Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Senshuraku Clancy

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Lynrd Skynrd be praised! The basho is over and I can finally see my wife and children. Okay, I exaggerate, but webcam is just not the same thing as face to face, knowhatimean?  I am really amped about today's sumo, but first I want to straighten something out. If you've read Mike's Day 13 report where he stood in for Simon, you know that Our Man Siddall was hurt in a tricycle crash. As plausible as that may seem, I'm here to rip the facade off the lie and give you the straight chit.

I told you on Day 4 that we have been sequestered in the top floor of hotel in Tokyo for the duration of this basho, we being all us numbnuts who pound the keys for Sumotalk's two Founding Fathers (a.k.a. oligarchs), Mike and Kenji. I also told you that once Asashoryu pulled out, Simon was teetering on the brink, sanity wise. Well, he was okay until Day 11 when teenager Kisenosato lost by a toe to Aminishiki. The lad went berserk, running through every room and grabbing all the sheets off the beds. Mike and Kenji didn't think much of it, but to be safe put an extra guard at each door for the remainder of the tourney. When he didn't show up for mandatory 5:45 (yes, a.m.) calisthenics on Day 13, we knew there was trouble.

Gorgeous and I were asked (read: ordered) to go and check on him. We sensed something wrong the moment we card swiped our way in. It was eerily cool in the room, the beds were stripped and the window was open. With the door also open the curtains were being sucked out into the morning air, fluttering like the twin beats of our frightened hearts. I'm sure you've guessed by now what we found. Simon had tied all those sheets together in a series of intricate Monkey Fists (his father had been a sailor) and escaped out the window in the dead of the night. 

We peered out the window to the ground below and there was Simon, splayed out on the sidewalk 18 stories below like some squid on a himono rack in Shimoda, Shizuoka (evidently his father had been a POOR sailor). The passing crowds paid him nary a notice, what with drunken, passed out foreigners being a rather common sight in Nippon these days.

Long story short, he was rushed to the hospital, where it turned out he had broken three of the five bones in his cock, two of which are intimately involved in raising and lowering the damned thing (odd as it may sound, it has been said of Simon, "Christ, he's hung like a drawbridge!"). The doctor told us that if his "moosco-san," as he delicately labeled it, hadn't absorbed the brunt of the fall, Simon would, in all likelihood, be dead. And this AFTER reduction surgery. The legend lives on, eh gals?

So Simon, this senshuraku report is for you, buddy (just don't ask me to sign your cast).

The Makuuchi bouts began with the Zakura Brothers, Kita beating up on a Juryo guy up for the day and Toyo, a Juryo guy himself, whoopin' on Katayama. The Brothers will likely pass each other going different directions in July, although the lords of sumo could be kind to M15 Kita and recall his fantastic win over Baruto on Day 4 and his wins over Tosanoumi and Hakurozan, both of whom finished with majority wins this basho, and drop him down to M16.

The first bout between Makuuchi rikishi was M15 Buyuzan vs. M13 Jokutoriki. The Jokester (not to be confused with The Trickster, Kyokushuzan) must have visited the BALCO website last night, because he showed truly unusual form by blasting the Musashigawa man back and out in no time 'tall for his 10th win. Buyuzan was denied his 8th win and will probably be in Juryo next tourney, as unlike Kitazakura he had only one quality win this basho. 

Little Yoshikaze, in only his 3rd upper division tourney, posted a sweet 9-6 by cutting the rug with Homasho (6-9). After some initial slapping, they both got a belt grip and the larger M11 took Yoshikaze to the edge, but the M14 executed a wonderful save by lifting his foe into the air and turning the tables, and then ended up spinning the rookie around a couple of times and out. A decent showing by Homasho this basho, and Yoshikaze shows he just may have what it takes to stay in the division for a while to come. 

Futenoh (M7) showed some nice sumo this basho, the boy's got nads the size of, well, some fruit maybe, and his 9-6 is a positive sign for his future, really for all our futures. Today, however, vs. Hakurozan, he didn't quite have it, letting the bald 20-something M8 get his belt and then march him out. People who say Hakurozan looked great this basho are a bit tetched, as he only beat four guys with over .500 records, and two of them got their kachi-koshi today. However, he did look damned good today, his legs were wide apart once he got that solid belt grip, and he took Futenoh back and out like an uncle walking his nephew backward on the top of his shoes.

There were nine rikishi at .500 at the start of the day, and seven made kachi-koshi (the ghost of Itai lives!!)

M12 Tosanoumi beat M10 Tamakasuga in a lengthy shoving match that included a nice stand at the ropes for the former Sanyaku man. Unbelievable comeback. 

M7 Dejima as usual lost momentum after his tachi-ai and was manhandled by Jumonji. However, with his back to the ropes and dancing on one leg, Dejima tricked 8-7 Jumonji into thinking he was twisting left to throw, and when Jumonji read this and went to his own right to counter the move, Dejima deftly shifted and twisted to his right, sending the M16 to the dirt. Unbelievable comeback.

M12 Takamisakari did it for the first time in four tourneys by winning a protracted standoff with M5 Roho. Circus stayed nice and low at tachi-ai and did not let the Russian get two hands on his belt. He then used his own left hand outside to whip Roho around, but the big boy found some stability and held him off. After a minute or so just hugging, P.T.'s boy swung his foe around and out with that strong outside left. Unbelievable comeback.

M13 Toyonoshima found some way to win vs Aminishiki, doing this funky fake double back spin after being turned around, which is, 9 out of 10 times, certain death in sumo and then resisting three or four strong one armed throw attempts and a huge face shove with his back against the tawara to defeat the M3. Unbelievable comeback. 

Iwakiyama decided to get into a belt battle against 9-6 Kotoshogiku, of whom I wrote in Nov. 2005, "he will be an Ozeki by the end of 2008". Anyone want to contest me on that after this basho? His losses came to three Ozeki, Miyabiyama, Wile. E. Coyote (on his most, or maybe only, aggressive day of the entire basho), and Tamanoshima on a last second twistdown fluke, and he had some big wins against some big guys, incl. Tochiazuma, Kokkai, Roho, then a three day stretch where he beat Kise, Asasekiryu and Futeno, and finished with three straight vs Kakizoe, Kyokutenho and Iwonkeykong, who was muscled back and out to his 8th loss. No unbelievable comeback. The Geeku would be Komosubi in July except that...

Kisenosato booked HIS first ticket to that rank with an impressive 8th win over Kokkai, who fought like a demon even though he had his kachi-koshi already. Good on ya'! Both men delivered vicious shoves in the first few moments, then went for the belt. They stood in the center not moving for some time, and it looked like Kise was thinking, Am I going to let this big hairy whatchamacallit stop me from becoming a Komusubi? I think not. He drove Kokkai back and despite some goofy squirming judoesque moves by the M6, was able to win. He stood there for a second contemplating what he had done and, like a man who had just thoroughly cleaned out a filthy garage, gave a quick nod of, Right, that's taken care of. He'll be an ancient 20 by July, so we can only hope that he picks up the pace and reaches Ozeki before retirement.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki beat departing Komusubi Kyokutenho for his 8th win. So?

Finally, Kotooshu stuffed the Little Engine Who Couldn't for his kachi-koshi. 10-5 Chiyo almost took the yusho (and I almost nailed Diane Lane). The Big Bulgar was visibly relieved (don't ever say, Looked visibly relieved, please, one either looks relieved or is visibly relieved--so pedantic, this Kelly asshole) heading back to the showers, as well he should be. Kadoban during the infancy of your Ozeki ranking is a tough row to hoe, just ask the Sheriff...

Who was gifted a win by Asasekiryu. The M2, on his way up to Komusubi in July, decided in this all-important bout to raise his arms to a 90 degree angle and hold them there while the Sekiwake pounded on him for four seconds. Not one attempt at a grab, not one itty bitty move to the side. He should have followed his stablemate the Yokozuna's advice on how to beat Miyabi, which probably went something like this: Pick his fat ass up and throw him down! Seriously, though, if you think this bout was on the level, I have some snow I can sell to you that you can then in turn sell to an Eskimo who may or may not own a bridge.

But whatever, it got us to the big matchup that we were all waiting for: Kaio vs. The Coyote. Sorry, I mean, Bart vs. Nelson, HA HA! Hakuho did a poopy at tachi-ai, colliding with his foe only enough to be able to deny a henka but sidestepping enough that we can say, Bad boy, clean up that mess! Don't even BREATHE a suggestion to me that he did not deserve a full on tachi-ai. This is a rookie, M11 on Day 15. I don't care HOW big he is. Yes, the Ozeki got a very cool grip on the belt of Springfield's finest and paper airplaned him into the clay, but it tasted sour in my mouth. Asa would have taken him on full bore, but that's why the Yokozuna is who he is, I guess. And why this basho, in a word, sucked. I mean, when we are all gooey over Miyabiyama, a man za Yokozuna puts down like za rodeo calf, then something is amiss, eh monsieur?

But again, whatever. It's all fun and caramel corn as long as we get a playoff, right? With all those cool "behind the scenes" shots of Hakuho pushing a wall, of Miyabi getting his greasy hair re-greased, the rapid fire close-up cuts from Hakuho to Miyabi to Hakuho's father to the bento vendors back to Miyabi and then to Hakuho, oh the tension!

So forgive me if it all seemed a bit anti-climactic (although I suppose Chokedikai's fan's thought Miyabi had a chance!) Hakuho's loss to The Sheriff on Day 5 was an aberration, and today things were set right. Miyabi chose not to use the tachi-ai tsuppari that got him here in the first place, instead getting close and then trying an armbar, what? and then a few shoves, but the deal was sealed as they went to the belt, and after a lift out attempt or two (that's 182 kilos of flesh, or nearly 400 pounds), Hakuho did as he had been asked and held Miyabi up in the center for a while to draw out the tension and give the cameras something to moo over. The funniest thing were the "fans" that could be seen on the tv behind the wrestlers. They were actually on edge, as if there was a chance that Hakuho would lose with that grip he had.

So for me, this basho's main storylines were Hakuho's showing he is for real from here on in, Tochi showing he is not, Kaio needing one last kachi-koshi in July to guarantee a retirement in his hometown as Mike has written, Miyabi's resurgence (the man has eaten the Ozeki for lunch for nearly a year now), Baruto putting the fear of Zeus into everyone, Kise and The Geeku announcing their arrival at the top, and Asashoryu sitting at home and thinking about how exactly he is going to have to impose his will in July.

For me the next two months will be filled with one vision and one vision only: Asa vs Baruto!

Day 14 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Who'da thought two weeks ago that today we'd be talking about a yusho race between Shin-Ozeki Hakuho (okay, maybe), Sekiwake Miyabiyama (come on, now) and Makuuchi Rookie Baruto (no way, Jose). Such is the case with king pin Asashoryu and #2 man Tochiazuma out of the picture with injuries. As I sit here on the sofa at 7am reviewing day 14, my wife loometh over me awaiting to whisk away the laptop for a weekend getaway so I better accelerate this report or else. I'm not long-winded anyway as you know, so I'll give you my "live" perspective as I watch the last four bouts unfold for the first time.

Let's see, first it looks like we have Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and M6 Kokkai, both at 7-6 looking to secure majority wins. The tachiai....a good clash....Mitsuki bounces off Kokkai and is immediately on the defensive against the Georgian's tsuppari...and oh, a well-timed pull down. Kokkai gets kachi-koshi first; Mitsuki goes to 7-7 and will go feast or famine on senshuraku tomorrow. 

Okay, here's the long-awaited bout. The drama of the yobi-dashi calling out the feature bout that is remarkable shin-nyumaku Baruto (11-2) and current co-leader Miyabiyama (12-1). As you know Miyabi can erase the Estonian from the picture with a win today and take another huge step forward toward reclaiming that Ozeki rank that has eluded him for almost five years now. Here we go, time to go.....another good clash...oh! Baruto pushes Miyabi back but makes a classic mistake and gives away his momentum with an ill-advised pull down attempt. Miyabi runs with it and forces the big guy out! The man with the golden hat and fan loves it, he's waving it awild! Wow, is this really surprising, though? The anticipated tsuppari affair did spell doom for Baruto after all. Miyabi didn't attack from the left as Mike recommended to beat Baruto, but the tsuppari from the tachiai did work. The rookie is clearly not comfortable on this stage yet. But, alas, look out folks, he will be regular on this stage soon enough. This kid has the goods; he just needs polish. There's no shame in making yusho noise on your Makuuchi debut. He'll have to settle for his first sansho prize and wait a little longer to claim the cup. The Sheriff (13-1), meanwhile, is guns ablaze and closer than ever to his first emperor's cup!

