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2010 Natsu Basho
Report | Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
It seems we can't even finish a basho anymore without some sort of scandal rearing it's ugly head. First, it was allegations that Kotomitsuki has been betting on baseball the last four or five years losing upwards of what amounts to hundreds of thousands of US dollars, and then to top that we learn that Kise-oyakata has been providing prime seats to the Japanese mafia the last few years as well. Actually, let me correct that last statement...Kise-oyakata was just one of many dudes in sumo that has ties to the yakuza; he just happened to get caught and was made the scapegoat so the Association can fool itself yet again into thinking it's an organization that maintains a squeaky clean image. I really don't know where to start. One half of me wants to laugh at the whole thing, but the other side of me is extremely concerned. Extremely concerned because through all of this latest turmoil, we haven't heard word one from those last great bastions of sumo's integrity, Makiko Uchidate and Mitsuru
Yaku. Sheesh, you'd think with the lack of hinkaku going on the last few months, surely those two would have something to say. I've just introduced three separate topics in this intro, so let's address them one at a time. Oh yeah, I guess we have a basho to analyze after that as well.
First, Kotomitsuki. I like how all is well again with Ozeki Kotomitsuki because when summoned to speak with Sumo Association officials about allegations he bet on baseball games (illegal activity in Japan) he simply said, "I didn't do it," and the
Association's reaction was, "OK, that's good enough for us." In the same article, Otake-oyakata and Tokitsukaze-oyakata were also cited as having bet on baseball--something done through ties with the yakuza no less, so everyone mentioned in the article plus Sadogatake-oyakata were all called to the Sumo offices to give their sides of the story. Everyone simply denied it, and that was that. I think I know of a certain former dai-Yokozuna who sure wishes he received treatment like that. If all of these allegations were false, the parties mentioned would take the tabloid to court. And even if they do end up going to court where a judge rules in their favor, I'd bet my left nut that they're all guilty.
Which brings me to the next topic, sumo and the yakuza. As Takamisakari narrated in that movie Forrest Gump when he and Jenny were sitting in that big oak tree watching the sunset, "Sumo and the yakuza go together like peas and carrots." I dare say that Sumotalk has the best female readers of anyone, but gals, let me reason together with our male readers for just a moment. Let's suppose you have a free weekend to do whatever you wanted with no accountability whatsoever. And for us religious types, let's even suppose that the heavens were closed for the weekend. I think it's pretty safe to say that such a weekend for the typical male would
involve sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and more sex. Ok, now ask yourself what types of things the yakuza in Japan provides. Sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and more sex. The yakuza actually operate a lot of legitimate business endeavors in Japan, but when it comes to the vices, they're behind the scenes, so it should be no surprise when high profile athletes or
celebrities looking for a good time actually end up patronizing something run by the yakuza.
When this whole story broke about all the tickets the yakuza were provided for last year's Nagoya basho, NHK news actually got an official from the Yamaguchi-gumi on camera in an interview. They darkened his face and skewed his voice, but the dude was quite candid about the relationship between the sumos and the yakuza. He said that it goes both ways...sometimes the yakuza hit up the sumos to go drinking or score them duckets...and sometimes the sumos hit up the yakuza for other favors or as an avenue to get their gambling fix satisfied by betting on sports or playing Mahjong. He said it all starts over drinks, and knowing the Japanese culture the way I do, it makes perfect sense.
I guaran-damn-tee you that such legends as Kitanoumi and Chiyonofuji have had drinks and then some with members of the yakuza. And what about the supposedly innocent Takanohana? Just go back a few months when he proclaimed himself a candidate for the upcoming board elections. His detractors dug up a story from last year where Takanohana attended an event in Kobe (the heart of the yakuza in Japan) that was sponsored by members of the Japanese mafia. The story never gained traction since Takanohana is the darling of the Japanese media, but even Takanohana is guilty of
associating with members of the mob. And the thing is, all of the Japanese know it. It's just never talked about. So to see all of this heaped on the back of Kise-oyakata is laughable to me. There have always been informal ties between the yakuza and members of the sumo association--even if it's something as simple as going drinking together--and there always will be.
Now for the final topic before we actually get to the Natsu basho: Makiko Uchidate and Mitsuru Yaku. Well? It sure seems to me there's been plenty of impropriety going on within the Sumo Association of late, so where
have these two been the last few weeks? No comments from these sumo purists on allegations that an Ozeki and oyakata bet on baseball and arranged it all through ties with the yakuza no less? No comments on the action of two oyakata who provided prime seating to members of the mob the last four or five years? Yeah, that's what I thought. This is just further proof that these two yayhoos were more interested in proclaiming their racist agenda than actually maintaining the integrity of the sport. Actually, word has it that these two were seen in Los Angeles recently partying with Sandra Bullock's ex, Jesse James. And speaking of Jesse James, how does a loser like that actually make his way into Sandra Bullock's bed, actually convince her to marry him, and then blow it by cheating on his wife with a nazi beetch? Yeah, Jesse...you're not a racist. It was all just a joke. I'm not sure if it was the skin head, the excessive
tattoos, or the recent photos of you and and your gal dressed up in Nazi regalia that threw me off. Let me guess, some of your best friends are Jewish, right? I know. I really do know.
