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2012 Natsu Basho Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
One of the most useless accolades the past six years or so in sumo has been the jun-yusho, or runner up to the champion. Over that span we have witnessed two dominating Yokozuna and very mediocre Ozeki, and so the trend has largely been a Yokozuna running away with the yusho while the Ozeki look decent but not great ending up with an average of about 10 wins per tournament. 10 wins, however, is never enough for the jun-yusho, so those honors have usually come from the middle to lower Maegashira ranks where a savvy veteran sorta beats up on all the scrubs posting a record worthy of the jun-yusho on paper but nowhere near a performance of what a jun-yusho rikishi should be.

Ideally in sumo, the Yokozuna should take the yusho about two thirds of the time with an Ozeki managing to rise up and steal the cup on occasion. And even though the Yokozuna does take the yusho most of the time, it's the responsibility of the Ozeki to create a yusho race and remain in the hunt down to the very end. The current rules for promoting a rikishi to Yokozuna state that an Ozeki must win two yusho in a row or post records worthy of the yusho for consecutive basho. What that "worthy of a yusho" really means is a jun-yusho. For example, if the Yokozuna goes 14-1 taking the yusho and an Ozeki just misses out at 13-2 but still handed the Yokozuna his only loss, that's a performance worthy of the yusho, and that's actually the standard that Ozeki are expected to live up to basho in and basho out. Once Kaio, Tochiazuma, and Chiyotaikai (three outstanding Japanese Ozeki) fell from their primes, however, the closest thing we have seen to a true Ozeki has been Baruto. Still, Baruto only lives up to the ideal Ozeki standards maybe two basho a year, so the result is a Yokozuna who should be running away with every yusho by two or three wins per basho.

And such dominance is exactly what we have witnessed the last decade in sumo, first with Asashoryu managing 25 yusho starting in Kyushu 2002 and now Hakuho who is sitting on 22 yusho and counting with his first Emperor's Cup coming exactly six years ago this basho. During these two magnificent runs, both Yokozuna managed to string together 7 consecutive yusho. When Asashoryu first achieved it, he set the new record, and then Hakuho tied that record just a few years later. I still remember during Asashoryu's record run, Mainoumi made the comments on the NHK broadcast that he wouldn't be surprised if Asashoryu was able to extend his yusho streak to 11 or 12 consecutive basho with his reasoning being that Asashoryu was just far superior to the Ozeki at the time.

Mainoumi's analysis was spot on, but it is even more applicable to Hakuho's record-tying run, which started the basho after Asashoryu's retirement (Haru 2010) and ended with Harumafuji's surprise yusho at last year's Nagoya basho. In my opinion, Hakuho has been capable of winning every single tournament since Asashoryu's retirement and would have won every single tournament had he fought straight up every bout. That's not to say he wouldn't have lost a time or two, but based off of Mainoumi's assessment that such a divide between the Yokozuna and Ozeki could lead to 11 or 12 consecutive yusho, we should have seen such a run from Yokozuna Hakuho the last two years.

So the question arises, why was Hakuho's consecutive streak cut off at 7, and why has he all of a sudden looked so mediocre even though the Ozeki have not gotten better? I've gone into painstaking detail in blog entries, pre-basho and post-basho reports, and in my daily comments to explain the reasons why, and if I had to sum up my opinion as to why in one sentence, it would be this: Hakuho is making himself vulnerable in order to allow Japanese rikishi to close the gap and ultimately take the yusho. Ironically, it's been the foreign rikishi who have taken advantage of Hakuho's self-induced decline with Harumafuji winning at last year's Nagoya basho, Baruto winning at this year's Hatsu basho, and then Kakuryu demanding Ozeki promotion with a worthy jun-yusho performance in March. So it's my opinion that the Sumo Association felt they had to go one step further at the Natsu basho and encourage not only Hakuho to pull back but the foreign-born Ozeki as well.

In the introduction to my day 12 comments, I illustrated sumo's hierarchy and how I think bouts are arranged among the elite rikishi. Following that system, it looked to me at the Natsu basho that all of the elite foreign rikishi chose to pull back this basho, but they each chose to do it in a different matter.

