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2014 Natsu Post-basho Report

It's been said that the two things you should never discuss at work is religion and politics. But since Sumotalk certainly isn't work, allow me to start off by revealing a bit of my own politics and then how that relates to the current landscape in sumo. As an American, I essentially have a choice between two parties, both of which I happen to loathe since they are mostly comprised of incompetent idiots who couldn't hold a job in the real world and succeed. At the age of 18, I registered as a Republican because I really liked Ronald Reagan and agreed with his policies. I've stayed a registered Republican although I have little respect for the party in its current state, but I actually donate small amounts now to the Democrat party for the sole purpose of lowering my chances of being audited by the IRS if you know what I mean. Wait...did the NSA just flag that? Damn!

Anyway, choosing to be either a Republican or Democrat in America these days is akin to making out with a girl who has severe halitosis or rubbing cheeks with a girl who has five o'clock shadow. In short, there are no winners. As for me and my politics, I classify myself as a free market capitalist. I can't think of a single thing that government can do better than the private sector, and I am vehemently opposed to taxing the rich and giving to the poor. I say tax the hell out of the poor and give them incentive to become rich because anybody can do it through dedication and hard work.

As a free market capitalist, I am opposed to socialism because socialism actually encourages people to be mediocre and discourages people from rising to the top. Proponents of socialism will claim that we have to take care of everybody, and while I agree with that to an extent, the way to take care of everyone is not to take money from the successful people and spread it around; it's to provide the means where everyone can become successful therefore eliminating poverty altogether (it's called free market capitalism).

Okay, so what does that all have to do with sumo? Free market capitalism equates to sumo with zero yaocho while an environment where strong rikishi let up and weaker rikishi are buoyed up in order to give the appearance of a more even playing field is equal to socialism. When it comes to politics, I suppose there is no right or wrong, but perhaps this sheds a bit of light on why I am so irritated with the landscape of sumo these days.

I would say the ultimate free market capitalist in the sport was Asashoryu. As he was running roughshod through the division and piling up yusho at a record pace, he began to draw serious ire from the media and from officials within the Sumo Association. At the time, I chalked it purely up to racism and the embarrassment by the Japanese people of having their sport being overtaken by a Mongolian, but then Hakuho came along and began dominating in a similar vein as Asashoryu, yet the media respected him and gave him his due diligence, and I have yet to hear any grumblings from the media during his entire reign as a Yokozuna.

So it didn't make sense that racism was purely to blame for the mistreatment of Asashoryu because Hakuho was Mongolian as well, and he was treated with great respect. There had to be another factor involved in regards to the mistreatment of Asashoryu, but I just couldn't put my finger on it until Asashoryu retired from sumo and Hakuho took over as the top gun. With Asashoryu out of the mix, Hakuho proceeded to run off four straight 15-0 performances and began making a mockery of the sport. After 63 consecutive wins, Kisenosato put an end to the Yokozuna's quest for Futabayama's seemingly insurmountable record of 69 straight wins, but Hakuho kept hoisting the cup at the end of each tournament.

A significant changed occurred at the start of 2011, however, when Hakuho's stable master was ousted after he got caught on tape admitting to a mistress that he paid Asashoryu the equivalent of about $30K USD for him to throw a bout against Hakuho back at the 2006 Nagoya basho, a win that sealed Hakuho's promotion to Yokozuna. At the time, Hakuho's stablemaster was a young, incompetent idiot who married into his position (hey, maybe he should run for political office!), and he was booted out in favor of the current Miyagino-oyakata, an old-school member of the Association who actually recruited and raised Hakuho in the first place.

With the new oyakata in place, Hakuho began doing something that we just weren't used to seeing: losing. And not only did he began to lose, but the losses were quite strategic helping others achieve higher ranks and putting them in position to take the yusho. This pattern has continued up until the current day and has contributed to the following achievements in sumo that would not have occurred in my opinion if Hakuho was fighting as a free market capitalist:

Kisenosato's promotion to Ozeki
Kotoshogiku's promotion to Ozeki
Harumafuji's promotion to Yokozuna
Kakuryu's promotion to Yokozuna
Kakuryu's only career yusho
Baruto's only career yusho
Kyokutenho's only career yusho
Goeido's ability to maintain the Sekiwake rank for 2 straight years

I initially put Kakuryu's promotion to Ozeki on the list, but since the banzuke beyond the three Mongolians is rather weak, I think that Kakuryu could have won 33 bouts over three basho on his own, but there's no doubt that Hakuho has stepped aside for Kakuryu at times the last few years.