Anyway, now that I've gotten all of that nastiness off of my hairy--yet manly--chest, let's get to the Natsu basho starting with the yusho rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho.
It's hard to know just how great Hakuho really is these days because there isn't an ample measuring stick at the moment in the form of surrounding rikishi. Prior to the basho, you knew that two rikishi had a chance to take the yusho in Hakuho and Baruto even if it was a 90/10 ratio in Hakuho's favor, but to watch their day 12 bout and see Hakuho dismantle the Estonian in the manner he did shows us just how far Hakuho has separated himself from the pack.
In regards to his sumo, for the second basho in a row, Hakuho was never challenged. I know, Kotomitsuki and Kotooshu were involved in long bouts with the Yokozuna on consecutive days, but as I said, "Hakuho was never challenged." Once the basho began, it was clear that the two rikishi who would pose the biggest threat were Kisenosato and Baruto. It's interesting to me that he beat both of those guys by oshi-dashi quickly dismantling them with the shove attack and precise de-ashi from the start. In fact, his only other oshi-dashi win the entire fortnight was against the unpredictable Kakuryu, but that was after a tachi-ai henka and an extremely unorthodox bout. In other words, if Hakuho thinks there's the slightest chance he could lose, he buckles down and makes sure of the win. For everyone else, he's cautious enough to where he can avoid the henka and ensure himself an inside position from the tachi-ai, which in and of itself translates into a dubyuh.
It's fun to an extent to watch Hakuho work his craft, but even the Yokozuna realizes he needs a rival. He'll even say as much in the media prior to each basho and a couple of days during. As for the future, if there's one thing that might keep sumo fans' attention, it would be a massive win streak by a Yokozuna that may actually threaten the seemingly insurmountable Futabayama record, and Nagoya's gonna need it too. What, with the yakuza scaling their attendance back for a season, the Association needs to make up 10% at the gates right there.
Let's move onto the Ozeki ranks, which is sumo's biggest problem these days inside the ring (lord knows the problems they have outside of the dohyo). I doubt there has ever been a time when the collective core of Ozeki have been so mediocre. Of the five, Baruto finished 10-5 meaning he was ONLY 5 bouts off the yusho line. The rest finished 9-6. In the past, it was acceptable for an Ozeki to finish 9-6 once or twice a year, but when they're all finishing with only 9 or 10 wins every basho, it's a major problem. It's getting so bad, that the Komusubi and upper Maegashira are realizing that their chance to kachi-koshi is by cleaning up in the Ozeki ranks (see Tochinoshin).
Harumafuji's basho got off on the wrong foot after having his clock cleaned by Kotoshogiku yet again on day 1. Tochinoshin overpowered him on day 2, and then after a decent stretch, he had that huge lapse against Hakuba on day 10. That just shows you the mindset of the current Ozeki. Silly losses and no sense of pride regarding their rank. It was reported that Harumafuji was bothered by his left knee prior to the basho, but then look at his win over Baruto on day 11. That was one of the best bouts of the basho, but unfortunately, I don't see the same mindset Harumafuji took into that bout against Baruto the rest of the tournament.
Speaking of mindsets, Kotooshu is another clear example of an Ozeki who does not have the proper mental approach to each basho, especially considering his rank. I can see Tochinoshin sneaking up and getting him early on and even losing to Kakuryu who is similar to Aminishiki, but getting his ass kicked by Asasekiryu at a belt contest and then falling for Hakuba's shenanigans is inexcusable. And don't forget the isami-ashi "win" against Tochiohzan that shoulda put the Bulgarian at 8-7. It's a huge positive that Kotooshu manhandled Baruto, but the Ozeki needs to get up for the entire two weeks and not just a handful of bouts. It's this
nonchalant attitude of the Ozeki that is killing sumo inside the ring more than Hakuho's dominance.
Okay, Kotomitsuki and Kaio are not nonchalant in their approaches of late; they're just bad. But it goes right along with my stance that the Ozeki are the biggest problem in sumo right now as far as the rikishi are concerned. Think about your favorite team...could be any sport. It's likely a team from your home town or area, or it's a team that has been your favorite your whole life. What do you do when they are just getting worked by an opponent? If you're watching on television, you turn it off checking back every now and then just to confirm that the ass-kicking is still in progress. If you're actually watching the game in person, you leave early to beat the crowds and hopefully arrive home early enough that the missus will still speak to you, even if it is telling you you're sleeping on the couch again.