Hakuho lost on day 1 and then dropped three consecutive bouts late in week 1 to take himself out of the race early.

Kakuryu made sure he got an early kachi-koshi and then disappeared after that.

Baruto always paced himself one or two losses behind the leaders.

Kotooshu made sure he stood around like a bump on a log for every important bout.

And Harumafuji probably struggled through a legitimate injury receiving a gift kachi-koshi on senshuraku from Hakuho.

The result of the elite foreign rikishi all pulling back their efforts was two-fold. First, it created an inflated yusho race with 6 rikishi (four of which were Maegashira) in the hunt at the end of day 14. And second, it turned the watered down jun-yusho rikishi into the default winner. I must say, Kyokutenho's yusho was the least impressive performance by a champion that I have ever seen. A yusho from the hiramaku has occurred three times the past 15 years. The first was Kotonishiki who yusho'ed from the M12 rank at the 1998 Kyushu basho. Over the last five days of the tournament when it was clear he was on a roll, he was paired against two Yokozuna and an Ozeki. Takatoriki was the next to do it at the 2000 Haru basho and he also fought two Yokozuna the final five days along with two Sekiwake (Musoyama and Miyabiyama) who would be promoted to Ozeki within the year. Finally, Kotomitsuki pulled off the yusho from the M2 rank at the 2001 Aki basho, and it goes without saying that fighting from the jo'i, he faced the toughest competition possible the full 15 days.

Contrast that now with Kyokutenho who fought one Ozeki and one Sekiwake the final two days of the tournament. His Ozeki opponent was Kotooshu who is not only the weakest Ozeki on the board but who let up in his match to the extent where he was thrown so hard he was forced to withdraw on senshuraku, a perfect illustration of why they say letting up atop the dohyo invites injuries (even fake ones as in the case of Hakuho vs. Aminishiki). His Sekiwake opponent was Goeido, a dude who has been floundering the last three years and somehow found himself vaulted to Sekiwake for this basho. His other three shubansen opponents? Tamawashi, Takarafuji, and Sadanofuji. He fought Sadanofuji on day 13!!

Clearly, Kyokutenho was not marked the entire basho, which tells me the Sumo Association did not see him as a threat to their yusho agenda until it was too late. Now, if this tournament was fought straight up and things just sometimes happen, which enabled Kyokutenho to come out of nowhere and yusho, then two things would have occurred. First, Kyokutenho's yusho chances (along with Tochiohzan) would have been identified earlier and he would have been matched against tougher opponents during the shubansen. Such a precedent has been set as I illustrated with the three previous hiramaku yusho. Second, the end result of this yusho should be a feelgood story with the oldest Makuuchi rikishi and a really good guy to boot managing to capture an improbable championship in the face of a banzuke that featured a dai-Yokozuna and six Ozeki. Such a miraculous accomplishment would surely be celebrated.

So what was the mood around town following this horrifying yusho run? The very first article I saw Monday morning from one of the sports media kingpins, Sports Hochi, read: "Kitanoumi Rijicho furious at Kotooshu's kyujo! Offers rare apology to fans! " And then that useless body, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, convened as usual the morning after the tournament and just blasted the Ozeki collectively for allowing a Maegashira to take the yusho. The Sumo Association finds itself in a very precarious position right now because what more can they do? They simply cannot lower the bar any more risking even further embarrassment, and if they greenlight the Yokozuna and Ozeki to go full out in Nagoya, it's back to square one where the foreign rikishi are dominating sumo, and the Japanese rikishi offer no hope in sight. It's damned if you do, and damned if you don't, so no wonder the mood in Ryogoku is so foul at the moment.

It will be interesting to see the direction the Sumo Association would like to see the sport take in July, but in the mean time, I'll conclude my comments by breaking down a few of the rikishi performances at the Natsu basho since it's pointless in a basho like this to analyze the sumo of all the rikishi top to bottom.

