has the potential of say a Tochiohzan, so it was nice to see him not only perform well but throw his weight around and really rough up his opponents. The Nikibi was sharp from the tachi-ai as he popped his opponents, and he should do well next basho as well just outside of the jo'i.

M12 Takamisakari provided a good spark this basho early on as the tournament got off to its slow start. Right about the time that the Robocop was being brought back to reality (day 8 after a 6-1 start), we could see the two Yokozuna making their run as well as Harumafuji and Kisenosato. Takamisakari fulfilled exactly what the Sumo Association needs him to do...mainly stay corny and keep people excited until the yusho takes shape. Counterpart Dejima deserves the same comments I gave to the likes of Tokitenku, Futenoh, and Shimotori. He's just there but not contributing anything.

What the hell happened to M13 Hokutoriki? Yes, he's one of the most unlikable guys around, but even he knows how to win this low in the ranks. Well, knew how to win. How funny was it to see him go tachi-ai henka in week two out of desperation yet still finish the basho on a 2-9 slide?  Hokutoriki in Juryo; I like the sound of that. Counterpart Tochinoshin shoulda done a little bit better than his 9-6. I mean, talk about scraping the barrel for opponents. Shin is just too soft to ever flirt with the sanyaku.

I wonder if M14 Kokkai has also gone the way of Dejima and Tokitenku. Struggling at this rank just to get 8-7 tells me that he has. Keep pulling the paycheck and then retire to Georgia in style brother. It was nice to see counterpart Kakizoe scrap at the end for his 8-7 finish, but he is somewhat of a novelty himself due to his small stature and feisty nature.

M15 Shotenro had a solid basho picking up his first ever Makuuchi kachi-koshi in two tries. The sophomore was a swell 7-3 after 10 days, but he was dealt a host of veterans down the stretch that brought him back to earth a bit resulting in his 8-7 finish. I don't really see this guy surpassing the likes of Tamawashi though. It's tough to come back from a serious injury and enter Makuuchi somewhat late as Shotenro has and really make an impact. Which brings us to Bushuyama who turned a 1-5 start into a stunning 8-1 finish to post a 9-6 basho. I mentioned it in my report on day 13, but something clicked with this guy mid-basho resulting in a string of impressive wins highlighted by yori-kiri and oshi-dashi winning techniques. Tochinonada was in such awe that he got down on bended knee on day 13 out of deference. Let's hope Bush has figured something out because childish jokes never go out of style for me.

Last and certainly least was M16 Kimurayama who thankfully finished 5-10 to send him deeper down into Juryo. The less we see of this guy the better. He only detracts from sumo.

So that's a wrap on the Natsu basho. I wasn't necessarily pleased with the outcome of the tournament, but there is a lot of young rikishi out there to get excited about. Add even one Ozeki to that fray, and it will always provide for an interesting yusho race. I will see you all in Nagoya...wearing a mask of course.

Pre-basho Report
Some questions in life are just perplexing to me. Why are members of a barbershop quartet required to do those gay hand movements when the sing? Why hasn't that banished African prince dude sent me the 10 million dollars he promised in his email after I sent him my bank account information? And why are the basho in Tokyo so much better than the regional tournaments? I guess I can't complain as long as we have a good basho. Once again, we have a solid banzuke and sweet Sekiwake to complement the Yokozuna, but will it be enough to generate an exciting tournament? The banzuke is very similar to the Haru basho, and that tournament never could get going because everyone beat up on each other while the Yokozuna skated into week two. I expect a similar scenario to unfold here in Tokyo, but let's hope for a third, legitimate yusho contender. 

I know this report is late, so let's get right to the rikishi starting with Yokozuna Hakuho who regains the highest slot on the banzuke. Hakuho's pre-basho keiko workouts have mirrored his personality: bland. It doesn't seem as if he has dominated his keiko sessions to the extent that he has in previous basho, but it doesn't matter. No one else has outworked Hakuho, and when you are the best guy in the bidness, you just need to stay slightly ahead of the rest. Hakuho does that with his size and strength alone. Hakuho really generated no talking points prior to the basho, but he is healthy, so that means he's your favorite to yusho. Hakuho is coming in riding a personal best 25 wins in a row, but I don't see him extending that to 40. Yes, he takes the yusho going 14-1, but someone will trip him up along the way. One item of interest is that Asashoryu's longest winning streak is 35, so perhaps the biggest storyline to keep us interested early on will be whether or not Hakuho can reach that mark. Harumafuji is the most likely to take him down.