So now put yourself in the position of the Japanese, the hometown. They look at sumo, and the best they can do is Kotomitsuki and Kaio. Sure, these two Ozeki both won a majority of their bouts this basho, but going all out just to get eight wins instead of contributing to the yusho race is unacceptable for Ozeki. The Japanese know it, and that's a major reason why they are leaving early so to speak. It goes back to my most recent blog entry where I state the most important thing in sumo is the yusho and the Japanese rikishi. There's no yusho race, and the Japanese rikishi are getting dominated. Is it any wonder that Kaio's march towards 1,045 career wins is the biggest story in sumo right now?
Anyway, getting back to Kotomitsuki and Kaio, I still think Kotomitsuki can win eight on his own most of the time, but Kaio hasn't been able to for a long time. Other than that, these two are contributing nothing to sumo other than giving us the frequent Maegashira rikishi interview after they topple one of the Ozeki. Still, if Kaio's pursuit of that record creams your Twinkie, then I guess you have something to look forward to the next year or so.
Rounding out the Ozeki is Baruto, whose latest run officially ended on day 8 at the hands of Kakuryu of all rikishi. Baruto managed to beat Kaio on day 9 (how could he not?), but his only wins after that were against Kisenosato that saw Baruto execute a tachi-ai henka and against Kitataiki on day 14 in a bout that lasted way longer than it should have. Let's focus on those two bouts as they really tell a lot.
First, the tachi-ai henka against Kisenosato completely reveals Baruto's mindset. He had just lost four of five and was in complete panic mode. Opting for the free win in that situation shows that he doesn't trust his sumo. All of the great rikishi trust their sumo.
Then, against Kitataiki the next day Baruto was beaten technically on every front. He lost the tachi-ai and was in deep trouble only surviving on his size advantage. That aspect has propelled Baruto a long way in this sport, but they say shin-gi-tai for a reason. Against Kisenosato, Baruto showed his lack of shin. Against Kitataiki, there was no gi to be found.
In fact, you could even take the gi argument further in talking about Baruto's tachi-ai. Last basho, the moro-te tachi-ai worked wonders for Baruto, but in Osaka, the Estonian was making contact with the hands while driving his opponents back with the feet. In May, he was making that same contact with the hands, but it was only in an attempt to keep his opponents at bay, not to drive them straight back and kick their asses. Kakuryu understood this perfectly. He knew the hands would be there, but I also think he
suspected the lower body wouldn't, so he simply grabbed Baruto's hands and yanked him completely off balance. A few rikishi tried this tactic last basho but failed because Baruto was moving so well with the lower body.
Baruto fans should be more worried about that henka of Kisenosato than they should in any technical lapses because it's the mental approach to his bouts that sets everything else up. Baruto's 10-5 couldn't have come at a worse time. It's been clear for a few basho now that Harumafuji and Kotooshu would not be able to take advantage of Asashoryu's departure, but that aspect was countered by the sudden rise of Baruto and his threat to yusho two basho in a row. The problem is...I don't think Baruto had a bad basho in May; rather, I think we just witnessed the end of his incredible run. Don't get me wrong, the Estonian will have a yusho before he retires, and we will still see the 13-2 basho now and again, but I think we've already seen the best he has to offer. Next.
I thought Sekiwake Kisenosato was solid as usual at the Natsu basho, but he failed yet again to pick up that really big win. He probably had Baruto's number--and the Ozeki knew it, but Kisenosato will never get over that wall until he picks up big wins. He clobbered everyone ranked below him, but the only rikishi he beat above him was Kotomitsuki. Contrast that with Tochinoshin who got both Kotooshu and Harumafuji. Kisenosato is clearly the best Japanese rikishi on the
banzuke right now, but it will be impossible to get geeked over him until he starts beating the top four on a consistent basis. But props to the Kid for maintaining his Sekiwake rank.
Counterpart Aminishiki showed why the Sekiwake rank is too high for him finishing just 5-10 with only a win over Kisenosato that was semi-impressive. He's better off playing the spoiler lower in the ranks. I did think Clancy got off the line of the basho when they showed Aminishiki's uncle, former Yokozuna Asahifuji, henka Konishiki during their playoff for the 1991 Natsu basho yusho. Clancy was correct when he said, "I guess the henka runs in the family."
I thoroughly enjoyed both Komusubi this basho. Kotoshogiku's didn't score any huge upsets, but he had the dry hump yori charge moving at full force the entire basho. He trusted in his sumo even after a 3-5 start, and the result was a walk in the park during his easy week two schedule. He'll take over Aminishiki's Sekiwake slot for Nagoya thank you very much, which will give us as good'a Sekiwake lineup for Nagoya that we could ask for. Excellent work by the Geeku.