Let's start with our yusho rikishi, M7 Kyokutenho, who really did nothing special this basho with his sumo...it was just Kyokutenho being Kyokutenho. Dude has always been a solid belt fighter and then he uses his height advantage as well as anyone. Get in too close to him, he can body you up and overpower you at the belt. Stay back a bit and fish for an opening, he'll pull you down without hesitation. Yes, he will turn 38 years old in a few months, but he's kinda like that old '95 Ford Taurus the grandma down the street drives. Sure, the model itself is old, but granny never puts any strenuous miles on it, so it goes forever.

There's really not a whole lot more to say about this guy. He backed into the yusho, but he clearly deserves props for besting Goeido on senshuraku and then beating Tochiohzan in the playoff bout. And while we're on the subject of playoff bouts for the yusho, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that was the single worst bout of sumo we've ever seen with the yusho in the balance: a hesitant charge from Tochiohzan and a backpedaling Kyokutenho who actually clinched the yusho standing straight up with his feet flat and his knees locked. Neither rikishi belonged in that situation, and it clearly showed. No wonder the elders in the Association want to bury their heads in the sand after this basho; it was a flat-out debacle.

I would like to end though on a nice note regarding Kyokutenho. He is one of the few rikishi still around that I have actually met. Back in the mid-nineties when I lived in Fukuoka and would stalk these guys each November, Oshima-beya was one of my favorite places to visit. It was located way north of the city in the middle of nowhere, and I doubt any whiteys ever visited the place. At the time, Kyokutenho was working his way through the Makushita division, and the big guns in the stable were Asahiyutaka and Kyokushuzan. There was also a Juryo guy named Asahizato who had the biggest brown patches (called aza) on either side of his crotch that I've ever seen, but he never amounted to much anyway.

Well, Asahiyutaka was a really quiet guy. He looked uncomfortable talking to anyone, and so I was never able to have a real conversation with him. Kyokushuzan, however, was the exact opposite. He was one of the more outgoing rikishi I've ever met, and he used to test his English on me and tell me how much he liked Big Macs. The thing about Shu, though, is he could never sit still and was always bouncing around the stable facilities. And so that gave me a chance to meet Kyokutenho and get to know him a bit...to the extent one can when the sumos only come to town once a year. He was the most friendly and genuine guy that you would want to meet. He was pleased that I knew who he was even though he was a non-sekitori, and it was enjoyable talking to him about life in Japan (he and Kyokushuzan were the first Mongolians to join sumo). I know some people wonder why I still even do Sumotalk if I think it's all fake, and my answer to that is 1) I don't think it's all fake, and 2) it's my past interaction with guys like Kyokutenho and Kaio and Miyagino-oyakata that will always bind me to the sport. So props bro on the yusho; it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

The official jun-yusho rikishi this basho was M4 Tochiohzan, but I really have nothing to comment on him that I didn't already say in my discussion of Kyokutenho. Tochiohzan's a solid rikishi whose had his ups and downs, but he's completely capable of winning 12 bouts in a tournament, especially if he isn't paired against a lot of the guns. He did get three Ozeki this basho, but Kotooshu withdrew giving Oh the freebie; Kakuryu took a dive; and then Tochiohzan did defeat Kisenosato in a very curious bout where it looked to me as if the M4 was trying to let the Ozeki win. Who knows that happened there, but the case in point is Tochiohzan didn't have a single impressive wham bam thank you ma'am over a rikishi with game. Same goes for Kyokutenho; yet, these two found themselves in a playoff for the yusho. There were so many irregularities at the Natsu basho in regards to the yusho rikishi, dives, scheduling, fake injuries, mukiryoku sumo, and blatant mistakes from polished rikishi that I don't know how anyone could have watched it all unfold and taken it seriously.

Case in point: Hakuho finished 10-5 with the entire crop of Ozeki sucking on paper. How is that possible? The only way it's possible is if Hakuho is letting up, and there was plenty of that going on from the Yokozuna in week 1. And even in week two when he fought Kisenosato, he made a critical mistake that he would never do normally where he kept his left arm over the top of Kisenosato's right shoulder during a yori-kiri charge. A dai-Yokozuna does not make that mistake, especially when the left outer grip is right there.