Coming back down now off that high, we have the filler bout that matches middling Ozekis Kaio (8-5) and Kotooshu (6-7). The stats go up right before the clash because no attention what-so-ever is paid to this bout due to keeping the cameras on Baruto, Miyabi and of course Hakuho on deck. Here we go...Kotooshu shifts left to grab towering overhand left outside grip on Kaio...Kaio is kept on the move and doesn't look comfortable...Oshu inches forward and....down goes Kaio via yori-taoshi. Kaio drops to 8-6 and Kotooshu escapes majority losses for at least another day. 

Immediately the cameras get back to business featuring the musubi-no-ichiban, Ozekis Hakuho (12-1) and Chiyotaikai (10-3). 37 kensho (sponsor flags) parade around the dohyo. Hakuho's dad has a little better seat this time around than he did in March to watch his son go for top prize. He's on the corner of the hana-michi a row or two back. It's time already, here we even tachiai....Taikai flailing away and Haku looking cool as a cucumber, awaiting his chance to grab some loin. Woops, didn't need to, Hakuho moves deftly and Taikai falls flat on the clay for a somewhat anticlimactic finish to day 14. Hakuho keeps pace with Miyabi at 13-1 and Taikai falls to 10-4.

Let's see, it looks like Hakuho is matched up against Baruto on day 15- now there's a barnburner. Miyabiyama has Asasekiryu- an interesting bout indeed. We could have multiple outcomes tomorrow: both win and a play-off, both lose and a play-off, Miyabi wins and Hakuho loses for Miyabi's first cup outright, or Miyabi loses and Hakuho wins for Haku's first cup outright. Either way, we'll be talking promotion in July. It's just a matter of who's in the fishbowl more intensely- Hakuho for Yokozuna or Miyabiyama for Ozeki. Those of you breathing a sigh of relief to get a break from Asashoryu, enjoy the moment while you can. We've got people stepping up to shake things up for a change!

Rikishi quotes after day 14

Hakuho on his pull down victory over Chiyotaikai, "That wasn't my normal self out there. I meant to hook up with him."

Miyabiyama on the flow of his bout with Baruto, "Baruto came out thrusting and my head was up a bit, but once he tried to pull me, I went straight forward. My body just responded naturally to the flow of the bout."

Miyabiyama on his bout with an Ozeki his Makuuchi debut basho, "I was paired with an Ozeki my first Makuuchi basho, but Takanonami completely whipped me. I thought to myself that if I am paired with Baruto, I need to do the same."

Day 13 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Aren't you all in for a treat!? Mike W. here taking over for Simon today who is spending the night against his will in a Yokohama hospital after suffering injuries in a tricycle crash. No word yet on whether his hospital has wooden floors or bowls of alcohol outside the door of each room for the staff to disinfect themselves with before they handle the patients, but you can be sure that the hallways have plenty of benches and ashtrays in the corners, so the patients can blacken up the walls with their cigarettes as they ensure the air in the hospital is kept as clean as possible. I'm actually trying to stall here because I watched half of NHK's day 13 broadcast in the middle of the night and then watched the other half in a daze when I woke up this morning feeling like crap because I didn't get enough sleep. In short, I took zero notes as I lay there on the couch paying more attention to strategically scratching myself than thinking up clever things to say in a report. So here we go.

I'll comment on the bouts today in order of the leaders, so let's start with the tourney's first clash between fellow Ozeki where Hakuho faced the ailing Kotooshu. Coming into the basho, I stated that I thought these two rikishi provided the most entertaining matchup in the sport right now, but that was before I saw Baruto fight everyday in this division and without knowing that Kotooshu would be so out of his rhythm. Hakuho has fought a majority if not all of his bouts from the West side this tournament, so we've been able to see what he does at the tachi-ai in regards to his left hand. Will he come with the hari-te or the mae-mawashi grab? Fighting from the East, his left arm was masked a bit from our view, but Hakuho opted for the left frontal belt grip...a smart move considering a hari-te would have surely given Kotooshu the left outer grip. Kotooshu seemed to lack any oomph at the tachi-ai, and he came in too high allowing Hakuho the easy left uwate. Before Kotooshu could counter, Hakuho began to spin to his left dragging at Kotooshu's belt in the process. It took about three seconds for the rookie Ozeki to throw/pull his his opponent down to the clay via uwate-dashi-nage. Kotooshu was in no position to put up a fight today, but beyond that, something is definitely wrong with this guy. With all the hype surrounding Baruto's debut and Miyabiyama's surprise run, the press has all but forgotten about this golden boy who had taken the sport by storm just six months ago. Hakuho moves to 12-1 with the easy win, and the sad thing is I think his opponents get even easier the final two days. He has to be considered the favorite at this point. Kotooshu falls to 6-7 and is in serious trouble of going kadoban for July. We'll just have to wait until after the basho to find out what has been ailing him, but he has not been well. Too bad...a basho like this could have used a genki Kotooshu.

How funny was today's Miyabiyama - Kyokushuzan matchup? Did anybody notice Kyokushuzan's stance as he approached the starting lines? He was bent at the waist, but not at the knees, a clear indication of where he was going. Usually, Shu can mask it pretty well, but he gave it away at the tachi-ai today...not that we didn't already know that he was going to jump to his left. Thankfully, Miyabiyama knew what was coming as well, and greeted Shu in mid-air with his tsuppari lumbering at full force. Shu tried to evade and circle the ring, but the Sekiwake was on his every move and enjoyed the easy push-out victory. Way to cuff and stuff the town's jester, Sheriff. It was so gratifying to watch this bout. Miyabiyama moves to 12-1 with the arrest and better have his quick draw ready tomorrow as he will face Baruto in what should prove to be the match of the tournament regardless of what happens on senshuraku. Kyokushuzan is exposed falling to 9-4.

One behind the leaders coming in was of course M11 Baruto, who was paired against perhaps the most surprising rikishi this tourney, M2 Asasekiryu. Before the bout started, the NHK reporter working the back halls of the Kokugikan revealed Asasekiryu's strategy, which was to hit hard, expect the pulldown from Baruto, and then take advantage from there. I thought it was a great strategy--and the only way that Seki had a chance today, but Baruto wisely decided to deliver a sound tachi-ai instead of his usual stand-up-straight-and-step-back-a-half-step. The result was a yotsu-zumo contest from the get-go where Baruto enjoyed a stifling left outer grip. Asasekiryu, who had smartly attacked Baruto's right denying him the outside grip on that side, managed to grab a left outer grip of his own, but it was already checkmate at this point. With their chests squarely aligned, the action halted in the middle of the ring for a few seconds. Asasekiryu tried a force out attempt or two in vain, but he couldn't budge the beast from Estonia. At this point Asasekiryu's only hope was to go for a maki-kae bringing his left arm from the outside to the inside, which would have given him moro-zashi, but Baruto rendered that point moot lifting Seki clear off his feet and mercilessly setting him down beyond the tawara. Absolutely smothering is how I'd describe it. Asasekiryu falls to 9-4 with the loss, but there's no shame in that, and he has to be commended for doing his homework. I also didn't sense any fear from him--unlike a lot of his Maegashira compatriots, so he should be praised all around for his approach. Baruto moves to 11-2 with the win and picked the perfect time to execute a sound tachi-ai. Up next for the giant is Miyabiyama, which should be a fantastic bout. Baruto must try and force the bout to the belt from the tachi-ai as he did today, or he'll be in trouble. The big question now is will the Sumo Association pair Baruto with Hakuho on senshuraku, or give him Kyokushuzan as is expected leaving Hakuho with the gimme over Kaio? Stay tuned!

Didn't it seem like the final bout between Chiyotaikai and Kaio was more like old-timer sumo than the final bout of day 13 where the yusho is still up for grabs? If you've ever watched retired athletes of any sport band together again for some charity and play a game, it's as if they're biggest concern is about not injuring themselves. I just got that feeling today as the obviously genki'er Chiyotaikai dictated the pace of this bout from the get-go never letting Kaio get close to the belt and keeping him on the run. Not surprisingly, the younger Chiyotaikai was able to maneuver behind Kaio and push the ailing Ozeki out from behind for the easy win. Chiyo moves to 10-3 with the win but is out of the yusho race despite NHK's listing the 3 loss rikishi. It's been a good basho for Chiyotaikai in May, but nothing great. Kaio has looked awful the last few days, and you have to go back to his claims that he was injured in that Takekaze bout. He certainly isn't the rikishi he was 18 months ago, but he's also not the same rikishi we saw the first half of this basho either. Thank god he's 8-5 now because he should finish up 8-7. As I've stated previously, I think the main goal for Kaio is to make it to Kyushu ranked as an Ozeki, so he can retire in front of the home town fans.

Rounding out the Sekiwake ranks, M5 Roho did well to completely neutralize Sekiwake Kotomitsuki's initial charge keeping him upright and without a belt grip. As he's done the latter part of this basho, Kotomitsuki pressed the action despite not having a belt grip, but it looked as if he was just spinning his wheels in the dirt as he tried to budge the stronger Russian. Roho held his ground nicely and timed a good pulldown of his opponent to pick up the nice win. I would have loved to have seen Roho win this bout moving forward, but he was in no position to do so from the tachi-ai. Both rikishi stand at 7-6.

Komusubi Kyokutenho was refused a belt grip today as M4 Tokitenku expertly kept his opponent at bay with his tsuppari from the tachi-ai. After a second or two, a frustrated Tenho ducked his head trying to attack below the arms thrusts of Tenku, but in a flash Tokitenku pivoted and yanked down on the Komusubi's head. It took another hand slapping down on Kyokutenho's shoulder to complete the job, but in the end, this was a nice victory for Tokitenku who creeps to 4-9. Kyokutenho officially suffers his make-koshi today at 5-8.

Komusubi Ama led with the head butt from the tachi-ai today, but Kisenosato warded the attack off with little trouble stopping the lighter Ama in his tracks. As he has done so well in May, the Kid immediately took the initiative muscling Ama back to the straw. Ama tried to fend off the attack with a lower stance and reckless tsuppari, but Kisenosato was in complete charge throughout as he slapped Ama down to the dirt by the side of the head. Ama was simply overwhelmed today as he falls to 3-10. Kisenosato keeps his kachi-koshi hopes alive improving to 6-7. Regardless of what happens the final two days, I think Kisenosato has proven that he is a future sanyaku rikishi as in by the end of this year. He should also overtake Wakanosato as the head rikishi of the Naruto-beya in July.

M3 Kotoshogiku showed great strength today against Kakizoe completely absorbing the M1's charge and keeping him at bay for two seconds before slapping him down to the dirt. Though this was a short bout, I though the Geeku displayed good patience and confidence in his ability as he firmly stood his ground and waited for the opening. He is in prime position at 7-6. Kakizoe falls to 5-8.

M7 Futenoh picked up his kachi-koshi today by stopping M3 Aminishiki in his tracks, forcing the bout to yotsu-zumo, and then lifting Aminishiki (5-8) off his feet and over the tawara for the surprise tsuri-dashi win. Let's expect great things from this former Komusubi in July higher up the ranks. M12 Takamisakari picked up a huge win today over M6 Kokkai, who never seemed to have his balance against the Robocop. Takamisakari kept Kokkai guessing as to where the target to thrust would be and timed a good pull down of the Georgian. Sure you'd like to see Sakari grab the belt and win by force out, but he has to take any win he can get at this point. At 7-6 yet again, we'll see if he can get over the hump for the first time in nearly a year. Dejima stands in his way, so as long as Takamisakari sticks and moves, he'll be fine. Kokkai is 7-6 as well.

M15 Kitazakura keeps his slim kachi-koshi hopes alive by out-hustling and out pushing M8 Hakurozan, but what does Hakurozan care? He's already got his eight wins. Zak moves to 6-7. I thought M9 Iwakiyama embarrassed himself against Baruto yesterday, but losing by yori-kiri to M14 Katayama (5-8) today? All with his oyakata providing analysis in the muko-jomen seat? I'll borrow Sakaigawa-oyakata's words in saying that Iwakiyama's tachi-ai needs work. Actually, I think it's his confidence too, but at 7-6 he still has hope.

It was nice to see M16 Tokitsuumi pick up his second win with a good scoop throw over M10 Tamakasuga (5-8), but let me end with M11 Homasho, who apparently injured his right knee in his bout against Kokkai a few days back. I wasn't aware of the injury but have noticed that Homasho has been going down without much of a fight the last few days. Today against M15 Buyuzan, he just couldn't move from side to side allowing Buyuzan the fairly easy bulldozer win. Homasho drops to 6-7 with the loss, but even if he loses out to finish 6-9, he'll at least keep himself in the division. It might be wiser to go kyujo at this point instead of risking further injury. Hey, hey! The under-appreciated Buyuzan moves to 7-6!