The point is...it finally occurred to me that Asashoryu and his oyakata were constantly receiving negative press because Asashoryu wasn't cooperative in the ring to the Association's satisfaction. Sure, there were times when he'd drop a bout in order to keep an Ozeki from suffering make-koshi, and there's no doubt that he was in favor of fellow Mongolians reaching the sport's pinnacle, but Asa was fighting for his own agenda, not the agenda pushed by the Sumo Association. As a result, he was often maligned in the press for similar behavior that was actually celebrated when it came from a Japanese Yokozuna, and even his oyakata couldn't catch a break. It was that dynamic---the relationship between a stable master and his prodigy---that led me to deduct that when yaocho or yudan sumo occurs, it's the result of a decision between the stable master and apprentice. In Takasago-oyakata's case, he was always chastised publicly for failing to keep Asashoryu in line, but the real issue was that he wasn't persuasive enough to convince Asashoryu that he need to follow a socialist agenda that would benefit the Association.

None of these takes and theories are new and have been introduced by me over the years, but I thought I'd rehash them to make the point that sumo has adopted a socialist mentality in order to make the Japanese rikishi look somewhat on par with the Mongolians. And in order to maintain that "everyone deserves a trophy" mentality, you must tax the rich and spread the wealth to the poor which in sumo terms means yaocho or yudan sumo to buoy up those who are the most marketable, i.e. Endoh, Kisenosato, and Goeido.

When such sumo is allowed to occur, it may make for interesting headlines, especially the likes of which would appeal to the Japanese fans, but it detracts from solid sumo atop the dohyo. At the Natsu basho, by far the best sumo occurred outside of the domains occupied by Endoh, Kisenosato, and Goeido, and the most hotly contested bouts involved guys like Sadanoumi, Terunofuji, and Osunaarashi. I would like to see these young guys continue to battle their way up the ranks, but what I really miss from sumo these days are legitimate bouts the last 20 minutes of the broadcast where you walk away from it thinking, "Now that was o-zumo!"

On that note, let's review the performances of the rikishi who played roles in the basho starting with Yokozuna Hakuho, who picked up a dangerous 29th career yusho with a 14-1 record. Hakuho's sumo in May wasn't statement sumo. Rather, the Yokozuna monkeyed with pulls, held back at the tachi-ai at times, and threw an outright laugher to Goeido, but the end result was that nobody was fighting on par to give him a challenge. I still maintain that Hakuho could average 88 wins per calendar year if he fought as a free market capitalist, but he understands his role in sumo and is content to live a life of luxury in Japan, and who can blame him?

Yokozuna Harumafuji's sumo was rather bizarre in May. I watch him and Kakuryu fight, and I can't help but recall the keiko sessions prior to the Haru basho between Kakuryu and Endoh. Over the span of three days, Kakuryu battled Endoh over sixty times with Endoh only managing to win three of those bouts (probably because Kakuryu let up). Kakuryu literally had his way with Endoh over and over and over, and so to see these Mongolians perform like that in the keiko ring and then suddenly show up at a hon-basho and forget it all against the likes of Yoshikaze and Toyonoshima is senseless. So, it's hard for me to really comment on Harumafuji's sumo, and so I instead focus more on the politics behind it all. Harumafuji's 11-4 finish should be analyzed from the perspective of three of those losses were against Japanese rikishi, not the perspective of how well he was actually fighting.

The above paragraph can be copied and pasted here for Yokozuna Kakuryu. His 9-6 finish was not due to nerves or his current fighting ability in the ring. Rather, it needs to be analyzed that four of his losses were at the hands of Japanese rikishi, and strategic losses they were. In the opening of my day 1 comments, I started off with two takes that I thought were key to the upcoming basho. One regarded Endoh, and the other addressed the presence now of three Mongolian Yokozuna, and how the sport cannot survive if all three consistently fight at levels expected of Yokozuna (12-13 wins). I think the performance of these three for the next little while will be like grading a class on a curve. There has to be one A awarded, one B awarded, and one C; never three A students at the same basho. For the Natsu tournament, that grading curve followed the ranks of the banzuke, and in total, the three Mongolians secured 34 wins among them, which averages to 11.3 wins per rikishi. Now at first glance, one may say that it's not that different from all of them averaging 12.3 wins, but there's a huge difference:

1 win is the difference between Goeido maintaining his Sekiwake rank and make-koshi
1 win keeps Kisenosato in the yusho hunt and inspires talk of Yokozuna promotion again
1 win is Endoh's first ever kin-boshi

I maintain that if the three Mongolians tried their hardest every basho, they would average at least 39 wins among them, so to see them finish with just 34 tells me it was an exciting tournament in the eyes of the Japanese fans with plenty of headlines.

One more note before we move from Kakuryu...most Japanese people don't even know who this guy is. There were plenty of people shocked at the start of the basho when the news outlets were obligated to focus on newly-promoted Yokozuna, but he is largely unknown to anyone. That a rikishi can pick up his first yusho and actually be promoted to the Yokozuna rank with hardly anyone noticing illustrates how the selling points of sumo are not focused on the results as much as they are the actual rikishi the Association thinks they can promote with the most effect.

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