Then there was the issue of Hakuho's fake injury, a fractured index finger to his left hand. The Yokozuna refrained from grabbing left grips with the hand after that injury was published in the media (see aforementioned Kisenosato bout and the day 9 Toyohibiki bout), but then turned right around and threw the 200 kg Gagamaru with the left hand and Kotoshogiku a few days later. The fact'a the matter is, if you fracture your index finger in a bout of sumo, you will inevitably look at that finger afterwards, flex it, shake your hand, etc., but Hakuho never did that after any of his bouts. That story of a fractured index finger was as manufactured as Hakuho's record since day 10 of the Hatsu basho.

You remember that day don't you? It was the day when Hakuho threw his bout to Kakuryu. That yaocho was correctly called on Sumotalk and very hotly debated because it came out of nowhere, and the acting was good enough to fool all but a few of the fans. Obvious mukiryoku bouts from the Yokozuna followed to conclude the Hatsu basho, and then Hakuho dropped a few more bouts in Osaka despite taking the yusho when Kakuryu was ordered (can't tell you by whom) to lose to Goeido on senshuraku. If we go back to day 10 of the Hatsu basho and calculate Hakuho's record his last 36 bouts, he stands at 26-10. 10 losses in 36 days!! Care to guess Hakuho's record before day 10 of the Hatsu basho if you count backwards by his previous 10 losses sandwiched by his wins? 151-10. And that number includes a loss to Kaio in his last full basho and a couple of freebies given each to Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato during their Ozeki runs. If you don't think Hakuho has been involved in yaocho since Takanohana prematurely declared Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku Ozeki candidates after the 2011 Hatsu basho and especially since day 10 of this year's Hatsu basho, you're as obtuse as a 179 degree angle.

It's pointless for me to break down Hakuho's sumo of late because it hasn't been real. And the same goes this basho for the foreign Ozeki. I mean, the YDC had to come out and scathe the Ozeki for their collective dismal performances at the Natsu basho, and they all probably believed what they saw, but the foreign rikishi this basho were clearly stepping back in order to give other rikishi some run. I floated in January that I thought the Sumo Association was desperate for a Japanese rikishi to yusho, and the Natsu basho was a perfect example of how that is being set up. Frankly, it shoulda happened but didn't work out that way thanks to Kyokutenho and possibly Kotooshu.

I think that a lot of Kitanoumi's rage for Kotooshu post-basho was because of how he let Kyokutenho win on day 14. In his senshuraku aisatsu (greeting), Kitanoumi actually broke protocol and apologized to the fans for Kotooshu's kyujo. The commissioner explained afterwards that he was angered because Kotooshu's withdrawal gave Tochiohzan the automatic win on senshuraku, which immediately eliminated the four loss rikishi from the yusho race cutting the remaining contenders in half. But why get angry over his kyujo? Kotooshu was legitimately inured and required crutches Sunday morning to even walk around the stable. Furthermore, it was not going to play out where all three-loss rikishi lost and all four-loss rikishi won, which would have created a six-man playoff for the yusho. I think the anger and frustration comes in because the Sumo Association took a huge step backwards in setting all of this up, but it didn't work out exactly as they had hoped.

Moving into the Nagoya basho, can they market Kyokutenho's yusho? Can they market momentum from a Japanese rikishi? Can they market a fierce yusho-arasoi involving the sport's top rikishi? Can they market hotly-contested sumo? No, no, no, and no. What exactly do they have to pimp heading into Nagoya? Nothing. And to think that a yusho by a native rikishi not to mention an actual tsuna-tori by a Japanese rikishi was in their grasp. As it stands now, though, they're back to square one. That's why I think Kitanoumi is so angry.

If a silver lining can be gleaned from all this, the top three spots on the Nagoya banzuke will be Hakuho, Kisenosato, and Kotoshogiku. At least they have that.

See you all in Nagoya where I will once again assume the fighting will be straight up and comment on each rikishi accordingly.

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Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
I was caught off guard this basho with the tournament starting the first Sunday in May rather than the traditional second week. It took an email from Simon over the weekend asking if I was ever going to post Fantasy Sumo groupings since the basho was just a week away, and I usually start taking care of bidness two weeks before the basho starts. I quickly tried to get the website up to speed, but I never did see a stated reason why the Sumo Association decided to go early in May. I'm pretty sure, though, that it has something to do with the timing of the Golden Week holiday in Japan that concludes with day one of the tournament.