Heading into day 14, Hakuho and Miyabiyama still maintain their stubborn grip on the lead with just one loss apiece. Hakuho has it easy as he faces off against Chiyotaikai, so the real fireworks will go off two bouts earlier as Miyabiyama and Baruto butt heads. A win by Miyabiyama will eliminate Baruto (and Chiyotaikai) from the yusho race outright. A win by Baruto squares his record with Miyabiyama at two losses while both rikishi would wait to see if Chiyotaikai can somehow fluke out a win over Hakuho. It's still Hakuho's to lose in my book, but I think the Association should pair him with Baruto on senshuraku just to make him earn it. Kenji brings back the old school flavor tomorrow.

 Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I was happy with today's sumo for the most part considering the poor performances we've seen the first 11 days. As we near the end of the basho, the rikishi who have performed the best are paired against each other, and it provides for plenty of compelling bouts. Before I get to the action, did former Ozeki Takanonami go into each dressing room and draw up on the whiteboard his brand of sumo for the rikishi to follow today? If not, the former Ozeki was definitely there in spirit encouraging some of the boys on with their unorthodox sumo.

Capping off today's action was Ozeki Chiyotaikai who looked to rebound from a tough loss to Miyabiyama yesterday and an even harder fall to the floor below the dohyo. Sekiwake Kotomitsuki confirmed that there would be no such rebound from the tachi-ai as he employed that half step to the left/ottsuke combination that we saw Chiyotaikai use against Wakanosato earlier and that we see Tochiazuma use well. The Sekiwake executed the move beautifully throwing the Ozeki off balance from the start. Chiyotaikai was in no position to use his tsuppari which allowed Kotomitsuki to easily force the bout to a yotsu contest quickly grabbing a left outer. Chiyo retreated quickly breaking off that grip, but he could not squirm away from his opponent, and Kotomitsuki caught him next with a right outer grip that Chiyotaikai could not break. The younger Mitsuki wisely pressed the action and received little resistance from Chiyotaikai as the Ozeki all but turned and walked himself out that last step. Today's bout was a perfect example of what I've been trying to point out this whole basho: Chiyotaikai has not been special. Like Kaio, it's been the same old from the start only this basho the weak competition has dictated the inflated win totals. Kotomitsuki moves to 7-5 with the win while Chiyotaikai is all but eliminated from the yusho race at 9-3.

Kaio's fast start was also given a little dose of reality today by M1 Kisenosato who struck with a fantastic oshi-charge from the tachi-ai with perfectly-timed thrusts. The kid's youth and exuberance was way too much for Kaio to handle--especially when he's already got his 8 wins in the bag--and the Ozeki was easily pushed back and out in a matter of seconds. Kisenosato improved to 5-7 with the ass-kicking and keeps kachi-koshi hopes alive. Damn, I hope he gets it. At least finish with seven wins so you stay right where you are on the banzuke bringing your fire and passion next basho. Kaio unceremoniously drops to 8-4.

After yesterday's bouts, M5 Kyokushuzan stated that he was definitely going to go all out against Ozeki Hakuho today. Let me translate that for you: "I'm going to give him the biggest effin tachi-ai henka you've ever seen." The henka did come to no one's surprise where Kyokushuzan grabbed his usual left uwate, but Hakuho's tachi-ai of late is just too solid so that he recovered nicely by countering with a firm right inner of his own. Hakuho stood Shu upright a bit setting up a left outer grip to go with his right inner, which he used to force the M5 back against the tawara with. Kyokushuzan did not go easy, however, and survived that first attempt forcing the action back to the middle of the ring. Hakuho wasted no time and pushed Shu back again only to have the M5 brace his feet against the tawara and fight back this time driving Hakuho back forcefully enough to where Hakuho had to let his feet just slide backwards. I thought that he was a bit susceptible to a pull-down at this point, but he dug in straightway forcing the action back to the middle of the ring. Hakuho was apparently finished with the monkey business and just lifted Shu (9-3) clear off his feet and set him down outside the ring for the tsuri-dashi win. That was Yokozuna sumo, but that's nothing new. Hakuho moves to 11-1 with the win, and I'm going to assume that he at least ups his record to 13-2 by the basho's end. Here's a memo to the Sumo Association: you've wasted enough time considering one Ozeki's Yokozuna chances this year. Open your damn eyes and recognize the best rikishi in your sport in 2006 and put him up for Yokozuna promotion next basho regardless of whether or not he takes the yusho in May.

Whether or not Hakuho takes the yusho is still largely up in the air thanks to Sekiwake Miyabiyama, who overcame the Sumotalk front page jinx by dominating Ozeki Kotooshu. Miyabiyama charged hard from the tachi-ai unleashing, what else, but the lumbering tsuppari. He kept the gimpy Kotooshu away from his belt with ease, and Kotooshu could do nothing but try to time a pull down attempt, which he did and which I thought was a great move, but Miyabiyama's thrusts were so effective that Kotooshu couldn't even set up for the move properly. Miyabiyama survived the attack and easily pushed out the compromised Ozeki from there. Miyabiyama actually let up a bit early and Kotooshu lingered on the tawara looking like he might survive, but Miyabiyama managed one last awkward thrust to seal the deal before he himself fell to the dirt. Miyabiyama moves to 11-1 with the win and keeps the pressure on Hakuho to win out. Let's hope he can survive the circus tomorrow as he faces Kyokushuzan. I cannot stand it when a clown like Kyokushuzan wastes a yusho race with gimmick sumo. Say it isn't so, but Kotooshu is now 6-6...and against the current competition. He is officially in a funk.

If there were weight classes in sumo, the kings of the lightweight division would be Komusubi Ama and M4 Tokitenku. I'm not sure what kind of relationship these two have outside the ring, but they obviously have a budding rivalry going inside the ring that always promises feisty sumo. Today was no exception with the tsuppari fest beginning early with some great nodowa thrusts from Ama. Tokitenku arched his back and proved slippery enough to finagle a left outer grip from the affair, but Ama was just too low and on the inside of his opponent allowing him to counter very well with the right inner and left frontal belt grips. Ama's rise to the sanyaku is a direct result of his being the better tactician, and that proved the case today as he was able to topple Tenku to the dirt with a nifty shitate-nage throw that was probably more of an inside leg trip (uchi-gake). This was a great bout form these two as always, and they certainly didn't look like the 3-9 rikishi that they are. Goes back to the difference in weight.

Rounding out the sanyaku was a horrible display of "sumo" by Komusubi Kyokutenho who executed a stinky tachi-ai henka to his back/left. M3 Aminishiki was doomed from the start as both rikishi stand now at 5-7. That was really weak, Tenho. This is an official call out to all of you wizards and witches--or even nerds dressed up in Lord of the Rings costumes--who own Kyokutenho voodoo dolls to get off your lazy asses and start filling that thing with pins already. What a disgrace.

In the Maegashira ranks, M2 Wakanosato exhibited his best sumo of the basho with a fantastic tachi-ai leading with his left shoulder and going for the mae-mawashi (frontal belt grip) against M1 Kakizoe. He didn't get it, but he completely neutralized Kakizoe's attack even denying the smaller Zoe a sniff of his belt...not that he'd want to do that anyway. Without a belt grip or decent inside position, Kakizoe attempted a charge but was easily slapped down with an offensive (the good kind) slap down. Wakanosato limps to 4-8 while Kakizoe is not dead yet at 5-7.

M2 Asasekiryu gained the instant moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against M8 Hakurozan, who immediately struck the Takanonami pose wrapping both arms around the outside of his opponents arms and locking his hands together underneath in a move called kime(ru). Hakurozan actually showed some grit and stubbornness at first as Seki attempted several force out moves, but on the third attempt or so the Russian just abandoned the bout and gave up as Asasekiryu walked him across the straw. Apparently Takanonami forgot to draw up how to windmill your opponent out via the kime-dashi move at the tawara. Seki continues to pile up the wins moving to 9-3 while Hakurozan seemed content with his eight wins secured already.

M6 Tamanoshima denied M3 Kotoshogiku the mawashi from the tachi-ai, but in doing so he was unable to latch onto anything himself. Kotoshogiku eventually wrangled into position where he grabbed the outer right grip, but as he charged forward, he was burned at the edge where the veteran Tamanoshima turned the tables quickly evading to his right and pulling the Geeku down in the process. Kotoshogiku just got burned by a veteran move today, but he'll learn. At 6-6 he's still in good shape while Tamanoshima still flounders at 4-8. This former Sekiwake seems perfectly content with scoring wins here and there with backwards sumo.

M4 Takekaze immediately went for the pull down from the tachi-ai against M6 Kokkai, but without a tachi-ai henka or a good tachi-ai, it's a stupid move. Kokkai showed why as his charge was just too good and precise driving Takekaze back and dismissing him without further argument. No surprise that Takekaze is 1-11 with this kind of sumo while Kokkai is in great shape at 7-5.

M5 Roho seemed powerless against M10 Tamakasuga at the tachi-ai with a weak harite that set exactly nothing up. It befuddles me that Roho didn't even get close to the belt at the tachi-ai when Tamakasuga didn't even come out thrusting. With Roho in no offensive position, Tamakasuga instigated a charge and nearly had Roho pushed out, but the Russian survived and managed a right outer grip from the fracas. In this position, there was no doubt as Roho cruised to the easy force out win. My question is, however, why didn't he gain this position from the tachi-ai? And against Tamakasuga remember! Today was just another perfect example of how Roho's got issues with his sumo. He does improve to 6-6, but I can't remember a single memorable bout from this guy so far. Tamakasuga falls to 5-7.

M11 Homasho's style of charging low was doomed from the start against Dejima's brand of tachi-ai. I was thinking to myself before the bout the only way Homasho has a chance today is to stick and move quickly from the tachi-ai using Dejima's forward momentum against him to force him down to the clay, but the rookie stood directly in front of the D-train and paid the price. Easy oshi-dashi win for Dejima as both rikishi stand at 6-6.

M12 Tosanoumi delivered a powerless tachi-ai against M7 Futenoh, who stood his ground well. With Tosanoumi having gained nothing from the initial charge, he was leaning forward where the pull-down was there for the taking. Futenoh took the high road, however, forcing the bout to yotsu-zumo where he easily took control from there forcing the Makuuchi veteran back and pushing him out at the edge. A decent display of sumo from two of my favorite rikishi. Futenoh creeps closer to kachi-koshi at 7-5 while Tosanoumi is mired at 6-6.

M8 Kasugao displayed a very curious tachi-ai where he tried to drive his opponent back without his hands, literally. It was jus this big old torso trying to bully M13 Toyonoshima out. Toyonoshima accepted the gift moro-zashi as a result and was able to fend the Korean off and force the action back to the middle of the ring. While he did have moro-zashi, Toyonoshima's jaw was high up around Kasugao's shoulder rendering him too high to effectively attack, but Kasugao could only muster another Takanonami pose himself with both arms wrapped around the outside of Toyo's arms and hands locked beneath. Toyonoshima eventually lowered his stance a bit, which enabled him to easily force the Korean out from there to improve to 6-6. Kasugao makes his make-koshi official at 4-8, but he deserves it this basho with poor sumo.

Here we go again. M12 Takamisakari obtained the right outer grip from the tachi-ai, but that dangerously gave M9 Tochinonada his favored hidari-yotsu position. Takami pressed the action nicely, but committed on a throw/force out from too close to the center of the ring. The charge buffeted Tochinonada back alright, the problem was it came from the center of the ring, and Nada had more than enough space to be driven back a step or two, plant his feet, evade to his right, and slap the Cop down to the clay. This business of snatching make-koshi from the jaws of an almost certain kachi-koshi the last four basho has to be rattling those marbles or whatever it is inside of Takamisakari's dome. He falls to a dangerous 6-6 with the pressure compounding by the day. Tochinonada "improves" to 5-7.

One of my most anticipated bouts coming in was the M9 Iwakiyama - M11 Baruto matchup. In fact, I wasted an entire blog entry on explaining why I thought Iwakiyama would give Baruto a scare. Thanks for nothing Jabba. If you did read my blog yesterday, you'll note that I said Iwakiyama must come into the bout with confidence, and he has to lead with his tsuppari. So you can only imagine my horror when I came across a newspaper blurb this morning before the bouts where Iwakiyama admitted that he was afraid of Baruto. And needless to say, Iwakiyama left his tsuppari locked up tightly in his akeni. This was yet another strange bout where Iwakiyama charged way too low allowing Baruto to push down on the back of Iwaki's neck with the left hand and grab the back of his belt with the right hand rolling Iwakiyama up in a wad and sending him sprawling off to the side in the dirt. At first glance, I thought this was a tachi-ai henka, but no, Baruto didn't shift to the right, left, or back. His hataki attack from the start was pre-meditated, so I wasn't pleased about that, but this was yet another example of how Baruto is literally defining new ways to do sumo. I don't like them because I don't see sound basics involved, but hey, if you win who cares right?

