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2013 Natsu Post-basho Report   |   Pre-basho report Helmut Newton sumo.
It's no secret that the Sumo Association is desperate for a Japanese rikishi to win a yusho, and if they could actually get one of their own promoted to Yokozuna, it would help restore face with the Japanese fans--something the sport is actually losing with each passing basho where the Japanese rikishi fail to deliver (i.e. each passing basho). With that in mind, the Natsu basho contained about as much drama as any tournament we've seen the last little while, and of course most of it had nothing to do with the sumo itself.

An explanation of what transpired at the Natsu basho is best given by an analysis of Sekiwake Goeido starting from last year's Kyushu basho. At that tournament, Goeido shot out to an 8-0 start only to be rebuffed on consecutive days by both Yokozuna on his way to an 11-4 finish. As part of that effort, Goeido bested all five Ozeki and was immediately named the "Ozeki Killer" and touted as a prime Ozeki candidate heading into the Hatsu basho. Unfortunately, Goeido remembered that he was still Goeido in January floundering to an 8-7 finish requiring a few gifts along the way to eke out kachi-koshi on senshuraku. Still, as the sumo caravan headed into Osaka, Takanohana continued to hit the PR trail hard touting Goeido as an Ozeki candidate, and the Father actually finished the Haru basho at 10-5, but the gifted bouts were still obvious. Then, at the recent Natsu basho, there wasn't a peep mentioned about Goeido's Ozeki candidacy prior to the basho where the Sekiwake ended up a dubious 7-8.

Now, it was clear that the Sumo Association wanted Goeido to be promoted to Ozeki, and they milked his run for all they could in terms of marketing, but at what cost are they willing to get him promoted? If they really wanted to, they could easily orchestrate a Goeido Ozeki run that would see him nab the required 33 wins over three basho from the sanyaku, but then what do you do after that? Do you leave him to his own power, which would clearly result in a 6 or 7 win basho? Or do you keep feeding him three or four wins every basho just to make it look as if he's Ozeki material? Those two propositions are both lose-lose not to mention extremely risky in having the hungry tabloids regurgitate talk of yaocho, and so the Sumo Association's current agenda is this: let's do all we can to market the Japanese rikishi and make them look competitive while maintaining the integrity of the sport to the extent possible. I must reiterate that I do not believe that the Sumo Association orders certain rikishi to win and certain rikishi to lose. Rather, I believe the stable master and/or the rikishi reads the current situation and then acts accordingly in a manner that fits the aforementioned agenda established by the Association.

With that in mind, let's now shift our focus to Kisenosato and his performance at the Natsu basho. After coming back against Myogiryu in suspect fashion on day 1, the Ozeki would not face another kachi-koshi rikishi until day 10 in Kotooshu. By then he was 9-0 and clearly on a run resulting in four straight foreign rikishi going at him about as hard as I get when viewing pictures of Chaz Bono. Next thing you know, he's now 13-0 heading into his day 14 contest with Hakuho having achieved really nothing. If you let him beat Hakuho and then Kotoshogiku on senshuraku, he's just posted a 15-0 record that looks nothing like a zensho yusho. Furthermore, how do you get him to a similar plateau in Nagoya? You do it by arranging bouts, and that's a proposition that just gets too risky. Instead, Hakuho gave him an opening on day 14, which the Ozeki could not capitalize on, and then Kotoshogiku just destroyed him on senshuraku because Kisenosato like everyone else was surely thinking, "he's gonna let me win this one." If you watch the Kisenosato - Harumafuji and then Kisenosato - Kotoshogiku bouts back to back, nothing makes sense in either of them, and that is a sign that there are indeed shenanigans going on, but the Association is still going to make a Japanese rikishi earn it to an extent.