Across the aisle sits Yokozuna Asashoryu who had a chance to out-work Hakuho prior to the basho but failed to do so. I don't remember when we've had more boring pre-basho keiko reports. No wonder the Japanese media likes to badger Asashoryu in order to drum up headlines. They don't get any better news when both Yokozuna fight only softies prior to the tournament. Asashoryu's yusho in January came out of nowhere, and I think Hakuho let him have it in the playoff. But the Yokozuna let his guard down in Haru knowing he had silenced the critics, and the result was a lackluster 11-4 finish. I don't see any more sense of urgency prior to this basho, so I expect similar results. Chalk Asashoryu up for 12 wins--maybe 13, but I'd be surprised if this thing goes all the way to senshuraku with the yusho undecided.

In the Ozeki ranks, I've read nothing of Kotooshu's keiko other than his bouts against Hakuho at the Soken keiko session. There is nothing to indicate, however, that all of the Ozeki won't be the usual pushovers they've been the last few years. Watch for Kotooshu to drop a few head-scratchers as he finishes with 10 wins.

Ozeki Harumafuji's struggles as an Ozeki should continue this basho. The banzuke is just too tough for him to stand out...unless he revives his kick ass tachi-ai where he goes for the throat and immediate pushout. Look for another lukewarm start and semi-genki finish. 9-10 wins.

Ozeki Kaio is getting about as old as the media's hyping the swine flu. You wanna pandemic? Grown men showing up at the new Star Trek movie dressed the part is a pandemic. Killer plastic gun there dude.  I'm sure that's a lot better than something trivial, something like a girlfriend.  Anyway, the focus will be on Chiyotaikai this basho, but Kaio is going to struggle big time...again. Plus, he owes the Pup the win this basho meaning Kaio has to go 8-6 the rest of the way to kachi-koshi. That's a tall order that I don't see him fulfilling.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki is a lameduck Ozeki. The problem is he's getting older while the sanyaku is getting younger. I've of course read no keiko reports regarding Hit and Miss, but he'll have the presence of Hanaregoma-oyakata this basho. Eight wins.

Which brings us to Chiyotaikai who has managed to follow up bad keiko sessions with a bout of the flu. Getting your ass kicked by Kakuryu and Toyonoshima in keiko is not good...specially when those guys are some of the weaker opponents he'll face. This entire crop of Ozeki is getting so tired, so please sumo gods, smite one of them from among us. If Chiyotaikai does manage eight wins, you know they weren't all legitimate. We'll be able to tell early on if kachi-koshi is in the cards, but if the Pup does get it, rest assured there'll be plenty of caish being exchanged under the table. I'm rooting for his retirement this basho. Not that I don't respect the Pup and haven't appreciated the way he's policed the younger rikishi, but the Ozeki are making a mockery of the sport, and to see either Chiyotaikai or Kaio win eight the only way they can these days is more than I can take anymore.

Let's drop to the more refreshing rank these days, the Sekiwake. Baruto has managed to keep the seat for four consecutive basho since his initial promotion. He can stay there due to his size and strength plus the fact that very few rikishi among the elite go for the juggler at the tachi-ai these days. The Estonian should spank the Ozeki like that naughty nurse we always hire for the basho after party, and while he'll lose to the Yokozuna and prolly Goeido, he's the favorite against everyone else. A few rikishi will sneak wins from him, but Baruto should threaten double digit wins this basho.

And now that I think about it, if Goeido is already better than Baruto, there's a good shot he'll flirt with ten as well. Goeido is the third fastest Japanese rikishi to rise to the Sekiwake ranks, and the fact that he has done it during this era of foreign domination says a lot. There's nothing new to say about Goeido other than he improves basho upon basho. The change is subtle, and few notice it short term, but watch where Goeido will be one year from now. It would be fantastic this basho to see one of the Sekiwake stay in the yusho race until the end.