If you have the means to go back and watch Baruto's tachi-ai, you can see problems with his footing. Had Iwakiyama (7-5) actually looked up and had he actually tried to unleash some tsuppari, I though Baruto's chest was wide open. It is my opinion that rikishi with more game are going to attack here and take advantage of Baruto's tachi-ai. But that probably won't happen until next basho. The winning technique was ruled as the rarely seen harima-nage, but myself and the NHK announcers were trying to figure out how that was determined. I'll call it hataki-komi with the left hand and okuri-taoshi with the right hand. With the win, Baruto moves to 10-2 and stays in the yusho hunt, but I don't see how this basho has been a yusho performance. I'm not denying Baruto's sheer power and potential, but his sumo (not the fact that he's winning) the last week has been average at best, and I think it will be exploited when he faces rikishi who are consistently on the top of their game and who are not afraid. Have we all forgotten that this guy was manhandled by a 5-7 Kitazakura and a 4-8 Tochinohana? At the start of the basho, those two guys didn't know that they should be afraid. Makes a big difference.

You know, I just don't think we give M15 Buyuzan enough credit on this website, so let me praise the man for his furious oshi attack disallowing M10 Tochinohana any sort of belt grip or position. My man improves to 6-6 with the shweet oshi-dashi win. I actually want to quit here, but how can I fail to mention M13 Hokutoriki and his tachi-ai henka to the left...against M14 Yoshikaze? I ask myself "what's the point" but then I realize that Jokutoriki needed the cheap move to clinch his kachi-koshi. 8-4...just great. I have to put up with this for at least one more basho. Yoshikaze falls to 6-6 but wasn't presented a fair fight.

And finally, M16 Tokitsuumi gets off the snide with a win...yes, I said win...over the hapless M14 Katayama. Katayama came from the initial charge with a stiff right nodowa (push to the throat), but Tokitsuumi just grabbed the limb and yanked Katayama down to the dirt with it. At 1-11 now, Tokitsuumi has all but assured himself that he will not be demoted to the Makushita division next basho. Katayama can start packing his Juryo bags as he suffers make-koshi at 4-8.

With three days to go, the leaderboard looks like this: Hakuho and Miyabiyama on top with 11-1 records while Baruto lurks behind as the sole 10-2 rikishi. I didn't shed any tears when I saw Chiyotaikai and Kyokushuzan fall off the leaderboard at the end of today, and I won't shed any for Baruto either. You just can't compare what Baruto has done to what Hakuho and Miyabiyama are doing against the best that this basho has to offer. Over the final three days, Hakuho will face his remaining Ozeki counterparts: Kotooshu, Kaio, and Chiyotaikai. I don't see how he doesn't come out of that 3-0. Miyabiyama has already faced the sanyaku on up and must deal with Kyokushuzan tomorrow and probably Asasekiryu and Baruto the final two days. That's a tougher schedule than what Hakuho has for sure, but Miyabiyama should come out of that 3-0. Baruto gets Asasekiryu tomorrow (I don't see how he loses that), and then I think he gets Kyokushuzan on day 14 and Miyabiyama on senshuraku. I see him going 2-1 losing to Miyabiyama, but watch out for Kyokushuzan. There's no way the dude can beat Baruto in a straight up fight, but Kyokushuzan isn't about that. At least we have some drama heading into the final three days. Simon gets red-carded tomorrow for that nasty ankle trip he pulled. 

Day 11 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
The fruity Summer Basho of 'ought-six is winding down as 'the best of what's left' compete for the easiest Emperor's Cup in years. Hakuho and Miyabiyama have so far held back the Kadoban Kings of Kaio and Chiyotaikai while the rest of the field is so mired in mediocrity that Hakurozan and Baruto are becoming the stars of the show. While there could be some interesting upsets in the last few days I'd have to say the Estonian is probably the only one besides Hack/Miyabi with an outside chance to take the whole thing. Since today's goodness is spread so thin and evenly, I might as well start at the beginning.

Tokitsuumi and Yoshikaze kicked things off with a whimper, but Toki can't be blamed as he's back from an injury break and trying to pick up a few wins before the tournament is over. None yet, unfortunately, as the diminutive Yoshikaze ploughed him out by oshidashi with no trouble at all. (6-5) Yoshikaze has been having a fairly successful basho and sits a few wins short of his Kachi-Koshi. He reminds me of Chiyotaikai because he's so quick and coordinated and if he can keep his distance he usually wins the bout. I think he'll hover in the lower Makuuchi for a while unless he can step his offense up somehow. 

Katayama tried to find a way past Jumonji in this contested belt battle but just couldn't maintain any kind of grip once the big man started shaking those hips. Jumonji stayed on the offensive with a right uwate grip until finally pulling off the yorikiri win to go to (5-6). Katayama is looking undersized and overpowered this basho at (4-7). 

Toyonoshima was able to absorb Kitazakura's tachi-ai and drive him back from the start, throwing the Northern's Cherry off balance and vulnerable to anything. Toyonoshima decided to go for a katasukashi today as he locked his hands around Kita's shoulder and tossed him down for his sixth loss. Both men are at the dangerous (5-6) mark from fairly low on the banzuke and will he praying for their KK soon.

Buyuzan earned a victory through sheer grit tonight as he faced the ailing Tosanoumi. Both men gave a good tachi-ai, but it was Buyuzan who was able to stay lower as the two men clashed three or four times. Finally Buyuzan kept his head up and tried for a pull-down which caused Tosa to slip past, spin, and get thrust out for the loss. Buyuzan now sits at (5-6) in the M15 position while Tosanoumi is already at (6-5).

Takamisakari has been pathetic at this low rank and is still looking at demotion in July, says I. Here he had a chance to prove himself against another frail but dangerous opponent in Hokutoriki but came up very, very short of a win. The two men raced through the shikiri as usual before 'Riki leaped out quickly and threw his body into Takami's left shoulder. Takami now wants to bring his Robo-arm to bare ( the right one ) but in doing so he forgets about his left and allows 'Riki to reach around and establish a kotenage grip for the throw. Hokutoriki seems to make a choice before each fight as to how much effort he's willing to throw in. If he feels he can win, like he did today, he'll either come out blazing or have a quick pull-down planned. At (7-4) he's having an optimistic basho and should continue his streak for a few more days. Sumo's sad clown is at (6-5) so far and is well off his old form.

The next six bouts featured a Japanese rikishi against a foreign one which, for me at least, added some character to the middle-pack bouts. We start off with Tochinohana and Hakurozan with the Russian's KK on the line but the odds in his favour. I've been really enjoying his Sumo this basho as he's stayed away from the cheap slapdowns and is instead going for the footwork-pulldowns that seem so much prettier. Even so, he's been fighting with tsuppari, he's been fighting off the belt, yorikiri, nages, what a basho! Today he came out firing with his tsuppari which Flower Power was barely able to survive. Rallying at the edge, the two lock up with Hakurozan using that effective backpedal to keep 'Hana from getting his footing. Hakurozan now goes with a power move and casts Tochi away from him but when they come back together Tochi has both his arms on the inside. Now in trouble, Hakurozan turns sideways and goes for a desperation kotenage throw and lands on his elbow a fraction of a second after Tochinohana touches down. They needed a Mono-ii and a reversal to sort this out but the gyoji had no way to see the landing anyway. This was a great match and I was surprised to see 'Hana stay in it so well, but at (4-7) he is facing demotion pretty soon. Hakurozan keeps his spot on the leaderboard with his (8-3) record and Day 11 Kachi-Koshi in the bank.

Kasugao was way quicker than Tamakasuga in their match and he eventually wore him down into a tsukiotoshi. The Korean seemed very relaxed and balanced for this match but his (4-7) record belies a rough ride this basho and he should have some easier competition in the last few days. Tamakasuga is sitting at (5-6) himself after some decent lateral-movement wins and should be sticking around the elite in July.

The Kokkai - Homasho bout was interesting to watch because both rikishi like to lock up in the 'European' style with the tops of their heads touching. Homasho has been stable as a rock this basho and wasn't being put off by Kokkai's wiggling and pulldowns today. Finally the Savage Homasho moved forward as Kokkai tried a kotenage and - what a close one! The replays showed that they lost their footing and landed about the same time and a tori-naoshi rematch was called. This time they locked up up in the same fashion but it was Kokkai who successfully pulled Homasho past him to gain side-control and then launch the Maku-Newbie out into the crowd. Kokkai is (6-5) and should be promoted back into his comfort range from his M6 position while Homasho's (6-5) from the M11 is damned impressive for a first-timer.

Ba-ba-ba-Baruto! I'll admit that I wasn't in this guy's corner at the beginning of the basho but after watching him toss around heavyweight opponents like their were medicine balls, I think he's earned my respect. Yoshikaze is a shrimp, okay, but Futenoh? He launched Futenoh like nobody's business yesterday and is nearly in serious contention for the Yusho. Today he would face Tamanoshima, the Fridge, another huge rikishi who'd surely give the Estonian what for on Day 11, I hoped. Baruto started with a thrust to a neck into a pulldown-sidestep which has won him a few matches this basho but the move was not enough to get the win today. Tamanoshima rallied and attacked with plenty of gun himself but just wasn't able to move the Estonian appreciably before giving up a belt grip and eventually being smothered/walked out by yorikiri. Baruto is at (9-2) and is certainly gaining confidence now that he's carving through some of the more serious players. Tamanoshima hits his Make-Koshi today at (3-8) which to me is a bit of a surprise seeing that he's at the M6 rank after a (5-10) result in March.

I'd rather not dally on Roho too much today as he has been a pain in my eyeballs to watch this basho. We could be seeing his little brother overtake him in the rankings in July if he doesn't pick things up soon. Today he would face Tochinonada in a fairly forgettable contest where he hoisted his Japanese opponent over the tawara with a strong uwate grip. He's now at (5-6) while Tochinonada is at (4-7).

Kyokushuzan has been dancing the night away this basho and once again pulls an evasive maneuver to escape from his foe, this time Iwakiyama. Except for his losses to Dejima and Kisenosato, Shuzan has leapt to the side at every tachi-ai to get his left-outside grip. At (9-2) it is obviously working for him as the aging Mongolian keeps up with the pack into the final stretch. Iwakiyama has been doing well this basho and is on the verge of his Kachi-Koshi at (7-4). 

Takekaze was finally able to record his first win of the Summer basho by taking Dejima's charge and feeding it right back to him. Dejima's (5-6) has been fairly unremarkable this basho as his sumo continues to be very straightforward and predictable.

Kotoshogiku continues to be the bright shinning light of Sadogatake stable as he racks up yet another hard-fought win against wildcard Futenoh. Giku sits at (6-5) with all of the big muck-a-mucks spoken for while Futenoh started low and at (6-5) himself might have to really earn his last few wins.

Kisenosato started off so well against the All-Stars but has not yet gotten back on his horse in the second week. Against Aminishiki here we would see yet ANOTHER kotenage throw at the edge spark a mono-ii and yet again the attacker ( this time Aminishiki ) getting the win without a tori-naoshi. Kisenosato seemed to be in complete control here as he pushed for his usual corner-out victory but instead got caught in a tricky armlock by the diving 'Nishiki and was pulled down in a heap. This was a strange match and I fully expected a rematch to be called but instead the 'crows' ruled that Ami's foot had stayed in longer and he was given the match. Kisenosato has learned a few lessons this basho but continues to prove that he has the will to match up with the Jo-i, if not the luck. (4-7) so far but his KK is no impossible stretch. Aminishiki is one of the many guys at (5-6).

Oh Ama, you poor critter. Everyone's favorite underdog is receiving a stern beating this basho as his opponents continue to put him down as quickly ( but painfully ) as possible. Now that he's finished fighting the top dogs I thought we'd start to see some wins but tonight it was not to be. Ama was lightning-fast against Wakanosato at the tachi-ai and was forcing him back by morote for a second until Waka grabbed his arm and spun the young Mongolian off his feet. That means (1-10) for Ama and a loss to the gimpy Naruto-stable veteran which I'm sure is hard to take. Wakanosato managed his Make-Koshi yesterday and sits at (3-8).

Kyokutenho was high at the tachi-ai against Kakizoe in their bout and failed to secure his own kotenage-save before being given the escort. Kyokutenho is (4-7) so far which isn't his worse result at this rank while Kakizoe is shooting for Sanyaku promotion with his (5-6) from the West M1 slot.