Counterpart Tochiohzan was also very solid even though his 7-8 would suggest otherwise. He had that
isami-ashi against Kotooshu during week 2 and then he fell to the henka-prone Tokitenku on senshuraku for a tough luck finish. Hopefully, Oh doesn't let this basho get him down. I know he wanted that KK from the sanyaku, but he needs to realize he fought well enough to get it and then some. Like Kotoshogiku, Tochiohzan stuck to his brand of sumo throughout the basho and for the first time, never showed any fear fighting at this level. Job well done.
M1 Toyonoshima's days in the sanyaku are done. He snuck a few wins away from the likes of Kaio and Aminishiki, but the dude just doesn't have the size anymore to hang with the current jo'i. Still, I never mind seeing this guy up as high as M1 because he keeps everyone honest. Same goes for counterpart Miyabiyama who also finished 5-10 and who also gives it his all every tournament but just doesn't have enough in the tank to get back up to the sanyaku.
M2 Homasho was a disaster even without his neck injury. Dude was literally running for his life early on with those tachi-ai henka, and I can't really say that I blame him. If he knows what's good for him, he'll stop those 9-6 basho from the M6 - M7 range. Counterpart Tochinoshin had his breakthrough basho. Up until this point, Shin wanted no part of the jo'i and gave up quite easily, but a tsuri-dashi win over Harumafuji on day 2 and then another Ozeki scalp on day 3 against Kotooshu gave him all the confidence he needs here on out. If only we could get the same mindset from Aran. Tochinoshin cooled off the latter half of the basho needing a win over Kitataiki on senshuraku to clinch his eight, but damned if he didn't pull it off. He's going to be great as a Komusubi in Nagoya, and he needs to realize he's going to fight the exact same schedule. This kid's also the youngest guy in the division, so it's not all that strange at this point to say he could be an Ozeki some day. Having both Tochinoshin and Tochiohzan among the jo'i will not suck.
M3 Kakuryu is a real piece of work scoring legitimate wins against the likes of Baruto and Kotooshu yet losing to Kakizoe and Tosayutaka. The Kak really needs to do his thing among the jo'i, but his 6-9 this basho will give him a breather for Nagoya. See ya back here in September. Counterpart Wakanosato needed a 5-0 finish to make things look respectable at 6-9, but this dude's done as far as contributing anything to the jo'i. Guys like Toyonoshima and Miyabiyama still have some worth, but guys like Wakanosato and Homasho are finished.
M4 Kitataiki had a good showing at the Natsu basho beating everyone he should have and then losing only to kachi-koshi rikishi except for Tochiohzan. And like Tochiohzan, Kitataiki needs to understand this 7-8 was a huge positive for him. Unlike Tochiohzan, Kitataiki will drift out of harm's way for Nagoya, so it's time for him to make a statement to the tune of 10-5. Kitataiki lived up to my mancrush status on him in May. I thought counterpart Asasekiryu was great posting a 9-6 record that included wins over Kotooshu, Aran, and Kisenosato. Instead of slowing things down, Asasekiryu actually looked to attack from the tachi-ai, and that was the difference here. Now the question is will Asasekiryu's 9-6 be good enough to propel him into that final Komusubi slot? Or will it go to M5 Hakuba who finished 10-5?
Judging on sumo content alone, there's no question that Asasekiryu gets the nod, but you also can't discount Hakuba's scoring wins over Harumafuji and Kotooshu. Here's my stance on Hakuba. Early on in the basho I mentioned that I saw signs of maturity from him. That was manifest in his overall 10-5 performance from this level in the ranks that did include some legitimate wins. That being said, however, I still loathe this guy more than any other due to his constant tachi-ai henka that has become so
prevalent that even when he doesn't henka, he still does because his opponent expects him to move to the side. You don't practice the kind of sumo Hakuba does in the keiko ring, so my opinion is there's no place for it in the Makuuchi division. Things will eventually equal themselves out to where Hakuba's act will no longer fool anybody, but that doesn't mean he's a totally
useless rikishi. He's got that ring sense that most Mongolians possess, so I want to see him fight straight up and figure out how to win like a man. I thought the Sumo Association sent a message by not considering him for a special prize, and I think that translates to Hakuba in the M1 slot for Nagoya with Asasekiryu getting the Komusubi nod. Let's hope so anyway.
M6 Tokitenku resorts to the tachi-ai henka too much for my liking. There's nothing further regarding his 8-7 performance worth mentioning. Counterpart Kokkai nearly played his way out of the division from the M6 rank posting a horrible 3-12. He's a perfect example of someone who is completely lost in his sumo, and his age is catching up to him neutralizing any size advantage he may enjoy. Kokkai doesn't belong above the M10 rank.
