Teach English in Japan. Japan jobs. Study Japanese.
Meet Japanese girls.
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
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
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
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
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
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
See you all in Nagoya where I will once again assume the fighting will be
straight up and comment on each rikishi accordingly.
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 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
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
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
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)