Hakuho lost to Miyabiyama on Day 5 and so I wasn't able to gush as much as I wanted to at the time. Sure, a few basho ago I was calling this guy a heel after he kept pulling goofy moves against the Sanyaku but I think he's settled into his groove now and seems to be the one to beat. While Hakuho still needs to prove that he can close a tournament as effectively as Asashoryu, his poise and versatility in the last two basho should make him a shoe-in for Yokozuna very soon. The Tokitenku bout was a mismatch through-and-through as Hakuho traded tsuppari and then knocked away a straight-arm to get a headlock grip. From there it was another simple twist-down win for the Shin-Ozeki who at (10-1) keeps the pressure on Miyabiyama going into the final days.

Kotomitsuki was neutered especially early this basho but wasn't going to roll over for Kaio today. The tachi-ai wasn't overly impressive with Kaio seeming especially slow and Mitsuki scoring a right outer grip rather quickly and then using it to wrench Kaio towards the tawara and off his feet. Streaky Mitsuki has broken the mold with his (6-5) while Kaio's (8-3) means that he'll be coasting now that the kadoban pressure is off for the next four months.

The most anticipated bout of the night was most certainly the Chiyo-Miyabi fight although I doubt there was much money riding on ol' Streetfighter. Chiyotaikai and Miyabiyama had a 17-14 record against each other with the last three wins going to the Elegant Mount Miyabi and the trend promising to continue through this basho and the next. Chiyotaikai just doesn't have the power to move 400 pounds of Miyabi-meat and the Sheriff has been too accurate with his slapping for much hope to be wasted. Right? Right. Chiyotaikai spent his few precious seconds of sumo looking for an opening that never came and was mercilessly shoved out by the punchy Sekiwake. I'm grasping for details here, but the most interesting thing to happen during this showdown was that Taikai took 25 seconds to get back on his feet after landing awkwardly in the crowd. I wonder if he's planning a phantom-pullout of his own now that he's gotten his 8 wins but so far he isn't on the withdrawals list so I guess he'll be back. Chiyotaikai falls to (9-2) while Sheriff Fatman holds share of the lead with a (10-1) and faces the deflated Bulgarian Kotooshu tomorrow.

The night ended with Kotooshu losing AGAIN to a Maegashira, this time the overachieving Asasekiryu. Yogurt came in high at the tachi-ai and gave up a right-in left-out grip to the Mongolian as he struggled to keep himself low against his opponent. Asasekiryu then abandoned his right grip to focus on his left uwate, first raising up the Bulgarian before swinging him down by uwatedashinage. Asasekiryu hits his Kachi-Koshi (8-3) and faces Hakurozan tomorrow while Kotooshu will face Miyabiyama and the other Ozeki in the final days.

The last few days could be a wild ride for our fair rikishi, especially for those still underestimating Baruto. At the very least let's hope for some strong finishes and promotion excitement once again in July. 

Tomorrow! Another installment of "Mike and his Magical Harpoon".

Day 10 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
When I said in my day three report that the withdrawal of Asashoryu would lead to a general lowering of the level of the sumo, I didn't realize just how low. With the stellar names of Chiyotaikai and Miyabiyama lighting the way as of day nine, it should be blindingly obvious to all and sundry that something is awry. There are plenty of people around who enjoy a bit of a change to the make-up of the leader board...they're the same ones who probably celebrated when Takatoriki won it at low Maegashira back in the Haru Basho of 2000. Well, while there are some areas in which I don't mind a little variety now and then, twins, triplets and midgets for instance, sumo is not one of said areas. If the natural order is not asserted by day eleven or twelve, I start to get nervous and do things like glance into all four corners of my room (N, E, W, S in that order) or make beeping noises every time a foreign car passes my house.

Galloping to today's action, Ozeki Hakuho failed to get his favoured left-hand grip at the tachiai and briefly looked in trouble against Sekiwake Kotomitsuki. The future Yokozuna had to content himself with a deep right-hand inside grip and stood his ground well as Kotomitsuki tried to drive forward. This came to nothing, of course, as Hakuho finally got the left grip he wanted, and, along with the right hand inside, hey presto open sesame he was in an invincible position, and Kotomitsuki knew it as he just gave up and allowed himself to be walked out, not showing anything at all in the way of fighting spirit. Yes, he would have lost anyway, but put up a bit of a fight, for Christ's sake. Hakuho is the world's most talkative cockatoo at 9-1. Kotomitsuki is a mange-ridden ostrich at 5-5.

Ozeki Kotooshu showed that he's still nowhere near his best as he fell for typical Kyokushuzan sumo. The slippery Mongolian tapped the shoulder of the Bulgarian as he slipped to the left side, grabbed the belt and used the momentum of Kotooshu to drag him round and out with breathtaking speed and timing. In the trade, it's known as a henka.  I know there are many fans of Kyokushuzan (8-2) and this kind of cheap, gimmicky sumo, and while I'm most certainly not one of them, even I was impressed by the pure technical ability displayed to pull something like that off. There are not many rikishi around who could make Kotooshu (6-4) look that stupid, even when he is injured. While I can't stand Kyokushuzan's sumo in general, I have to admit that he's never boring. But, hey, sumo fans – you gotta do what you gotta do, right? Beep.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai got the thrusts working against M3 Aminishiki (4-6) and drove him out with ease. It was trademark Chiyotaikai sumo. While I've criticized Nureyev for some of his sumo this basho, you can't slam him for doing his job, and that is exactly what he is doing. At 9-1, he is still well and truly in the yusho hunt and regardless of what Mike and Clancy say he still has a chance to go on and win it. If you're in it, you can win it. Ask Liverpool Football Club. If Asashoryu and a healthy Tochiazuma were competing, I'd never say that, but they're limbo dancing on a beach somewhere, so Rudolf just has to pick up wins against the following rikishi (current head-to head records in brackets): Miyabiyama (17-14), Kotomitsuki (16-6), Hakuho (3-5), Kaio (13-23), Kotooshu (3-4). Miyabiyama is up tomorrow and that's the key bout. If he can win that, he'll have a poor-looking Kotomitsuki to walk over, and will also surely have a good chance against the injured Kotooshu. He has also had some recent success against Kaio. The only rikishi he will almost certainly lose to is Hakuho, but you just never know in sumo. And remember that Hakuho may also screw up. No, about the only excitement left in this basho is seeing whether anyone can beat Hakuho to the yusho, and that could well be Chiyotaikai. Don't bet on it, though – the Mongolian is still the clear favourite. I haven't completely lost my marbles.

Ozeki Kaio, at 7-2 coming in, saw fit to pre-plan and then execute a pull-down win straight from the tachiai on a rikishi with a 3-6 record ranked at M4. It might not have looked like a henka, but it was – if only Tokitenku had been paying more attention, and hadn't come in so low, thinking (probably) that an Ozeki wouldn't pull any cheap tricks on a low-ranked rikishi in his position. Kaio's fans might well deny it was a henka, but that's what he wanted to do. Just looking at the replay, you could see that he went immediately for the pull-down just as Tokitenku began to move forward. Pre-planned. One word: pathetic. Just another symptom of the disease now known as the Natsu Basho of 2006. I'm not going to get too upset about it – this basho is already a write-off - but Tokitenku now faces a struggle at 3-7. Kaio is...who cares? Beep beep honk!

Sekiwake Miyabiyama pulled down the frankly dismal M2 Wakanosato following a brief exchange of tsuppari at tachiai. One particularly strong thrust knocked Wakanosato back and off balance and Miyabiyama pounced for the pull-down. Miyabiyama's sumo has not been pretty – it never is, is it? However, he deserves credit for doing strong, steady sumo, keeping Hakuho on his toes and ensuring that some competitive interest continues to the very end. Sheriff is a cuddly toy panda at 9-1. Wakanosato is not cuddly at all and should be hanging his head in horror at that 2-8 record – it looks like that injury a while back has destroyed the former great Sekiwake. For that I am forlorn.

Komusubi Ama kicked the arse of M1 Kakizoe in a fiery display, and all this as Kakizoe had both arms inside his diminutive foe. After a brief stalemate as he caught his breath in the centre, Ama (2-8) showed good strength going forward to force Kakizoe (4-6) out. Ama has predictably suffered against the top ranked lads but has not allowed his head to drop and now that he has all the sanyaku rikishi out of the way can look forward to a relatively easy run-in. Expect him to pick up another three or four.

Komusubi Kyokutenho continued his total domination of young Japanese M1 Kisenosato with yet another schooling. It was a masterful technical display by the Komusubi as he kept his opponent's head down while holding him away, left arm under right armpit, and guided him out. Kisenosato was led like a goat to slaughter. Kyokutenho improves to 4-6, the same record as Kisenosato, who has now gone four days without a win...but not without a fight. I've been impressed with the Kisser's fighting spirit this basho. Learning curve.

In a battle of two of the more impressive rikishi (which is not saying much) this basho, M2 Asasekiryu had a good tachiai against M3 Kotoshogiku and seemed to be cruising for a day-ten kachi-koshi. Kotoshogiku, however, is made of sterner stuff (uranium) and he dug in, then took advantage of a poor throw attempt by Asasekiryu to turn the tables and twist him down to the dohyo. The Mongolian's run to 7-2 had been a source of some bafflement to me, and I had concluded that it was yet another consequence of the malaise that seems to have set in among almost all the rikishi this basho. It was only a matter of time before he was stopped. Kotoshogiku has a commendable 5-5 record with four Ozeki and a Sekiwake out of the way, and he won't need to fight Kotooshu or Kotomitsuki because they're in the same stable...a kachi-koshi is very possible.

M5 Roho for me represents the low point of this basho, and believe me, that's nothing to be proud of. As Clancy mentioned on his blog the other day, the bout against Dejima in particular was a disgrace. First he henka'd the former Ozeki, then lost because he's crap, but still looked over, desperately hoping Dejima's foot had gone out, and then even managed a sullen glare at the shinpan in general as if he felt he should have had a mono-ii, or at the very least an ice cream. Do us all a favour, Roho: if you're going to 'fight' like that, go home. What a tragic waste of talent, and what a tragic waste of my valuable time spent watching him this basho. Against M6 Tamanoshima today he did what he should be doing, going with hidari-yotsu and using his superior strength to overpower his opponent, giving him no chance to resist the tide. Why the hell doesn't he do this every day? There doesn't seem to be too much between the ears, frankly. Roho 'improves' to 4-6, a shocking record for a rikishi of his ability at M5. Tamanoshima is in deep shite at 3-7.

M11 Baruto got wrapped by M7 Futenoh after screwing up trying to go over his opponent to grab the belt. No problem. Captain Estonia simply resorted to brute strength to hurl Futenoh down to the clay, leaving his blog-writing opponent wishing he'd managed to get a grip of the mawashi. It was a pretty impressive display from Baruto but Futenoh will be concerned at how easily he was defeated from that position. Kachi-koshi for the likeable blond on day ten is not exactly a surprise. Expect him to go on and pick up a sansho. Hell, if Hakuho screws up, we may even see Baruto figuring in the big money on senshuraku. I personally hope he gets a chance to make a difference because he has been one of the very few bright spots of this horrible basho. Futenoh is 6-4.

M13 Hokutoriki came up at M8 Hakurozan with both hands to the throat but the Russian didn't even feel it, shrugged it off, and wrapped the Joker up making it just a matter of when rather than if or how. Hokutoriki's six-day winning streak comes to an end and he falls to 6-4. Hakurozan tries to make everyone forget about his embarrassing performance against Tosanoumi yesterday. And no, I haven't forgotten. He is 7-3.

So the three leaders all won. Hakuho looks menacing and is the clear favourite to take home the rose queen (Clancy tells me she is a bit of a minx). Miyabiyama still looks strong and steady but will have a tough battle against a genki Chiyotaikai tomorrow. Somehow, Kaio, Kyokushuzan and Asasekiryu remain one step behind along with Baruto, the true dark horse. Remember that he is ranked very low and only has Tamanoshima tomorrow. That's another win right there. If he can keep up the pressure, we could be seeing him matched up with the big fish in the last few days, which would be excellent. God knows we need something to save this tournament.

Bernie baits a badger tomorrow. I'll be back on Friday with my hairdryer.