As the dust settled on the tournament, Kisenosato finished 13-2 and Yokozuna promotion talk began about five minutes later. The Association and even Kisenosato are in a much better place heading into Nagoya with the Kid at 13-2 than they would have been with a zensho yusho. Expect Kisenosato to receive a few party favors in Nagoya, but he's still largely got to earn it. At the end of the Natsu basho, I'm sure all of you banzuke geeks are thinking: wow, what are they going to do about the sanyaku with only one rikishi scoring kachi-koshi from Sekiwake all the way down to M4 with both M5's only finishing 8-7? I look at it this way: wow, look how bad everyone from Sekiwake all the way down to M4 royally sucked except for Myogiryu. The reason I even bring this up is to take the discussion back to Kisenosato. Simply put, he pounded the rikishi between Sekiwake and M4, received a few favors from the foreign rikishi in week 2, and ended up skating to a 13-2 finish. Now, is that same performance plausible in Nagoya? As an old, Japanese lady testing her English out on me once said to my surprise, "you bet your buns they are!" The banzuke will continue to suck in Nagoya; the foreign rikishi will continue to go easy on Kisenosato; and our candidate for Yokozuna only needs to be good and not great. Oh, and he needs to take Kotoshogiku more seriously next time.

I like how the YDC came out on Monday and said we will consider promotion with a yusho or if Kisenosato fails to yusho at 14-1. Right on. Raise the bar and keep yourself in a good position. Sure, they could easily orchestrate a zensho yusho for Kisenosato in Nagoya, but once again...at what cost? He's clearly not a rikishi that can sustain such numbers, and it's just too risky to keep feeding him gifted bouts on a consistent basis. Make the Kid beat the scrub rikishi; make him earn 11 - 12 of his wins; and then let the chips fall where they may. Regardless of what happens, the Sumo Association now has a helluva topic to market from now until day 1.

With those pleasantries out of the way, let's now focus on the individual rikishi starting with Yokozuna Hakuho, who scored his second consecutive zensho yusho. Since the Yokozuna lost the final day in January, he's only riding a 30 bout win streak. (Only). The numbers clearly show that when Hakuho dominates multiple basho in a row that interest in sumo wanes, so you can expect him too cool off in July. You look at a list of his kimari-te spanning the 15 wins, and he used 10 different techniques to get there. That's clearly a sign of the Yokozuna holding back and letting his opponents stay in the game. When your kimari-te are all over the board, your sumo's all over the board, and with the best rikishi in the history of the sport, he's only sloppy if he so chooses. Only four yori-kiri wins against this crappy banzuke? I've said it before and I'll say it again in that Hakuho has controlled the yusho race even before Asashoryu's retirement, and he will continue to do so until someone is able to rise up beyond Harumafuji's current level. Hakuho's performance is reflected in his kimari-te. In other words, he gave a few rikishi openings but beat 'em all in the end.

If Hakuho's winning techniques were sloppy, Yokozuna Harumafuji's weren't much better, but Thing 2 was taken out of this basho early with a string of tachi-ai henka against him that ended up in one loss against Myogiryu and then another on day 5 to Tochiohzan when the Yokozuna was clearly wary at the tachi-ai. After those early week 1 losses, which were largely flukes, Harumafuji simply fulfilled his role the rest of the way backing out against Kisenosato on day 12 and then looking horrific against Hakuho on senshuraku to complete his 11-4 performance. That final bout on senshuraku was a bit disturbing, but I believe it did illustrate the vast gulf that exists between Hakuho and everyone else. Who knows what the future holds for Harumafuji? He's got his; he's living fat; and he can go through the motions on this banzuke and still win 12.

I've already talked at length regarding Kisenosato, so let's move across the aisle to Ozeki Kakuryu, who I think is clearly the third best rikishi on the banzuke right now. After starting out 8-0, he gave away his day 9 bout against Kotoshogiku, got beat straight up by Hakuho on day 12, let Kisenosato win on day 13, was bested by Harumafuji a day later, and then let Kotooshu beat him on senshuraku giving the Bulgarian a kachi-koshi on the final day. If you're scoring at home, that's two legitimate losses and three gifts. In other words, Kakuryu is your true 13-2 rikishi this basho, but there's no use rehashing the politics behind it. Kakuryu is a foreigner who knows his place and is perfectly content to fulfill his role in sumo. Like Kisenosato, he just thrashed the weaker banzuke and kept himself on the leaderboard until bowing out against the Kid on day 13.