And as bad as Kokkai was, what the hell happened to M7 Tamawashi who finished an equally awful 3-12 that may have indeed been bad enough to send him to Juryo. Wins over Kokkai, Okinoumi, and Tochinonada...fandiddlytastic! Tamawashi had no impact at the tachi-ai, was a step late, and moved as if he were fighting in ski boots. We'll see how he works things out next basho. That's if he can even makes the Makuuchi cut. Counterpart Kyokutenho's 9-6 was par for the course, but two bouts that really stood out to me were losses against Aran and Tochinoshin. Both were yotsu-zumo contests, and both were the types of bouts Kyokutenho would win...up until this basho. It's not a big deal since Kyokutenho hasn't been a factor in this division for a long time, but take it as the first sign he's lost a step.
As usual, I don't have anything new to say about Kakizoe, who incidentally finished 7-8. He'll struggle to KK regardless of his rank. Counterpart Toyohibiki is in the same boat. This Hutt once showed promise in the division, but he's as stable as that cap their trying put over that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 8-7 with no noteworthy wins or bouts.
M9 Tosayutaka enjoyed a brief stint among the jo'i, but his 7-8 finish is indicative that he's yet another guy like Kakizoe and Toyohibiki who will struggle to win eight regardless. Counterpart Goeido did manage a 9-6 record, but that required a 4-0 finish against guys barely keeping themselves in the division (Tochinonada, Shimotori, Hokutoriki, Takamisakari). Furthermore, how does the most gifted Japanese rikishi on the banzuke lose to Kokkai? If I'm not mistaken, Goeido was at his best during a three or four basho stretch when Asashoryu sought him out and tutored him a year to a year and half ago. Remember those days? The Sakaigawa-beya boasted four sekitori in May, and they will have six on the banzuke for Nagoya. I think what's happening with Goeido is there are enough sekitori in the stable that he is satisfied in his keiko by staying at home. Goeido needs to seek out the likes of Kotooshu, Harumafuji, Hakuho, and even Baruto if possible if he's really serious about living up to his potential. I think a rikishi's toughness is honed in the keiko ring, and if all you're doing is fighting Iwakiyama, Toyohibiki, and a few Juryo scrubs, it lowers your standard. Take note Sakaigawa-oyakata. I dont' want to see Goeido in the lower third of the banzuke again.
M10 Aran was a man on a mission at the Natsu basho using a solid tachi-ai and great de-ashi to plow his way through the fortnight. However, a 12-3 performance from someone who has fought from the jo'i multiple times means nothing to me. Aran's biggest win turned out to be against Goeido and that loss down the stretch to Asasekiryu says something as well. The performance should put Aran at M1 or thereabouts in Nagoya, so let's see how he reacts next basho. Does he follow in the footsteps of Tochinoshin and beat the Ozeki early on to set a
precedent? I'll believe it when I see it. This basho showed that Aran has the strength and the tools, but there was absolutely no pressure on him mentally. He'll get that in Nagoya, so let's hold off on further comment until then. Counterpart Okinoumi's kachi-koshi last basho on
senshuraku looked fishy to me, so is it really any surprise that he finished the Natsu basho at 5-10? Good ole Japan putting so much stock into a guy because of his looks, but then again, just watch television over there and actors, musicians, TV personalities, etc. (I'm using all of those terms extremely loosely) are there because of their looks, not talent. Welcome to the club Okinoumi.
M11 Mokonami was all over the place this basho. He started out 6-1 thanks to bad competition, but needed some charity from Tokusegawa on day 14 to finally pick up his
eighth win. You may recall on day 8 when he dominated Koryu only to lose by accidentally putting his hand down first, but that's kind of a microcosm of Mokonami's sumo: reckless. Counterpart Tokusegawa is slowly but surely figuring the division out. He's learning how to adjust in close bouts and turning that into wins. The list of his kimari-te is also extremely versatile with 8 different winning techniques in 9 bouts. Furthermore, none of those 8 techniques involved pull sumo. With his size and ability to adjust in the ring, his future is bright in the division. I mean, he's already losing bouts to give other guys kachi-koshi. He's fitting in nicely and is a solid rikishi.
I really don't have any comments on M12 Takekaze's 8-7 performance, so let's look a bit at counterpart Kimurayama who managed to parlay a 6-5 record into yet another make-koshi. Simply put, dude just doesn't have the game. Those wins are set up by tachi-ai henka to his left, and it amazes me that these guys haven't figured it out faster.
M13 Yoshikaze had a nice, erratic 9-6 as opposed to a swank, erotic 6-9. Counterpart Takamisakari did manage the kachi-koshi, but it was only 8-7...all from the M13 rank. Next to Kaio's career win streak, Takamisakari's antics are drawing the second loudest applause, so to see him struggle this low signals he could last only as long as Kaio. Gump is able to take advantage of guys who are just filling space in the division, but the younger crop is nudging him slowly down.