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we turn the corner and head into the final week of the basho, it will be necessary for us all to endure a few more days of crap sumo, at least until the Ozeki start butting heads. It seems as if everyone is going a little stir crazy and finding themselves distracted by trivial things. At the end of yesterday's broadcast after Asasekiryu defeated Chiyotaikai, Naito announcer I believe it was, went into this big explanation about how this was Asasekiryu's first ever kin-boshi because being a stablemate of Asashoryu, he never gets the chance to fight a Yokozuna. Someone obviously got through to him on his earpiece about 20 seconds into the speech reminding him that Chiyotaikai wasn't a Yokozuna. Then, this morning, I wake up and check my email, etc. and see that there seems to be a furor growing over the judges decision in the Kokkai - Tamakasuga matchup on day 9. Two 4-5 rikishi? Who cares? It all goes to show how a basho is turned upside down when the two top rikishi on the banzuke withdraw and especially when a Dai-Yokozuna in the prime of his career is absent. There is hope, but I don't think we'll get any stimulation out of this tournament until about day 13 or so when the current leaders will all face each other. Let's just hope the Ozeki can all stay close to each other in the loss column.

Turning our attention to the bouts themselves, how can anybody be bored or distracted...what, when you've got 0-8 Takekaze fighting a gimpy Kaio in the final bout of the day? The Ozeki charged with his left shoulder at the tachi-ai, and after contact he went for the quick pull down with his right hand on the back of Takekaze's head. I didn't have a problem with the offensive move (offensive as in "on the attack," not offensive as in "that tramp Lindsay Lohan is just plain offensive") because Kaio was in complete control, no one has actually equated the terms "Takekaze" and "de-ashi" yet this basho, his left arm was latched underneath Takekaze's right armpit for insurance, and Kaio didn't need to commit himself to the point where it was do-or-die. The pull down move failed, but with Kaio's left arm in such good position, he was able to wrench Takekaze upwards actually spinning him around 180 degrees, and from there it was an easy push down win. During the mele, it appeared as if Kaio was poked in the left eye, but he'll gladly trade an eye gouge for a win these days. At 7-2, Kaio is still right in the thick of things, but I think his 7 bout win streak is due more to weak upper Maegashira and floundering Komusubi than an actual resurgence. Takekaze falls to 0-9.

Ozeki Hakuho was paired against his pre-basho sparring partner, Komusubi Ama, in what looked to be a great bout on paper. As the two approached the starting lines and squatted, Hakuho just stood there looking straight forward for over 10 seconds without moving a muscle. The announcers suggested he was in deep concentration, but it could have been that daze I'm frequently in when someone calls me on the phone at work while I'm multi-tasking (translation: chatting online with Clancy). "uh, could you repeat that again...what-ile software is not functioning?" Hakuho finally put his hand out asking for a redo of the shikiri (approach), and once the rikishi regrouped, they charged straightway. Hakuho unleashed a vicious hari-te with the left hand that rendered Ama off balance a bit and set up a solid left outer grip on the back of Ama's belt. At this point Ama's only hope was to grab at Hakuho's right arm and try to yank it and the attached Ozeki to the dirt, but Hakuho wisely took his time in keeping that right arm up while throwing Ama to the clay with the left hand. This was sheer domination by the Ozeki, and I like how he's been changing up his tachi-ai of late. It used to be exclusively that left arm extended to grab the front of the belt, but now he's mixing things up to keep his opponents honest. At 8-1, Hakuho has to be considered the odds on favorite to yusho. Ama suffers make-koshi at 1-8, but he should be able to make that record look more respectable as he'll be paired with the Maegashira softies from here on out.

One would normally think that Roho would give Ozeki Kotooshu fits regardless of where the Russian is ranked on the banzuke, but today, the M5 just lunged into a left uwate at the tachi-ai and seemed to fall to the dirt due more to his lack of footing than Kotooshu's throw. Forgive me for not rewinding this bout to confirm exactly what happened, but I can only take so much ugly in one basho. Kotooshu (6-3) may have taken a slight step step to his left to grab the uwate, but Roho was oblivious to anything going on inside the ring. Shame on Roho for floundering at the M5 rank to the tune of a 3-6 record through 9 days.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai took a page out of Tochiazuma's tachi-ai book hitting M2 Wakanosato and moving left using a good ottsuke to attack from the side. Wakanosato showed no resistance and was pushed out without effort. This was another good win for Chiyotaikai who secures kachi-koshi and more importantly keeps himself tied for the lead. As you may recall, I went on a bit of rant on day 6 regarding the Ozeki. My intent then was not to belittle Chiyotaikai or somehow demean his wins. It's nonsensical to think that Chiyotaikai shouldn't go for a pull-down and give himself a greater chance to win just to keep Mike at Sumotalk happy. My intent was to simply give the reasons why I didn't consider Chiyotaikai a favorite to yusho...and why I still don't. Chiyotaikai vs. rikishi with losing records this basho: 8-0. Chiyotaikai against rikishi with winning records: 0-1. With half of his wins coming by pull down, and with Kotomitsuki, Miyabiyama, Kotooshu, Kaio, and Hakuho waiting in the wings, I just don't see how Chiyotaikai can be considered a favorite to yusho. It's the same old Ozeki we've seen the last two years. The difference this basho is that unforeseen circumstances--beginning with a weak schedule so far--have given the appearance that Chiyotaikai is on fire, when really, he's in the same condition he was last basho. Things will even out. As for Wakanosato, I can't believe I was so excited to see this guy back up among the jo'i. It's called effort, dude, and at 2-7, we've seen far too little of it.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki was given little chance today against M5 Kyokushuzan, who resorted to a nasty tachi-ai henka setting up the left outer grip. Shu immediately pressed the action from there trying to dump Kotomitsuki with the belt grip while pushing at the front of Misuki's right thigh knocking him off balance towards the tawara. Kotomitsuki just couldn't recover from the tachi-ai henka and was thrown to the clay via the belt. This was shenanigan sumo through and through on the part of Kyokushuzan, and I despise his tactics. I'm all for mixing things up at the tachi-ai as long as it doesn't mean a cowardly jump to the side. There's the harite, there's the moro-te, there's hari-zashi, there's grabbing the frontal belt grip, there's the kachi-age tachi-ai that Kenji explained on day 7, there's leading with the shoulder, there's tsuppari to the neck, and on and on. Sumo is not a game of tag on the playground or a game of rock scissors paper where you have to guess which direction your opponent is going to jump. Enough already, Shu. I value your 7-2 record less than the Indonesian Rupiah. Can someone pair this guy with Baruto already so he can get a good ass-kicking? Kotomitsuki falls to 5-4 but will surely have the opportunity to play spoiler down the stretch.

One of the best bouts of the day featured Sekiwake Miyabiyama vs. M4 Tokitenku where Miyabiyama's bulk was countered by Tokitenku's quickness. Miyabiyama came with his tsuppari guns a-blazin' never relinquishing the upperhand while pounding Tokitenku's neck and upper torso with his thrusts, but the Mongolian would not go down without a fight. The two rikishi jockeyed around and around the ring with Tokitenku trying to get on the inside of his opponent, but in the end, Miyabiyama's bulk coupled with his excellent footwork of late proved to be the difference as Miyabiyama thrust a weary Tokitenku across the rope. The Sekiwake moves to 8-1 with the win and in the customary kachi-koshi interview after the bout was asked if his desire to reclaim the Ozeki rank was on his mind. Miyabiyama replied, "I'm just enjoying my sumo right now." We all are. Keep it up Sheriff. I think Miyabiyama is the clear number two guy at this point. Not only is he fighting second best only to Hakuho, but he's already faced the new Ozeki, so you could say that his schedule down the stretch will be the easiest of the leaders. Tokitenku falls to 3-6, but he's fought well this basho.

Another fantastic bout today came at the hands of M2 Asasekiryu and Komusubi Kyokutenho. Asasekiryu managed the quick left outer grip from the tachi-ai, but Kyokutenho countered with a solid right inner grip of his own to create a stalemate in the center of the ring. With the left uwate in place, Asasekiryu looked for a right frontal grip of Kyokutenho's belt, but the Komusubi fought off that right hand pushing it away. At this point, I think Asasekiryu realized he would have a tough time forcing his countryman out, so he wisely and beautifully went for the quick uchi-muso move (inner thigh swipe) toppling the taller Tenho to the clay. This bout was most certainly a foreshadowing of the rank swap between these two rikishi come July. At 7-2, Seki likely needs just one more win to join the sanyaku elite and attempt to offer some help to stablemate Asashoryu in July. Kyokutenho falls to 3-6.

M1 Kisenosato and M3 Kotoshogiku presented us with yet another fine display of sumo. From the tachi-ai, these two Maegashira were locked into a hidari yotsu stalemate (both with left inside grips) where neither rikishi could grab the uwate. Both rikishi jockeyed for some sort of position that would give them the hand, but in the process, Kotoshogiku found himself lower than his opponent. After some great power zumo from both parties, the Geeku used this lower stance to belly the Kid back and out for the shweet yori-kiri win. Both rikishi are 4-5 but have provided plenty of fireworks this basho. I hope both can scrape out a kachi-koshi.

M1 Kakizoe joined the 4-5 ranks as well as he hit at the tachi-ai and then held up a bit in his attack. M6 Tamanoshima sputtered into an oshi-charge where Zoe complied by backing up to the edge of the ring. As Tamanoshima went for the kill, Kakizoe timed it perfectly evading to his right causing Tamanoshima to thrust into mid air and stumble out of the ring in a heap. It wasn't pretty on Kakizoe's part, but Tamanoshima took the bait to fall to 3-6.

With many of the rikishi turning in half-assed performances this basho, at least the judges kept busy. M3 Aminishiki executed a nice left ottsuke attack at the tachi-ai, but the stubborn M7 Dejima persisted managing to grab a left uwate that he used to immediately force Aminishiki back to the edge. Aminishiki tried to turn the tables, however, by wrenching Dejima to the dirt via utchari. As both rikishi crashed to the clay seemingly at the same time, the referee began to point Dejima's way but flinched towards Aminishiki direction, only to emphatically declare Dejima the winner. Go ahead and be confused bro because these two hit at the same time. A mono-ii was correctly called for where it was ruled that both rikishi hit the dirt at the same time calling for a rematch. Slow motion replays showed Dejima's elbow dangerously close to hitting first, but in an instant, Aminishiki's entire body came crashing down making it impossible to tell from that angle who hit first. I think it was a tie through and through and applaud the call for a do-over. In the rematch, it was a classic Dejima tachi-ai where he used a left nodowa attack to set up a bulldozing of his opponent out of the ring in mere seconds. Aminishiki actually managed a left outer grip in the bout, but Dejima's momentum couldn't be stopped. Both rikishi end the day at 4-5.

Preceding this bout was yet another close bout that went to the video replay. M6 Kokkai dominated from the start unleashing awkward tsuppari after awkward tsuppari. I counted four attempts that drove M10 Tamakasuga back to the edge where Tamakasuga tried that last gasp evasive pull-down on the fifth tsuppari attempt hoping that Kokkai would flop to the dirt before he stepped completely out. The referee signaled towards Kokkai, which I thought was the correct call after watching the bout live, but a mono-ii was called, and replays showed that Kokkai's hand clearly hit the dirt first. But...was Tamakasuga all the way out before Kokkai hit? After fumbling a bit with the explanation, the chief judge finally conveyed that they were ruling in favor of Kokkai because Tamakasuga's right heel was "fumi-kitte iru." Now, go and ask a Japanese person what that means (kakato ga fumi kitte iru), and chances are 99% that they'll cock their head to one side in confusion. You can even look fumi-kiru up in the dictionary and you won't get a clear explanation. My interpretation of that explanation is that Tamakasuga was considered so far across the tawara the he was declared the loser. Though I don't know what was exactly meant by fumi-kiru, I completely agreed with the decision to uphold the referee's original call. Tamakasuga didn't come close Kokkai's belt the entire bout, he got off zero thrust attempts, and when Kokkai went for that fifth and final push, Tamakasuga didn't employ a waza that contributed to Kokkai's fall. Resting your hand meekly on your opponent's shoulder is weak if you expect to be declared the victor. The only way that ruling is overturned is if Asashoryu is the aggressor, but let's not open up that can of worms. One more note on the bout: I received an email or two asking for my opinion on the decision where the emailer said on the NHK English broadcast the judges decision was interpreted as "Kokkai was awarded the bout because he was the aggressor." I can appreciate how hard it is to do simultaneous interpretation--because I did it for three years--but that's not even remotely close to what was really said; thus my long-winded explanation of "fumi-kiru." Both rikishi are 4-5.

M11 Homasho delivered his usual low tachi-ai against M7 Futenoh securing a fine hidari yotsu position with no belt grip. Homasho pressed the action quickly forcing Futenoh upright and driving him back grabbing the right uwate in the process, but Futenoh dug in his heels at the edge and countered with a beautiful left scoop throw that really threw Homasho off of his game and gave Futenoh the right uwate. Futenoh then turned the tables standing Homasho upright and setting up the easy yori-kiri win from there. Homasho (5-4) controlled 80% of the bout, but lost to a better rikishi. The rookie has got to learn to finish off those bouts if he wants to be a successful Makuuchi rikishi. Futenoh improved to 6-3 with some great counter-attacking sumo.