Rounding out the sanyaku, Kakuryu makes his long-awaited debut at the Komusubi rank. Normally you would say this guy is going to get killed the first week, but all five Ozeki are beatable, and it's sorta taken the sting outta the traditional tough schedule handed to the Komusubi. For the most part, I think Kakuryu has peaked, but the Mongolians have that knack to pull out wins even though their smaller size would dictate otherwise. Don't be surprised if the Kak wins eight again. First, this guy knows how to win. Second, he's not above resorting to a bit of trickery at the tachi-ai a couple of times a basho to pad his record. I don't like it, but Martin should be squirming again this basho because Kakuryu should hover around the 7-8 win range.

Counterpart Tochiohzan won't even though he's the superior rikishi to Kakuryu, but the difference is between the ears. Kakuryu has learned how to win at this level; Tochiohzan still struggles. I loved how Oh dismantled the Ozeki last basho, but there's a mental block with this kid the closer and closer he gets to eight wins. In Yoda speak, survive the first week onslaught he won't. Tochiohzan makes it respectable in the end, but doesn't manage more than six in his debut.

Homasho at the M1 rank is T&A. I realize this guys seems to struggle at times lower in the ranks, but his sheer tenacity should catch a handful of opponents off guard in Natsu. I think it's too much to ask for a Homasho kachi-koshi, but he should pick off a coupla Ozeki on his way to a decent 6-9 basho. Aminishiki is dangerous as well from the West M1 rank if he's healthy. This guy has drifted off the radar the last few basho, but if he's at full strength, he's capable of nine wins. If Sneaky can get off (cool) to the likes of a 4-3 start, he should clean up in week two. Let's wait and see how healthy his wheels are. I like him to win eight.

M2 Takekaze is worthless in terms of upsetting any players this basho, but you gotta admire the way he has come back after a disastrous Komusubi debut a year ago that was only recenlty outdone by Chiyotaikai's 2-13 mark last basho. I don't see him winning more than five despite his recent success at this level. Counterpart Kyokutenho is always a wildcard at this rank because you don't know the extend of the effort he'll give. Kyokutenho's size could allow him to have his way early in the basho allowing the Chauffeur to parlay that into a kachi-koshi. His chances are decent.

M3 Tamanoshima will get his ass kicked. He's the 16th guy on the banzuke, which means he'll get most of the rikishi ranked above him. I see the Association showing some mercy in week 2, but I'll be surprised if he wins more than four. Counterpart Toyonoshima is right where he wants to be. Remember, with five Ozeki on the board the cut off line for the jo'i ends at Toyonoshima, so while he will get the Sadogatake-beya Ozeki (something he should salivate over), he will largely be out of harm's way. If healthy, I like Toyonoshima to win nine.

Normally I would say the same thing for M4 Kisenosato, but I sense the Kid is in a mental funk right now. It's not something we haven't seen before, and he will surely break out of it and sit in the Sekiwake rank not to mention flirt with Ozeki after two of the current crop has retired, but I expect him to struggle again this basho. Dunt mean he can win eight, but I don't see him re-establishing himself among the sanyaku for Nagoya. And how about the commissioner's comments during last basho about how Kisenosato has got to get out and do de-geiko if he wants to succeed? That's prolly the best take I've heard from Musashigawa Rijicho. Counterpart Aran is extremely compelling at this level. Yes, he's over-ranked a bit in terms of ability, but not strength. I'd love to see him get some of the big boys if for nothing else to see how he reacts on the big stage. Aran has a decent shot at eight, but I see him falling just short.

I really don't see any excitement from here on down. M5 Tochinonada has generated a total of zero talking points for several years now, and ain't nothing changing this basho either. Seven wins. Counterpart Yoshikaze has a great chance of scoring kachi-koshi. After several basho sparring with the elite, the lessened competition at these ranks will allow him to o'ercome. Give him eight.