The most astonishing headline that I've read prior to the basho was that 7,500 spectators turned out a week ago to watch the general keiko session held in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council and sumo officials. That attendance figure was the fourth highest turnout ever and the biggest number in five years. This general keiko session where all Makuuchi rikishi are in attendance was often just a private affair closed to the public; however, as sumo's popularity has waned the last half decade, the Sumo Association began opening it up to the public every Tokyo basho as a PR move. The last few years, attendance to the free event has been awful sometimes with less than 2,000 fans bothering to show up, but it looks as if the Sumo Association is trying to capitalize on the huge Golden Week holiday this year, which has most Japanese people off of work from the end of last week all the way through to day 1. If the reason why they decided to start the basho on May 6th was to gain exposure from the holiday when the public's mind is focused on more leisurely activities, it was a smart move and I applaud them for it. The Japanese fans have shown their unwillingness to take time off from work to attend the sumos during the week, but they're more than willing to comply when they have time for leisure activities on weekends and holidays.

And while this may provide a slight boost to tickets sales for the tournament, the only thing that will really bring the crowds back is Japanese rikishi finding success in the ring. It's my opinion that bouts here and there have been orchestrated in order to create a foundation for a Japanese resurgence, but I've already addressed that topic at length, so let's turn our focus to the Natsu basho.

Yokozuna Hakuho has been focusing his pre-basho keiko on the six Ozeki and why not? With Kakuryu's promotion to the rank following the Haru basho, the only rikishi capable of defeating the Yokozuna are all ranked at Ozeki, so Hakuho has been singling each of these guys out in keiko and basically kicking their asses. Hakuho did go just 8-4 against the Ozeki at the general keiko session, but that follows the same pattern he's been exhibiting during the hon basho: keep it close. When he's been getting the Ozeki individually, he's been thrashing them in the keiko ring. I wish I could say that this is all in preparation for a dominant 15-0 performance from the Yokozuna in May, but based on the shenanigans of the past year, I don't see how Hakuho doesn't drop at least one bout at the Natsu basho. In my Haru post-basho report, I talked about some interesting numbers regarding Hakuho's career the last few years, and one of the topics focused on his lack of a zensho yusho in 2 1/2 years. It's my opinion that Hakuho is more dominant now than he was 2 1/2 years ago, but it'd be foolish to predict a 15-0 record this time even though he's absolutely capable of it. My guess is that Hakuho finishes with 13 or 14 wins and takes the eventual yusho, but I fully expect him to drop a bout or two along the way.

And that brings us to the Ozeki who are led on the banzuke by Harumafuji. Harumafuji refrained from sparring at the general keiko session held a week ago citing an ankle injury, but if memory serves me correctly, Kakuryu passed up an opportunity to fight Hakuho in Osaka prior to the basho citing a shoulder injury. We all witnessed what Kakuryu did after that, so take this Harumafuji injury with a grain of salt. He may well be hobbled, and if so, we'll find out just a few days in. Taking Harumafuji at his word, I expect the Ozeki to scrap for just 9 wins, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he takes the jun-yusho.

News surrounding Ozeki Baruto has been quiet this pre-basho, which is understandable considering Kakuryu's surprise performance and subsequent promotion in Osaka. Regardless of whose hot and whose getting all the run, Baruto is still the number 2 guy in sumo. It doesn't mean he will sustain this status moving forward, but for now, he can still be mediocre and jun-yusho. With any talk of Yokozuna over, there's no pressure on the Estonian, and I expect him to win 12.

Up next is our highest Japanese rikishi on the banzuke in Ozeki Kisenosato followed by countryman Kotoshogiku. Hakuho had an interesting quote this past week when focusing his de-geiko efforts on his fellow Ozeki. He said something to the extent that he hopes to spar with the Ozeki who have momentum right now, and then he cited Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, and Kisenosato. Uh, one of those guys has some momentum right now, but the other two don't. You had Baruto who took the yusho in January; Kakuryu did his thang in Osaka to gain some huge momentum; and then the highest ranked Ozeki on the board is Harumafuji, which means he was the best Ozeki in March. Hakuho's mentioning Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku as having momentum when the two clearly don't is an example in my opinion of the spin going on right now to make it look as if 1) Hakuho is vulnerable, and 2) the Japanese rikishi have a chance.