The other rookie, M11 Baruto, stood straight up from the tachi-ai and stepped a bit to his right putting both hands at the back of M8 Kasugao's neck where he backed up and pulled the Korean down for the win dangerously balancing on one leg at the tawara waiting for his opponent to bite the dust. "This was unbelievable sumo," according to the NHK announcer. Yeah, just what we need...Bruto to develop a pull-down habit. That's two pull-downs in the last three days over inferior opponents if you're counting (we sure as hell are). I'm going to go easy on this one simply because Kasugao had a chance. Baruto was standing completely upright and was a wide open target, but it looked to me as if Kasugao (2-7) charged with his eyes closed and head down. Two horrible tachi-ai from both rikishi, and if there's a weakness of Baruto this basho, he has exhibited some pretty vulnerable tachi-ai. Baruto improves to 7-2 and keeps himself on the leaderboard, but I don't think he's a serious contender. The competition will pick up for him, and I see him suffering two more losses or so. His bout with Futenoh should be a doozy tomorrow, and I think Iwakiyama is a bad matchup for the Estonian.

M8 Hakurozan went for a lukewarm henka to his left against M12 Tosanoumi, but he failed to close the deal. If you henka Tosanoumi of all rikishi...and LOSE, it's a pretty sorry indication of your ring sense. Tosanoumi (5-4) was right on top of the move and had the now-compromised Hakurozan (6-3) forced out without a struggle. There was no need redoing Hakurozan's hair after this one...oops.

And finally, the judges received their first test of the day at the hands of M9 Iwakiyama who fired off continuous tsuppari as M13 Toyonoshima dug in his heels in an attempt for a belt grip. The action in the ring went this way and that until finally, at the edge, Toyonoshima went for that quick evasion/pull down and almost burned Iwakiyama by grabbing an uwate to turn the tables. The referee actually ruled Toyonoshima the victor, but thankfully a mono-ii was called and replays showed that Toyonoshima's right big toe scraped the sand before Iwakiyama (6-3) hit the dirt. Toyonoshima falls to 4-5.

Simon proves tomorrow that it IS possible to do ballet and comment on sumo at the same time.

Day 8 Comments (George Guida reporting)
Gorgeous George here to report on a Day 8 that began with Bruto the Brute showing mad b-ball skillz and ended with Chiyotaikai adorning a purple zabuton crown.  Et tu, Baruto? Yes, a betrayal of sorts as the mighty Estonian fooled everyone into thinking he's just a dohyo brute; behold, he's got game! NHK kicked off today's broadcast with an in-depth look at Bruto the brute (new and improved pronunciation) showing the sumo prodigy dominate not only in Juryo but on the court, taking Japanese high schoolers to school, banging the boards like the Round Mound of Rebound Sir Charles, and redefining the role of "power forward" all to the strains of The Power Station's cover of "Get it On, Bang a Gong" no less! Baruto a b-baller! 

"Called up the rikishi and I'm askin y'all
Which heya are y'all playin basketball?
Get me on the court and I'm trouble
Last week fooled around and got a triple double
Freakin rikishi everyway like M.J.
I can't believe, today was a good day" 

OK, but what about the sumo? It was your classic David vs. Goliath match-up as M11 Bruto faced M14 Yoshikaze but this time even a slingshot wouldn't have helped Yoshikaze fell the nigh invulnerable Bruto. Like a brick wall coming to life, Bruto quickly maneuvered his right hand under Yoshi's armpit and blasted him out with an oshi-dashi thrust that was simply Olympian. Bruto moves to 6-2. I'll go out on a limb and say that by Friday he's still in the yusho hunt.

Ozeki Kaio (6-2) is slowly returning to the form that makes him one of the most dangerous rikishi in the sport, surviving a powerful tachi-ai from M2 Wakanosato (2-6) that initially knocked him off balance and stumbling backwards. Waka couldn't capitalize and as Kaio recovered he locked on a migi-uwate grip to force out a slumping Wakanosato. In short: Kaio--the form is back but I don't see the fire.
Wakanosato--A major disappointment. His kinboshi win seems so meaningless. If you're going to be indirectly responsible for forcing the Yokozuna out of the tournament, you better ride that momentum to a strong yusho contender role. 

Chiyotaikai (7-1) reverted to the form that my trusted SumoTalk colleagues predicted earlier this week. M2 Asasekiryu (6-2), who in the Mongolian's first ever taste at musubi-no-ichiban evaded the stun and swat tactics of Chiyo by never letting Chiyo fire off his tsuppari. Asasekiryu rolled slightly left with Chiyo's charge at the tachi-ai (not a henka by any means), immediately robbing the Ozeki of his momentum and quickly smothering him with forward pressure and attacking Chiyo's right arm to steer him out for a relatively easy yorikiri victory. As if to symbolically cap off Chiyo's frustration and the Japanese fans' disappointment, a flying zabuton leaded squarely on top of Chiyo's head as he was on the hanamichi heading back to the lockers. You know something's amiss about this basho when you have cushions flying for a Chiyotaikai/Asasekiryu match.

M1 Kisenosato showed great poise in weathering a good 20-second lumbering, thundering, blubbery tsuppari storm from Miyabiyama, even managing to evade the Sekiwake's thrusts and attack him from a vulnerable side position and holding onto a tentative hidari-yotsu position. But bulk this big doesn't give that easily. Miyabi, showing good sumo smarts this entire basho, grabbed a left uwate and then sealed the deal with a right shitate, which was too much for Kise to handle as the Sheriff marched him out for the yorikiri victory. Miyabs was all smiles on the hanamichi; he is thrilled with his 7-1 start and has every right to be. This is solid sumo from the Sekiwake.

Ozeki Kotooshu (5-3) frantically tried to secure both hidari and migi grips on M3 Aminishiki (4-4), but Aminishiki is a skilled tactician at the belt and frustrated the Bulgarian's attempt for an easy grab and throw. More than anything it was Koto's leverage and quick footwork to keep Aminishiki off balance, bull rushing him for 180 degrees of the dohyo's circumference that gave him the yorikiri win.

Did the Mongolian government administer a growth serum to Hakuho to transform him into a super rikishi that would lead the glorious Mongolian hordes to victory upon the dohyo? In a growth spurt that can only be classified as "freakish", in 2001 when Hakuho made his dohyo debut he was 180 cm tall and weighed in at 80kg. (5'11", 176 lbs) Three years later when Hakuho debuted at Juryo he had grown to 189cm and was 134kg (6'3", 295 lbs). And now he's a hulking 192cm and 153kg (6'4", 336 lbs.) Hakuho's oyakata claimed this metamorphosis was the result of drinking lots of milk and days filled of nothing but sleeping and eating. Hook me up with some of the chanko that Hakuho's chowing on please.

The ever-growing Ozeki (7-1) used his superior reach and strength to keep M1 Kakizoe (3-5) at bay with another tsuppari attack, once again forgoing his left frontal belt grip. He's been coming in so low and deep with his windup from the tachi-ai that he looks more at home on the PBA tour, trying to bowl perfect frames. Kakizoe circled to his left at the dohyo's edge to avoid the drubbing but Hakuho managed to catch a scrambling Kakizoe off balance with a hiki-otoshi pull down. It wasn't very pretty sumo but we can't expect Hakuho to be brilliant every time out. 

Halfway through Natsu and here's where it stands:
Chiyotaikai, Hakuho and Miyabiyama are at 7-1
Kaio, Asasekiryu, Hakurozan, Kyokushuzan and Baruto at 6-2

I'll go out on a limb and say the yusho comes down to a Hakuho-Baruto final on Day 14.

Until next time and thanks for reading.

Day 7 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
We all saw it coming, I guess, and now it's official. Tochiazuma has indeed withdrawn from competition. As a result, once again he will go from the brink of Yokozuna promotion to the brink of Sekiwake demotion in the span of 3 months. I reckon it was too much to ask to have two basho in a row without an Ozeki mired in Kadoban status. Azuma is out the door with a 2-5 mark while M4 Tokitenku is happy to get a win, period, improving to 2-5. 

We're down to four Ozeki at the top of the banzuke, so this thing is certainly up for grabs. In today's musubi-no-ichiban, M1 Kakizoe (3-4) picked up his second consecutive final-bout-of-day win. This time it was a fine display of his vintage style against the much taller Kotooshu (4-3). Applying stiff pressure like a piston from below, he suffocated Ooshu and disallowed any grabbing of his belt. At ring's edge Ooshu went for an 11th hour Kotenage (hook throw) that came up empty. It only served to turn him around backwards so Zoe could usher him right out for the Okuri-dashi win.

In the feature bout of the day, undefeated Chiyotaikai (7-0) escaped "The Kid" to remain perfect. M1 Kisenosato (4-3) showed fire and came within a wink of victory, but the back-pedaling connoisseur that has become Chiyotaikai prevailed once again. It took two pull-down attempts, but he got the job done by golly. On a positive note, the thump from the vicious head clash at the tachiai was a thing of beauty.

Kaio (5-2) put together his fifth consecutive win after an 0-2 start with an easy force-out of Komusubi Kyokutenho (2-5). Tenho went for the moro-zashi but found himself on the receiving end of that very position. It didn't take long after that. Kaio has now amassed 647 Makuuchi wins, good for an 8th place tie along with Takanonami and Akinoshima on the all-time list. Two more wins brings him even with Konishiki, so look for Kaio to be the sixth winningest Makuuchi rikishi ever by basho's end. Quite an accomplishment for the old warrior. 

Shin-Ozeki Hakuho (6-1) stayed one back of Chiyotaikai on the leader board with a not-entirely-impressive win against M3 Aminishiki (4-3). Haku came out with a solid tsuppari attack, surely as a countermeasure to Aminishiki's prowess as a belt technician. But he couldn't close the deal, and found himself doing a Chiyotaikai to pull off the victory. In fact, he pulled twice just like his old buddy did today and got Ami to fall forward on the second attempt.

The "Now that's Makuuchi Sumo" award goes to Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and M2 Wakanosato for their spectacular "kachi-age" tachiai that produced an enormous "pop" not unlike a clap of thunder. The sweet sound was such that the arena let out a collective gasp in appreciation. There's nothing like seeing and hearing that live too, folks, especially if you're sitting close to the clay. "Kachi-age" basically means keeping your arms low and coming in full bore with your chest out at the tachiai. And these two gents use this technique regularly to start bouts. After the thunderous pop, Kotomitsuki won the straight up oshi-zumo that ensued to improve his record to 5-2. Wakanosato fell to 2-5. 

Sekiwake Miyabiyama picked himself up off the clay after yesterday's defeat and came back strong against Komusubi Ama (1-6). This was another tsuppari affair, Ama going toe to toe again against whoever comes his way. Miyabi's lumbering thrusts eventually pushed Ama to the tawara, at which point the mighty mite did his thing and danced his way around the rope to make things interesting. The difference this basho for Miyabi is that he is acting as if he can dance a bit himself. Mr. Lightfeet returned the favor on Ama and maneuvered around the Mongolian and swung him down via a kotenage hook throw. Miyabiyama goes to 6-1 to stay even with Hakuho. They're both chasing Sir Backs-Alot Chiyotaikai. 

So it's a three horse race right now, but it's early. Way early. We shall see; anything can happen still.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
With the highest rikishi on the banzuke already out, and the number two man frantically looking for a phantom injury so he can withdraw, the best we can hope for is a yusho line at 13-2. Anything under that and the basho is confirmed ugly regardless of what drama we may see in week two. And, oh yeah, just in case you thought you were a badass one that knows what they're talking about is taking you seriously. But more on the Ozeki in a few. Let's assess the damage straightway where the struggling Ozeki Tochiazuma looked to get back on some sort of track against the equally struggling M1 Kakizoe. Tochiazuma appeared to come out with some fire looking to hunker down tight where he leads with his head and powers his opponent back, but in reality, the Ozeki wasn't committing on a sure move to secure the win over his opponent. Taking advantage of this mock charge, Kakizoe stepped to his right, grabbed Tochiazuma's left arm, and just yanked the Ozeki out of the ring with the hikkake technique. The M1 brilliantly used Tochiazuma's forward momentum and more importantly his indecision to score the easy victory. It was good to see Kakizoe's interview afterwards as well because he was doing all he could to try and suppress the glee on his face. Let it out dude; it's been a tough basho up to this point, and it was a nice win for you.