Props to Ozeki Kotoshogiku for taking care of bidness as well against the rikishi ranked below him. Sure, Goeido and Myogiryu both got him, but so what? I credit the Geeku for taking advantage of the banzuke and for going all out against Kisenosato. I also look at his list of kimari-te and go 'that's a guy who was fighting straight up.' His first seven wins all against guys ranked lower than him were by yori-kiri. Check. He next defeated Aoiyama by uwate-nage before dispatching Aran by another yori-kiri. Check and check. He finished the slippery Toyonoshima off by oshi-dashi and beat Kisenosato so badly they ruled it yori-taoshi. It's the Geeku doing his own sumo and seeing the results. His 11-4 finish is more due to the banzuke than to a resurgence in his sumo, but he deserves his props.

Can we say the same thing for Ozeki Kotooshu? Even as a kadoban Ozeki, he still only managed to pull out eight wins and needed a gift from Kakuryu on senshuraku to get it. The Bulgarian definitely earned his way into the rank all those years ago, but he has been nothing but rank for the last couple of years. The problem is...it's just so damn hard to get demoted from Ozeki. Also, I've never seen anyone with less self control at the edge of the dohyo than Kotooshu. He suffers some bad losses that leave him in the fetal position at the bottom of the dohyo, and then when he wins the close bouts, he doesn't know when to stop driving his foes several rows into the crowd. Dude's just in this for the steady paycheck, not to improve himself or contribute in any way.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Goeido had two decent wins on paper against Tochiohzan and Kotoshogiku, but the winning techniques were kubi-nage and okuri-nage respectively. That's a result of evasive and defensive sumo, so I'll be impressed once Goeido starts beating yotsu guys by yori-kiri. It seems that every pre-basho I read about a Yokozuna or Ozeki doing keiko with him and then giving him advice to just trust himself with forward-moving sumo. Until he can do that, Goeido will continue to be a non-factor in sumo. As for counterpart Baruto, he was dealt a bit of a rough schedule up front with 3 Ozeki and then Tochiohzan the first week, but not winning a single bout against those guys does not bode well in terms of consistent appearances in the sanyaku let alone a shot at Ozeki again. His withdrawal with an injury signals a decline from here on out in his career, and the fact that he's been going kyujo nearly every other basho illustrates how his career is winding down.

If they were holding a draft, and everyone was creating new stables from scratch, my first pick from the crop of Japanese rikishi would probably Chiyotairyu. After that, I think I'd take Tochiohzan second and then Kisenosato third. That doesn't mean that Kisenosato isn't the best Japanese rikishi currently, but when factoring in potential, that'd be my order. In other words, I think quite highly of Komusubi Tochiohzan, so I was disappointed in his 6-9 finish. The Komusubi are given the toughest schedules of anyone, but Oh actually beat Harumafuji and Baruto on consecutive days in week 1, so not to ride that momentum the rest of the way was disappointing. The difference between his 6-9 record and kachi-koshi were bad losses to Shohozan and Okinoumi. I think they'll slide Goeido one slot to the West keeping him at Sekiwake for Nagoya, but at 6-9, it's a long shot for Tochiohzan to maintain the Komusubi rank. I still think he deserves it, but I'll take him at M1.

Counterpart Okinoumi had the worst performance at this rank since the Eastern Europeans used to rise this high. He gave no effort the entire fortnight and was a waste of space at the basho. I used to be a big fan of this guy, but not anymore as he gave up from day 1.

M1 Myogiryu was the only bright spot below the Ozeki ranks, but still, he used a little trickery on his way to 11 wins. Credit MYogi Bear for pasting the weak banzuke this time around, but his win over Harumafuji didn't impress me thanks to his henka and beating both Sadogatake Ozeki in a single basho is about as difficult as a white guy managing to get a girl to speak to him in Japan. Anyone notice how the Association didn't give this guy a Shukunsho even though he beat a Yokozuna? I applaud the move because why reward a guy for improper sumo? He did bring home the Ginosho, the one special prize awarded this basho, but that goes back to what I said in my intro about the excitement surrounding this basho having everything to do with bout orchestration and little to do with the actual sumo.

It gets ugly fast after Myogiryu, and I really don't have any light to shed on M2 Kitataiki (4-2), M2 Tochinoshin (2-13), and M3 Aran (4-11) who all quit this basho. M3 Takarafuji got his add handed to him starting out 0-8, but that's largely due to his schedule, so good on him for finishing the festivities 6-1. That's what I call effort...something we didn't see from the other three yayhoos mentioned in this paragraph.