Regarding Kisenosato, he fought like 20 times with Hakuho a couple of days ago finishing 1-19. Sweet momentum bro. Any momentum enjoyed by Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku has been created in the press and by Hakuho's good graces. It doesn't mean that the two Japanese Ozeki can't rise up and put together a great basho, but it's been almost a year since either of them actually looked dominant at a tournament. And I don't see anything different for these guys in May. Both should finish around the nine win mark, and neither can just show up and post double digits. One other thing to consider...of the 6 Ozeki, Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku are the only two who have never won 34 bouts or more over three basho. My intent is not to detract from these two; rather, I'm not buying into any hype that's generated around these two.

I think I've finally figured out that Kotooshu translated into English means "fifth wheel."

Kakuryu occupies the final Ozeki slot and completely deserves the promotion, especially after the Association lowered the bar for Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato. It's been interesting to read the press coverage surrounding Kakuryu since promotion because there hasn't been much positive to say. It's not as if the media is maligning him, but they are choosing to pick out the negatives and spin the coverage in a way that suggests Kakuryu is struggling in his new rank. This dude has proven himself to be third best in the sport the last year, and I don't see that much will change this basho. On one hand, you want to say there could be some pressure in his Ozeki debut, but on the other hand he's been fighting at the level of an Ozeki longer and more consistently than some of the other Ozeki. The one trap Kakuryu must avoid is losing early to a Maegashira rikishi. Previously, he has used key wins over Ozeki early in the basho to give him momentum. Now a win over a fellow Ozeki is expected, so there will be no signature wins for him until week 2. I expect Kakuryu to be average for him, which lately means 10-5.

As we head into the sanyaku, here is the deal with the rest of the jo'i rikishi. The top seven guys on the banzuke are ranked Yokozuna and Ozeki. If you assume the higher rank will win any given bout, that's a probability of seven losses without fighting anyone ranked below you. It leave very little room for guys like our Sekiwake to maneuver. Leading the way in the East slot is Toyonoshima who arguably could be the top 8 guy in sumo right now. He's actually struggled some the last few basho and did not look good the last time he was here, but he's a tough matchup for most of the guys above him, so I see him flirting with eight wins.

Goeido returns to the Sekiwake rank for the first time in three years or so, but it sure doesn't seem like he's been fighting at a Sekiwake level. Fact'a the matter is he hasn't, but with Kakuryu now an Ozeki for life, somebody has got to be slotted here. Goeido can easily hold his own at this level if he determines to fight yotsu-zumo, but the minute he starts the pulling and retreating, he's going to get demoted back down to the rank and file. Still, after that "win" over Kakuryu on senshuraku in Osaka, part of me is wondering if Goeido will be groomed as Japan's "next." If he happens to beat Hakuho, it won't be a coincidence. I don't expect any funny business this basho, which means Goeido will finish with 5-6 wins.

With the sanyaku so top-heavy, the Komusubi rank is rendered inconsequential, especially with old veterans like Homasho and Aminishiki who may be able to win a few based on experience but who are also dinged up enough physically that they cannot impact the basho. With all of these guys fighting each other this high, somebody has got to lose half the time, so expect both Komusubi to take the brunt of the fury. I'd be surprised if they win 10 between 'em so give Aminishiki 5 and Homasho 4.

M1 Aran will also do his best to roll over for the elite, which is a shame because with his strength and yotsu skills, he could actually be a playuh this high. I expect nothing but frustration from the Russian whose status quo this basho is just four wins. Now Takayasu is a completely different story since he is new to these parts. The Naruto-beya prodigy has figured something out the last two basho after just a fair start to his Makuuchi career. Takayasu has learned to keep his hips lower, and I expect him to catch a few of the Ozeki off guard with his youth and fierce tsuppari attack. I don't think he's ready to kachi-koshi yet, but he should win 6 here at least.