M14 Tochinonada's decline has been steady the last year, and now it's to the point where he is no longer a Makuuchi rikishi. 3-12 from this low says so. And how about Hokutoriki who couldn't manage a kachi-koshi himself finishing 7-8 against...well, against crap. The Lil' Yokozuna was demoted recently to Juryo, so this flip flop will continue for another 18 months or so before we can wash our hands of Hokutoriki for good. He just doesn't bring good sumo to the table any longer.
You could see something click with M15 Wakakoyu this basho, who had confidence from the tachi-ai and knocked his opponents around pretty good. Wakakoyu isn't exactly a spring chicken at 26 years old, but there area a LOT of old guys low in the division, and Wakakoyu used strength and confidence to out duel them. Lest we get too excited, Wakakoyu will wake up in Nagoya and look in the mirror realizing that he is in fact Wakakoyu, so this wont' last too long, but I actually enjoyed Wakakoyu taking some of these guys by surprise on his way to a 10-5 record. Counterpart Shimotori ended with the same mark, but you could see after an 8-2 start that Shimotori began losing confidence in himself when paired against better rikishi. This type of rikishi thrives from M10 below, so let's move on.
As if there was something better waiting at the M16 ranks. Last and certainly least this basho were the two M16's, Koryu and Tamanoshima, who both finished at 5-10. I actually that Koryu showed some improvement early on in the basho, but he just crumbled in week 2 finishing 1-6...against largely crap competition. Back to the drawing board for Koryu who will be joined by Tamanoshima next basho in Juryo. Tamanoshima has gone the way of Tochinonada. Both were solid sanyaku rikishi in their day, but they are done. To see them constantly pop back up in the division is a sign that there's not that much cooking in the Juryo ranks either.
So, on that note we bring another basho to a close. With the rest of the French Open, the World Cup, and even Wimbledon sandwiched in between basho, the Nagoya basho will be upon us before we know it. The problem is...the only thing we have to look forward to is how far Hakuho can extend this current win streak.
Catchu all in a month or so.
Pre-basho Report Helmut Newton sumo.
Japan's weeklong Golden Week holiday always comes just before the beginning of the Natsu basho. And depending on how the calendar works out, the Sumo Association will sometimes release the Natsu basho banzuke a few days early in order to try and generate at least some hype before everyone takes off and forgets about sumo. This year, the banzuke was released as normal 13 days before the start of the basho, but the Japanese media took the holiday along with everyone else leaving us with hardly any keiko reports. Still, I've been able to glean enough from the media that I think I have a pretty good picture on the upcoming basho.
As for Yokozuna Hakuho, he isn't injured, so that's all you need to know. Any keiko reports regarding Hakuho are meaningless. He is the chief Khan now, so all the speculation surrounds who will come in second place. Clancy and I were chatting about the all out war that would occur if Hakuho ever sat out a basho, but until that happens, it will be business as usual with Hakuho skating to the yusho. I don't see why he doesn't win all 15 again.
Which leaves us to speculate about second place. Ozeki Harumafuji checks in as the highest ranked Ozeki, but a left knee injury suffered during the Soken general keiko session at the end of April has largely kept him out of the keiko ring this last week. In terms of the yusho race, count him out unless he's really sandbagging here (I don't think so), but in terms of kachi-koshi, he'll get it plus one. There just aren't enough solid guys in the upper Maegashira to threaten Harumafuji.
Harumafuji's bum knee is great news for Ozeki Kotooshu...in terms of coming in second. As for Kotooshu keiko reports, the Nishonoseki Ichimon held joint keiko sessions on consecutive days. During the first day, Kotooshu took a headbutt directly to the chest, and then sat out the rest of the day. Naruto-oyakata scolded the Ozeki from the sidelines and complained about him in the press afterwards, and the whole incident to me speaks of Kotooshu's lack of mental toughness. Harumafuji banged up his left knee at the Soken general session, but he visited the Sadogatake-beya the very next day and then really injured the joint. Kotooshu gets an
owie to the mid-section and then stands on the sidelines. Harumafuji's overdoing it probably wasn't the smartest move, but it shows his mental toughness when compared to the Bulgarian Ozeki. Anyway, I think it's this sort of mindset that will keep Kotooshu from taking the yusho any time soon. Give him 11-12 wins though.
Ozeki Kotomitsuki should manage his usual nine, uneventful wins. If he can get them early enough, it bodes well for Kaio who can no longer win eight legitimate bouts in a basho. There's really nothing new to say about either of these Ozeki, so I won't.