Cue the Simon and Garfunkel as I sing, "Where have you gone, Kotoshogiku, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you." Well, not exactly on the eyes part but definitely on this kid's disappearing act of late. Kotoshogiku is likely suffering from Sadogatake-itis, which happens to rikishi who come from a prominent stable with so many sekitori they just don't get out for de-geiko (Musashigawa-beya being the other such culprit). The Geeku struggles on his way to seven wins. Counterpart Chiyohakuho is in for a learning experience this basho for sure. M6 is well out of harm's way, but you're close enough to the jo'i that it causes some nerves...just ask Tochiohzan. It will be like fighting one's debut basho in the division. It's new territory for Chuck, and while I think he can actually rise higher than this, it won't happen yet. Look for 5-6 wins.

The M7 rank is solid with veterans Asasekiryu and Wakanosato. I think both of these dudes are in the perfect rank this basho in terms of their abilities in the division. I'd expect kachi-koshi from both.

Iwakiyama is creeping a bit too high for his own good at M8. Everyone loves this guy, but the speed and overall quality of the mid to upper Maegashira will bite him. 6-7 wins. Counterpart Tamawashi enjoys the highest ranks of his career, and I've enjoyed watching his steady development in the division. Going back to what I said about Kakuryu, this is another lightweight Mongolian who is figuring out how to win. 7-8 wins for The Mawashi.

M10 Futenoh has been a disappointment the last few basho after a brief flurry at the end of 2008. The poor man's Kotomitsuki should kachi-koshi at this rank due to his experience and ability. Shimotori finds himself ranked as high as he's been since he changed his name from Shimooooootori, or whatever it was. Here's a solid yotsu guy that should surprise his peers to the tune of 7-8 wins.

M11 Miyabiyama is compelling having dropped this low in the ranks. The Sheriff should be okay, but I question his stamina near the end of the basho. Watch for a kachi-koshi gained from a fast start and slow finish. You gotta love Toyohibiki back in the division at M11 in the West slot. The Hutt shares a similar fighting style to his counterpart, but he of course brings youth and tenacity to the table. The Nikibi has been plagued by injures over the last year, which has taken him from the jo'i clear down to Juryo, so expect a solid performance from Toyohibiki in Natsu. I like him to win at least nine.

I get a bit nervous everytime Takamisakari drops to M12 or thereabouts because he's just a 5-10 basho away from falling to Juryo. As he has done in the past, the Cop should dig in and give us that kachi-koshi interview by day 12. Can't wait. Dejima's sorta in the same boat, but he doesn't put fannies in the seats, so who cares? Expect the usual struggle to get his eight.

If there's any rank in the low Maegashira with two rikishi that are probably under-ranked, it's M13 with Hokutoriki and Tochinoshin. I expect Hokutoriki to shine from this position. He's quick enough to catch most of his opponents napping and strong enough to outmuscle them from the tachi-ai. Look for double-digit wins from Jokuktoriki. On the other side is Tochinoshin, who by the looks of him is under-ranked, but when measuring his actual fighting spirit, he probably should be slotted here. If only the whiteys had the same drive as the Mongolians. NoShine should kachi-koshi, but I don't see him dominating even at these ranks.

Interesting that Kokkai is now ranked lower than his countryman. At M14 go ahead and roll the dice on this Georgian. Like Roho, Kokkai will show flashes of brilliance about a third of the time, but he can never sustain any momentum for more than a basho. I see him working to get his eight as well. I never have any comments on counterpart Kakizoe, so why start now?

M15 Shotenro will be enjoying his second go-around in the division, and I think he's young enough and hungry enough to kachi-koshi with little trouble. The experience of having that first tourney under your mawashi takes a lot of the mental strain off. Across the aisle is none other than Bushuyama. I have nothing of value to say, but don't say you weren't forewarned about the childish jokes coming for each one of his bouts during the fortnight. Love ya Dolly.

And finally, M16 Kimurayama brings up the rear with his one dimensional sumo that has been exposed every time in the division. This is like Kim's 4th or 5th basho, and he still hasn't been able to kachi-koshi despite quick starts. Kids remember fast, so it'll take a few of his henkas to the left before his opponents will wise up. Here's a daring prediction: 7-8.

Here is how I see the basho unfolding:

Yusho: Hakuho (14-1)
Shukunsho: none (Harumafuji beats Hakuho)
Kantosho: Hokutoriki
Ginosho: Goeido






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