M2 Myogiryu is extremely compelling at this level. He has yet to kachi-koshi from the jo'i, but he hasn't been demoted out of the jo'i either. The kid has so much heart that he is going to will himself to a few upsets. I like Myogiryu winning 7. Gagamaru has the size and the ability, but there's a reason sumo's creed is build upon shin-gi-tai. Gagamaru has the tai (body) for sure; I like his gi (technique); but at this level his shin (heart) is not there. There's a reason why shin is listed first, and Gagamaru just wilts at this level. Maybe he musters five wins.

The M3 rank is utterly useless this basho with Toyohibiki and Takekaze, and having these two guys here along with Aran and Gagamaru is what's going to make it hard for any of the Ozeki to make-koshi.

The M4 rank makes up for the M3's futility, however, with stable mates Tochiohzan and Tochinowaka...two guys who could use a little stronger shin themselves. Tochiohzan frequently gets out to quick starts, and he could very well do it here in May, but he can never sustain it the full 15 days. Tochinowaka has shown he can win on this stage, but the doesn't show a will to win, and so he simply isn't among the jo'i. M4 is a precarious rank, however, as it sits just outside the jo'i, so expect 8-9 wins from both of these fellas.

I think you can draw a line at this point in the banzuke and say anything that occurs below here will be secondary, so let's just focus on guys who can generate talking points during the basho.

M5 Okinoumi has a shot to kachi-koshi from here and return to the sanyaku, but something tells me his best days in the division are behind him.

M6 is an interesting rank with Wakakoyu and Aoiyama. Wakakoyu is the more experienced of the two, and I think he skates to a kachi-koshi and threatens the Komusubi rank again. Aoiyama will need to focus the entire 15 days, something I don't think he's capable of doing yet, so I see some boneheaded losses in week 1 and then his settling down in week two to earn kachi-koshi.

M7 Shohozan is in a perfect position to propel himself into the jo'i for July. He'll be on the border with 7-8 wins.

M8 Tochinoshin has been floundering among the rank and file for enough time now that you can no longer call his underachieving a fluke.

Our first rookie in Chiyotairyu checks in at M10. This guy has been in the spotlight a bit after a decorated amateur career and his rapid rise through the ranks after entering professional sumo just a year ago outta college. I don't think they can tie his hair up yet into a sufficient top-knot, so he may be the first guy since Musoyama to fight in the division without having his hair tied into a top-knot. Due to the focus placed on him this past year, I have seen a lot of his sumo, and frankly, I don't like it. Dude his strong and deserving of they hype, but his sumo is based on the hataki-komi. I thought his stable master got off the best line of the basho so far during the press conference on the day the banzuke released. He said that Chiyotairyu's sumo is as ugly as his face and that he needs to more effectively use his power to move straight forward. Dude is completely capable of doing forward-moving sumo, but he has relied on the pull his first year in the sport. He can post a lot of wins with this pull shenanigans at this level on the banzuke, but his stable master knows full well he won't amount to anything in the division higher up the ranks with this nonsense. It will be interesting to see how Chiyotairyu reacts to the big dance. Normally, I'd say he would win 9-10 in his debut, but he sprained his ankle during the exhibition season and isn't 100%. Maybe he gets eight, but let's just see how his ankle holds up.

M12 Kaisei returns to the division, but I don't think he's rehabbed at all in terms of improving his sumo. He's proof of just how light the Juryo division is.

Our second Makuuchi rookie is Kimikaze who checks in at the M13 rank. I've never seen him fight and haven't read enough news about him to make any kind of comment, so let's wait until a few days in.

And finally, M14 Chiyonokuni dislocated his shoulder during keiko pre-basho and has withdrawn from the tournament. Reports say he needs 3 weeks to recover.

My predictions are as follows:

Yusho - Hakuho (13-2)
Shukunsho - Goeido (just a hunch)
Ginosho - none (with Kakuryu now an Ozeki)
Kantosho - Chiyotairyu (proving he can still pull with a bad ankle)






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