What are M4's Aoiyama and Toyonoshima doing suffering make-koshi on this banzuke outside of the jo'i? Aoiyama's 0-10 finish after that 5-0 was even stranger than the dudes that make up the crowds at those concerts for B-list pop idols in Japan. If you attend a concert and they hand out glow sticks...and you actually use them in concert with guys on either side of you, welcome to a life of celibacy.

We have to get down to the M5's Shohozan and Takayasu before we find two kachi-koshi rikishi although both just squeaked by at 8-7. Once again, if you're a rikishi aspiring to make the sanyaku or at least establish a presence in the division, you've got to do better than this from outside of the jo'i.

Case in point is M8 Tokitenku's who managed a 10-5 finish, but he will be thrashed next month in Nagoya.

You already know how high I am on M10 Chiyotairyu, who finished 10-5 and was a win against Myogiryu away from picking up the Kantosho. Chiyotairyu isn't exactly going to storm through the field in Nagoya, but what's important is that he gains experiencing fighting the better rikishi in the division, and once he gets used to that, I really think he's going to be the one mentioned as a candidate for Ozeki.

Let's conclude with our four rookies, none of whom managed to kachi-koshi let alone win more than six bouts. I think the best of the lot is M14 Chiyootori who started out hot at 5-2 but then lost seven in a row to ruin his basho. This kid kinda reminds me of Masunoyama without the lung issue. In other words, he looks great the first three seconds but then needs to learn how to finish. The thing I most appreciated about Chiyootori next to all the O's in his shikona was his hard, straight forward tachi-ai. This kid will be back, and with a host of sekitori in his stable, I expect him to have a decent Makuuchi career.

M15 Homarefuji won't, and this is an example of a guy who can now display a banzuke in his future chanko-nabe shop that shows him as a Makuuchi rikishi. I watched him fight for 15 days and still couldn't tell you what his style is. Add his age to the mix, and he's one and done.

M16 Azumaryu was passive and defensive throughout the basho. His Mongolian blood alone will likely see him back in the division, but he didn't show me anything at the Natsu basho.

And finally, M16 Daikiho had the worst debut of anyone I've seen since Takanoyama. You'd think that coming from the same stable as Hakuho that he'd learn what a solid tachi-ai is, but he was clueless at the charge...and then it got worse as the bout progressed. If this is the kind of rikishi the Juryo division is feeding us, there is no end in sight to the current state of sumo.

2013 Natsu Pre-basho ReportHelmut Newton sumo.
For nearly two weeks I've scrutinized the headlines in the Japanese media attempting to get a feel for some of the talking points this basho, but for the first time in a long time, I don't see any sort of agenda being fed to the sumo masses. Most noticeably, I have yet to read the words "Goeido" and "Ozeki" in the same sentence, so it appears that the Association has thankfully given up in their campaign to hype the Osaka native into the prestigious rank. With Goeido out of the spotlight, most of the domestic coverage has gone to the two Komusubi in Tochiohzan and Okinoumi.

Tochiohzan has kept himself in the sanyaku for half a year now despite deferring bouts here and there each basho, and he has established himself as the best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke outside of the Ozeki ranks. Hailing from Kochi Prefecture on the smallest and least-known of Japan's main four islands, Shikoku, the Association really can't hype him for any particular basho as they did Goeido leading up to Osaka. And if Tochiohzan comes from the middle of nowhere, what say ye of Okinoumi, who hails from a prefecture so remote he's the first dude from Shimane in 122 years to reach the sanyaku. It's also become apparent in the various media reports that Okinoumi is a slacker when it comes to keiko and concentrating on sumo in general. Dude is the best looking rikishi in the division, but there's really not much there for the Association to hype, and so it's been a very low key pre-basho.

I wish I had something more compelling to lead with, but it just isn't there. This is also about as balanced of a banzuke as you could ask for, and the only dude who is out of position is Goeido, so this should be a straight up basho by all indications. Let's examine the key rikishi starting from the top.