Rounding out the Ozeki, Baruto makes his long-awaited debut at the rank. The Onoe-beya is finally building new stable facilities in Tokyo in close proximity to everyone else, which means starting in September, Baruto will be able to do de-geiko. But for Natsu, Baruto didn't leave the stable once save for the Soken general keiko session, an event where he didn't exactly shine. I don't put a whole lot of stock in pre-basho keiko reports, but I don't think it suits Baruto any to stay at home and practcie everyday with Yamamotoyama. Guys in Juryo make a joke out of YMY these days, so it doesn't help Baruto prepare for a hon-basho by rubbing greasy bellies with Jabbamotojabba. As much as I frown on Baruto's pre-basho workouts, I look at the banzuke and really have to search for someone who can beat him. There's just a handful of rikishi, and the only given is Hakuho, so expect Baruto to win 12-13 again but just fall short of the yusho. Let's just hope there isn't a major collapse here.
In the Sekiwake ranks, Kisenosato had a great pre-basho. Once again, keiko results are largely meaningless, but if success in the keiko rings gives Kisenosato confidence going into the tournament, then I'm all for it. He beat Baruto three
straight times at the Soken general session, once by yori-kiri and twice by keeping on the move and catching Baruto off balance. Kisenosato hasn't scored a huge win in a hon-basho in a long time, but he's got a great shot to do it in Natsu. That will be the difference between an 8-9 win performance and a double-digit performance worthy of a special prize. At least he gets his eight.
Counterpart Aminishiki occupies the West slot for the simple reason that there isn't anyone else to take it. Shneaky's a mystery to me every basho, so I'll really go out on a limb and say he wins 7-8.
I love Kotoshogiku in the East Komusubi slot and hope he has another inspired basho. Problem is the Geeku is hot one basho and cold the next, and since he had a great Haru basho, don't be surprised at a let-down here in May. Since Kotoshogiku owns Harumafuji and shares a stable with Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki, really the only two chances he has at scoring a big win come against Hakuho and Baruto. I expect Kotoshogiku to largely push around the upper Maegashira on his way to kachi-koshi, but like Kisenosato, I want to see him score that big win.
Tochiohzan is extremely compelling in the final Komusubi slot because I think he's finally reached a point where he can kachi-koshi among the jo'i, something he has yet to do. Tochiohzan seems to have his confidence back atop the dohyo, and his keiko reports indicate he is getting stronger and stronger in the practice ring. I just think things are coming together for Oh. He will struggle to win eight, but for the first time in his career, kachi-koshi at this level is not out of the question.
I've just given each sanyaku rikishi a legitimate shot at kachi-koshi, which means in order for that to happen, the upper Maegashira have gotta suck. I expect most of them to comply, but M1 Toyonoshima will give everyone a good fight. Still, if Toyonoshima was ranked in the sanyaku this basho, I wouldn't favor him to kachi-koshi, which means he's a role player in Natsu giving everyone fits but ending up with only six wins. I really like Miyabiyama in the West slot as well, but like Toyonoshima, he'll be in every bout but fail to win more than six.
M2 Homasho is over-ranked here regardless, so to read that he injured his neck during keiko about a week ago just makes matters worse. I seem to remember a 1-14 performance from these parts recently, and I don't expect much more from Homie in Natsu. Like a majority of Tiger Woods' mistresses, this isn't gonna be pretty. Counterpart Tochinoshin has the body and the tools to hold his own this high, but mentally he just wilts among the jo'i. He'll pick up a few wins over rikishi ranked below him, but I don't see him winning much more than five. I hope I'm wrong.
M3 Kakuryu has faded a bit the last few basho, largely because he's been fighting straight up. This one's a tough call, but since he's number 15 in the ranks, he'll get everyone above him. I don't see the Kak shooting out to more than the six win mark. As much as I love Wakanosato, he's the bottom wrung of the jo'i and will get worked this basho. More than four wins here would be epic.
I love this rank for M4 Kitataiki. Is just out of reach of having to face the entire jo'i; yet, he'll get the three Sadogatake rikishi and maybe one or two more just to get his feet wet in this
territory. This will be a very telling basho for Kitataiki. It's usually from this rank that a rikishi jumps into the sanyaku for the first time. I don't see that happening yet with Kitataiki due to his injured knee, but I like him to win close to seven. Counterpart Asasekiryu is way too high for his hunker down with hips back sumo. It just won't work here, so Sexy will be lucky to win more than five.
M5 Iwakiyama is out this basho with a cerebellum infarction, which means he loathes counterpart Hakuba even more than I do.
M6 is a rank where you often see special prize winners emerge, but not so with Tokitenku this basho. TokiDoki has lost a full step and will struggle just to win his eight. And if Tokitenku struggles at M6, then you know that Counterpart Kokkai is even less suited for these parts. I wouldn't put it past the Georgian to finagle a kachi-koshi, but M6 is a weak rank this basho.