Speaking of a low key pre-basho, Yokozuna Hakuho has been as relaxed as he's ever been. He's only gone for de-geiko a couple of days and has not put in the number of practice bouts in comparison to previous tournaments. Thing is...it just doesn't matter. Hakuho showed last basho that he can easily win 15 bouts in his sleep, and so I expect a repeat performance of Osaka. That isn't to say he's going to run the table again; I'm saying he's going to leave himself vulnerable in places, and if his opponent can capitalize then they capitalize. If not, Hakuho will score his career 10th zensho yusho, but regardless, there's a 70% chance he hoists the cup in the end.

The number stands at 70% for Hakuho simply because Harumafuji has at least a 20% chance, but it's probably closer to 25. Prior to Osaka, the media kept making excuses for Harumafuji like it was unseasonably cold, and then there was talk of nagging injuries, so I fully expected him to fall out of things early on, but this time around the reports have been straight up. Early in the first week of basho preparations, it was reported that Harumafuji tweaked his elbow, and the next day he showed up to keiko with a heavy supporter around the joint, but he ripped it off mid session and there's been no talk of it since. I get the sense that this will be a very straight up basho, so watch for Harumafuji to stay nip and tuck with Hakuho until senshuraku. I see the Mongolian winning 13 or so.

Kisenosato very well could be the best Ozeki on the board right now, but that's not saying a whole lot. The Kid has gone through the usual pre-basho motions, and you can expect the usual out of him in May: 11 wins.

Deep down, I think Kakuryu is really the best Ozeki, but his results the last few basho haven't reflected that. I do think that the Kak realizes his place and goes mukiryoku multiple days each basho, but there just hasn't been any news good or bad surrounding this Ozeki. Look for 9 - 10 wins.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku can probably win eight bouts all by himself every other basho, but even that's being nice. His body just has too many miles on it at this point, and he can't keep up wit the younger rikishi who surround him on the banzuke. I expect him to pull out another magical eight wins in May but nothing more.

If there is a storyline in the Ozeki ranks, it's Kotooshu and his kadoban status. I read a keiko report early on where the Bulgarian stated he thinks this is the worst injury of his career. Those early reports also had him refraining from moushi-geiko and picking his spots carefully in the practice ring. The week leading up to the basho, I haven't read anything about his keiko, which tells me there's been nothing of substance to write about. It does not look good for Kotooshu this basho because like his stablemate, he's gotta lotta miles on that frame'a his. I don't see him winning more than eight, but we've seen Ozeki sandbag before. We should know by day 3 if he's still fit to be a headliner.

Beyond the two Yokozuna, the most positive keiko news has come from Sekiwake Baruto. I've read multiple sources that have said Baruto looks to be completely healthy again, and it's been showing in the keiko ring. He's easily the third best rikishi on the banzuke when healthy, so I expect him to establish an Ozeki run starting this basho. It will be inneresting to see what standard the Association holds him to the second time around, but I expect him to dominate in Tokyo this month. I like him to win around 11.

I guess I skipped over our East Sekiwake, Goeido, but I've already touched on him in my early remarks. Goeido is like Kotoshogiku...he can win eight bouts by himself every other basho...maybe. The Sumo Association realizes that there just isn't anything there to hype, so it will be interesting to see if he's allowed to keep his current post or whether he's just thrown to the wolves and forced to fend for his own. I expect the Father to hover around 7-8 wins since nothing in his keiko regimen or mindset has changed for this tournament.

I've already talked about both Komusubi, but in regards to their chances this basho, Tochiohzan should win around nine while Okinoumi's false modesty is going to translate into a nonchalant basho atop the dohyo. I see Okinoumi winning no more than six bouts.

In the rank and file, Myogiryu leads the way from the M1 rank, and it was the Natsu basho last year where mYogiBear really made his surge into the sanyaku maintaining that status for three straight basho. But all of a sudden, he abandoned his balls to the wall charge, and he's looking more like Goeido than the feisty rikishi who promised to be a sanyaku mainstay a year ago. I like Myogiryu from this rank but only if he charges hard and focuses strictly on forward-moving sumo. Seven wins.

Aminishiki is on par right now with Tochiohzan, but he has deferred multiple bouts basho after basho now. With no clear agenda being broadcast in the media prior to Natsu, I don't see the need for Shneaky to really give up a bout to anyone besides Kotoshogiku. Of all the rikishi in the Maegashira ranks, Aminishiki has the best shot to reclaim Okinoumi's Komusubi slot. I like him to win 8-9.

I don't see any reason why the M2's, Kitataiki and Tochinoshin, will impact the basho, so let's move on.

I guess I spoke too soon when I said Goeido was the most over ranked rikishi on the board because Takarafuji moves into the M3 slot. I actually hope Takarafuji brings a bit of energy that he's been wont to display lower in the ranks, but usually when guys who you know aren't going anywhere debut in the jo'i, it ain't pretty. Four wins? And speaking of not looking pretty, counterpart Aran just gives up at this level, so expect nothing more from the Russian.

On one hand, I'm afraid M4 Aoiyama has peaked because after he reached Komusubi last September, he hasn't been able to do jack; but on the other hand, he has been nagged with injuries, so perhaps he's got one more run in him. The problem is, though, he hasn't looked injured to me yet this year, and he's still floundering around the dohyo. He's a borderline kachi-koshi guy because he's just out of the jo'i. Those who have been following sumo for ten years or so know that Toyonoshima and Kotoshogiku were actually rivals as they raced each other up the banzuke. Both dudes entered sumo in the same class, and their climbs up the ranks were largely in tandem. Kotoshogiku's size advantage has seen him promoted to the Ozeki rank, but just like the Ozeki, Toyonoshima's got a lot of miles on that body. You remember last year that Toyonoshima was bouncing in and out of the sanyaku, but he hasn't threatened the elite ranks for four basho now, and I don't see him doing so now. He may squeak out eight this basho, but I don't' expect a big run from him.

M5 is a compelling rank because you have two young rikishi, one a former Komusubi in Shohozan, and one who has flirted with the rank in Takayasu. If these two are going to be a presence in the division for the years to come, they really need to make their runs soon. These two are still unpolished in their sumo, but the potential is there. I like both of these guys to win eight in May.

I normally love the M6 rank but not with Yoshikaze and Takekaze there. Then you look down at M7 with Fujiazuma/Jokoryu and M8 with Tokitenku/Sadanofuji and you may as well be five ranks from the bottom.

Defending Natsu basho champion, Kyokutenho, checks in at M9, but this guy has physically hit the wall. There comes a time in each veteran rikishi's career where you can physically see them lose it...literally over the course of one basho. The last such rikishi was Miyabiyama, and up next is Kyokutenho. Up until the start of this year, Kyokutenho could skate his way to eight wins from anywhere on the banzuke, but he no longer has it. And by that I mean the ability to keep himself in the division. I'm not saying he's going to go 2-13 and retire, but he is in visible decline and likely won't make it past the end of twenty thirteen.

The biggest wildcard in sumo right now straight up is M10 Chiyotairyu. It was just one basho ago where he jumped out to that 3-1 start from the M2 rank only to succumb to an injury that caused him to withdraw. His sumo is still so raw, but he's strong enough to make the kind of impact that Baruto made when he was a young bruiser. I haven't read anything regarding his condition pre-basho, so I'm not prepared to make a prediction of how he'll finish, but it is worth noting that he's got as much potential as anyone.

I speculated earlier as to whether or not Aoiyama has peaked, and the same can be said for M11 Gagamaru. If Lord Gaga can't kachi-koshi from these parts, he's in deep trouble.

Let's conclude by mentioning the four rookies: Chiyootori, Homarefuji, Azumaryu, and Daikiho. I haven't seen any of these guys fight, but you could say that all of them have at least something going for them whether it's youth, a prominent stable, or nationality. Of the four, I think Chiyootori and Daikiho have the most upside due to their youth and their connection to dai-Yokozuna from their stables. Azumaryu's being Mongolian alone qualifies him with a bit of upside, and then the obvious caboose is Homarefuji. True, he does come from the Isegahama-beya, but he's closer to 30 than he is 25, and late bloomers never pan out.

It's not the most exciting of pre-basho reports, but then again, there really hasn't been anything exciting to talk about. Let's hope the sumo is as straight up as the pre-basho keiko. Here are my predictions:

Yusho: Hakuho (14-1)
Shukunsho: none
Kantosho: Chiyotairyu
Ginosho: Baruto






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