Wit the M6 rank down, M7 will pick up the slack. In the East is Tamawashi who is coming off of his first basho ranked among the jo'i. Tamawashi didn't impress at all in March, but he didn't roll over either. Tamawashi is improving every basho, and with his size, he will be a frequent jo'i visitor. I expect at least 9 wins. Counterpart Kyokutenho has the ability to win 11 from this rank if he's into it, and even if he's not, I expect him to win 9-10 in his sleep.
I can only repeat myself with M8 Kakizoe in that it doesn't matter where he's ranked on the banzuke...he'll barely make it if he gets his eight. Counterpart Toyohibiki was awful in March going 4-11, and that was from the M5 rank, so you really have to wonder how he only dropped three full slots on the banzuke. I'm okay with it though. Don't reward someone for sucking by sending them down to the bottom third. toyoIBIKI puts us to sleep yet again in May. 6 wins.
M9 Tosayutaka falls to the mid-Maegashira level himself after taking a beating last basho from the jo'i, but hey, dude kicked Kotooshu's ass straight up. Tosayutaka is a fighter, and there aren't a lot of them at this level, so on nad alone, he'll kachi-koshi. I
expect 9-10 wins. Counterpart Goeido is coming off of an injured knee that caused him to withdraw the first week in Osaka. I haven't read any keiko reports regarding the Father, but his stable master insists he's OK. A 100% healthy Goeido
pillages and plunders at this rank, but a Goeido coming off of an injury struggles to win 10. Give him 8-9 wins.
Aran falls to M10 after one of the worst basho we've ever seen from a guy in March. I have no tolerance for guys who give up near the top, and Aran did just that using a henka to pick up his only win in Osaka. The Russian will surely pick up 9 or 10 here, but I won't waste further bandwidth on him. Counterpart Okinoumi makes his second attempt in the division after eking out a kachi-koshi in March. His is a story where the media has found something to hype (in this case his looks), but in reality I see him as another Homasho. I thought Okinoumi was given his senshuraku bout last basho to get his eight. He doesn't get that same charity here, however, finishing with 6-7 wins.
M11 Mokonami is turning into a Mongolian Kakizoe. You like the guy and appreciate his efforts, adn he has the ability to rise quite high in the ranks, but he struggles to kachi-koshi regardless of his rank on the banzuke. I'll give him eight here. Counterpart Tokusegawa is one to watch due to his size and quickness. Like Okinoumi, this is Tokusegawa's second go around, but it's already clear that Tokusegawa is a more promising rikishi. Expect him to take a sort of Tamawashi path where he slowly but surely rises up the ranks before sticking there. I like him to win 8-9.
M12 Takekaze falls into that same category as Kakizoe and Mokonami, and if anyone really cared about him, I'd make a prediction. Counterpart Kimurayama has yet to kachi-koshi in the Makuuchi division, and the prospects aren't any brighter this basho. Unlike Hakuba who gets kachi-koshi by henka'ing every bout,
Kimurayama henkas every bout yet can't even win eight. He'll come close with 6 or 7 because there still seems to be enough rikishi in these parts dumb enough to fall for his shenanigans, but guys like Kimurayama, Aran, and Hakuba are horrible for sumo.
M13 Yoshikaze has the potential to score big down here, but it seems we've been saying that the last few times he's dropped this low. When you see a veteran trending down like that, the end is close. Just ask Tamanoshima. Eight wins for Cafe? Speaking of veterans trending down, Takamisakari checks in to the M13 West slot. As much as I hate to say it, Takamisakari has lost a step and struggles big time to kachi-koshi. Let's just say he gets eight for the sake of wanting to hear his kachi-koshi interview, but he wins no more than that.
M14 Tochinonada is not built for this division anymore, and his lack of speed will show. Nada doesn't win more than five. Could counterpart Hokutoriki be yet another veteran on his way out? Half of me wants to say "let's hope so," but the other half knows this guy can still turn it on from time to time, so if he chooses to do that at this level, he could win 11. I'll give him 9 to be safe.
M15 Wakakoyu makes his return to the division, but this guy is suited for Juryo, not Makuuchi. He will largely be the reason that many of the veterans pick up kachi-koshi. Five wins? No comment on counterpart Shimotori who will finish with eight.
Filling in the bottom rung in the East is M16 Koryu is who too lightweight to kachi-koshi in this division. Koryu, Wakakoyu, Tochinonada, and Kimurayama are all Juryo guys who happened to find themselves in the wrong division in May. These four are the reason everyone else will get their eight. Like the others, give Koryu five wins for his troubles. Rounding out the division is Tamanoshima who is literally on his last leg, but I think he can survive one more basho due to the Juryo guys surrounding him.
Here are my predictions for the basho:
Yusho: Hakuho 15-0 (why even bother?)