Tochiazuma, on the other hand, is circling the drain, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he conjured up a phantom injury and said to hell with this basho. I agree with Simon that Tochiazuma has the physical tools to become a Yokozuna (albeit a low-impact one), but he completely lacks the mental makeup for the sport's highest rank. He recovered nicely last basho after his day 2 loss, but that 12-3 finish was inflated, and he really didn't establish his presence in Osaka. But Yokozuna talk continued, and the pressure continued to mount. When he suffered that humiliating loss to Kotoshogiku on day two, I think the flood gates opened and Tochiazuma became a mess mentally. He's even admitted to the press the last few days that maybe the pressure of it all has finally caught up to him. Ya think? Like Kaio, Tochiazuma is a fantastic Ozeki, but promotion to Yokozuna just wasn't meant to be. Tochiazuma and Kakizoe both sit at 2-4

Ozeki Kotooshu scored a nice if not unorthodox win over M4 Tokitenku today. The M4 opened the bout with a brief tsuppari/neck attack, but he was positioned way too high and had no lower body supporting the attack. Kotooshu timed a perfect charge beneath Tokitenku's flailing arms giving him the deepest moro-zashi I've ever seen. In fact, the grip was so insane that Kotooshu's head was actually poking out beyond Tokitenku's back. Tokitenku wrapped an arm around Kotooshu's neck and tried to use his thigh to kick Oshu's thigh out from under him, but Kotooshu countered by grabbing...uh... by grabbing Tokitenku right at, grabbing Tokitenku right where the butt-cheek curve meets the top of the thigh. I mean his left hand was centimeters away from Tenku's short hairs. I think Tokitenku was as uncomfortable as we all were, and as he tried to writhe out of the goose hold, Kotooshu just bullied him to the clay via okuri-taoshi. It wasn't pretty sumo, but Kotooshu will take the jump to 4-2. I just hope dude didn't sniff his fingers once in the safe confines of the Kokugikan tunnels. Tokitenku quietly drops to 1-5.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai exhibited yet another classic charge where he just drubbed Takekaze with tsuppari after tsuppari driving him back and down in seconds. This was a complete annihilation and another good win for Chiyotaikai moving him to 6-0. But before you Taikai fans get all aroused at your man's 6-0 start and think he's the favorite to yusho, let's take a look at his basho so far:

Day 1 Back pedal against Kakizoe for the pull down win
Day 2 Back pedal against Kyokutenho for the pulldown win
Day 3 Back pedal against Kotoshogiku for hte pulldown win
Day 4 Ama makes the tactical mistake of thinking he can stand toe to toe with Chiyotaikai trading tsuppari. Solid win for Chiyotaiki
Day 5 Tokitenku is a tsuppari guy, but he doesn't pack nearly the punch of Chiyotaikai. Another fine with for the Ozeki
Day 6 Takekaze is...well...Takekaze. Oh yeah, he's also another tsuppari guy inferior to Chiyotaikai

Do you see the pattern here? Chiyotaikai evades the guys who will give him trouble and skirts around for the wins while legitimately drubbing the inferior tsuppari rikishi whom he knows he can bully. Actually, Ama is not really inferior to Chiyotaikai at this point, but he made a huge mistake by turning himself into a tsuppari guy against Chiyotaikai, and he paid the price. He screwed up against Tochiazuma a few basho back too, going for some shenanigan Mainoumi tachi-ai. He won't make the mistake again, and don't be surprised Mr. Taikiai if you don't beat Ama again either.

Getting back to the point, I applaud Chiyotaikai's sumo the last three days, but my memory isn't as shallow as to forget the ugliness of the first three days. Hey, do what you have to do to win, but thinking Chiyotaikai is fighting at the level of a yusho rikishi is ludicrous. He damned well better be 6-0 after fighting guys with a combined 8-28 record and needing three pulldowns along the way. A guy who evades Kakizoe and Kotoshogiku? That's your favorite to yusho? It sure as hell ain't mine. When Miyabiyama suffered his first loss today, did anyone notice that the NHK announcers began to size up the rikishi who were now 5-1 as if they were going over the guys in the lead? Chiyotaikai wasn't even in the conversation. A great start on paper for Chiyotaikai is nothing new these days. I esteem Chiyotaikai's current run the same as I would if some Maegashira scrub started out 6-0. The ultimate crash and burn will come in week two when paired against the legitimate rikishi. Happens every time.

Moving on, Kaio struck with his arms in tight and elbows close together at the tachi-ai giving M3 Aminishiki what he thought was a decent right uwate, but in the process Kaio latched onto Ami's left arm in that death grip of his. As much as you don't want to give up a belt grip to Kaio, you really don't want to give him a grip around one of your arms because Kaio will wrench that mother to death forcing you to squirm like a politician answering questions on those weapons of mass destruction supposedly in Iraq. Aminishiki tried a desperate kata-sukashi with the right hand, but Kaio just slapped his opponent off of him and down to the dirt like a bug. This was a pretty good display of the power that Kaio still possesses and of the trouble his opponents get into when the Ozeki is able to halt their movement. Good win to move Kaio to 4-2 while Aminishiki falls to the same record.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Hakuho threw a bit of a changeup at the tachi-ai today by using a left harite (face slap) to try and setup the left frontal belt grip. The result was his opponent, M3 Kotoshogiku, managing a left outer instead denying Hakuho the belt on the left side. Hakuho did manage the right inner grip, but Kotoshogiku is no slouch at yotsu-zumo and would not go easy. Both rikishi settled into a stalemate in the center of the ring with Kotoshogiku maintaining the better position, but in order to deny Hakuho the left outer, it was necessary for the Geeku to keep his hips as far away as possible. This meant that he couldn't plant his lower body sufficiently enough to set up the force out attempt. Against a smaller opponent, yes, he can do this, but not against Hakuho. Kotoshogiku tried several charges, but he just couldn't budge his mammoth opponent. With Hakuho denied the left outer, he waited for Kotoshogiku to let up after one of his charges and perfectly timed a maki-kae with the left arm suddenly securing both inner grips giving him the moro-zashi position from which Kotoshogiku had no chance. Game over for the easy yori-kiri win. This was beautiful sumo...from both rikishi actually. I really enjoyed today's chess match; it's just that the better man won. Hakuho moves to 5-1 and importantly shakes off that fluke loss to Miyabiyama yesterday. The Geeku has my full respect despite his 2-4 record.

Miyabiyama was finally tripped up today against Komusubi Kyokutenho as the Sekiwake made his first mistake of the basho. Said mistake was the hesitation in his tsuppari attack at the tachi-ai. Miyabiyama did in fact come out thrusting from the initial charge, but Kyokutenho easily staved off the cautious approach taking a step back until able to time a charge of his own giving him the moro-zashi position. When a tall rikishi like Kyokutenho has moro-zashi against a non-yotsu guy, it's inevitable. Kyokutenho picks up the rather easy force out win to improve to just 2-4 while Miyabiyama comes back to the pack at 5-1. I see Miyabiyama working here. Kyokutenho is a master at the belt, and Miyabiyama wanted to avoid giving up the belt at all costs, but I think this concern detracted from the fire of his usual lumbering charge. If you even want to consider yourself as worthy of the yusho, you've got to stick with your own sumo regardless of your opponent.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki seemed to be in a bit of trouble at the tachi-ai today as he gave up the quick left uwate to Komusubi Ama, but Hit and Mitsuki wisely countered with a scoop throw attempt that allowed him to work inside for a nice inner right grip. With such a difference in size and strength, Ama's seemingly advantageous position had now become neutralized. Ama smartly shifted gears and instead of trying to bully Kotomitsuki out by the belt, he began to spin him and pull as we've seen him and Aminishiki do effectively against Tochiazuma, but Mitsuki used that attempt to break off Ama's outer grip and smother his opponent in close setting up the nice force out win. I thought this was great sumo from both parities, where once again, the better rikishi came out on top. Kotomitsuki improves to a quiet 4-2 while Ama struggles at 1-5.

M5 Roho has enough issues with his sumo as it is, so I don't see the point in trying a harite at the tachi-ai. Today against red hot M1 Kisenosato, Roho slapped at his opponent while moving to the left, but that ruined his balance from the start. Kisenosato was right on top of him and followed him step for step forcing Roho to literally flee and spin around near the edge to try and evade the attack, but no dice. The Kid is too good for that nonsense and easily shoved the Russian out to move to 4-2. Roho needs to regroup at 3-3.

M2 Wakanosato has the two biggest wins of the basho (over Asashoryu and Kotooshu), but I guess that doesn't help him solve the typical moro-te tachi-ai (both hands to the throat) exhibited by opponent M5 Kyokushuzan. Wakanosato tried to grab Shu's slippery arms as they were extended, but Kyokushuzan is a master at this kind of sumo, and he easily timed a pull down of his awkward opponent to move to 4-2. I don't like the shenanigan sumo from Kyokushuzan, but I can live with it. At least you know what's coming. Wakanosato just needed to establish himself more in my opinion and show a little drive to get to Kyokushuzan's belt. He looked completely lost today as he fell to 2-4.

M4 Asasekiryu's 4-1 mark coming in was inflated, and today was the perfect example. Against M6 Tamanoshima, he masked a tachi-ai henka to his left by going for an over the top arm grip, but Tamanoshima responded well escaping the arm grip and yanking his off-balance opponent down and towards the dirt. Asasekiryu stumbled across the dohyo and nearly out, but just when you thought he would recover, Tamanoshima made sure he would come out on top by charging his opponent like a bull and shouldering him off of the dohyo. Tama improves to 2-4.

M6 Kokkai delivered some awkward tsuppari today against M8 Kasugao and actually looked vulnerable, but I don't know what the hell Kasugao was trying to do. The Korean really didn't seem to be pushing nor did he really seem focused on his opponent's belt. His just sort or leaned forward trying to stave off the blows, but in the process, his feet began slipping backwards. Interestingly enough, Kokkai's feet began slipping back at the same time, but with the Georgina in the better position, he was able to slap Kasugao (1-5) down for the win. Very ugly sumo all around here as Kokkai moves to 3-3.

M10 Tochinohana won his bout the second he withstood M7 Dejima's bulldoze charge. Driven back a couple of steps from the tachi-ai, Tochinohana brushed off the force-out attempt by evading to his left where he got a deep right on the inside of Dejima and wisely lifted the ex-Ozeki straight up. With Dejima's stubby arms, there was nothing he could do. Tochinohana (3-3) forced the D-Train back to the tawara and added insult to injury by wickedly throwing him down with a scoop throw at the edge. Ouch for Dejima who is 2-4.

It was pure smashmouth sumo from M9 Iwakiyama who came with the fierce tsuppari from the tachi-ai today against M7 Futenoh. So much for those magical oranges as Iwakiyama hunkered down and just drove Futenoh back and out in seconds. There was nuttin' Futenoh could do today as he falls 3-3. This was spectacular sumo from Iwakiyama, and I wish he'd display this kind of attack everyday. I think he could be as good as Miyabiyama if he did.

In one of the more compelling bouts of the day, M8 Hakurozan met his Eastern European match against M11 Baruto. I think Hakurozan knew he was in for it at the start because he displayed some awkward thrusts to the neck at the tachi-ai. The pushing technique is not Hakurozan's game, however--especially from the tachi-ai, so Baruto easily staved off the attack and secured the quick right uwate driving Hakurozan back to the tawara. You could literally see the pride kick in from Hakurozan as he dug in his heels as I've never seen before. Hakurozan managed to halt the attack and then force the action back in the middle of the ring grabbing a right outer grip for himself. With the two rikishi in this gappuri yotsu stalemate, Baruto displayed his overwhelming strength by lifting Hakurozan clear off his feet and dropping him at the edge of the tawara before forcing him out. It was pretty awesome to see Baruto pull that move off, and it shows just how strong this dude is. Damn! Baruto moves to 4-2 which is no real surprise to me. Once he polishes up his technique a bit, he's going to be another Akebono, only one that can fight very well at the belt. Hakurozan's lack of technique is exposed as he drops to 4-2.

Our other rookie, M11 Homasho, did pick up a nice win against M9 Tochinonada, but over the course of these first six days, I think we've seen his weakness, which is to charge his opponents too low. The Eastern Europeans are going to have a heyday against this guy. Today he put his head into Tochinonada's chest at the tachi-ai to try and keep the gentle giant at bay, but Tochinonada used his superior strength to drive Homasho back. I can't say for sure whether this was a planned tactical move by Homasho, but he let Tochinonada drive him towards the straw, and then a step away from the tawara Homasho evaded quickly to his right using Nada's forward momentum against him by grabbing his belt and ushering him out of the ring while he danced along the tawara. It was a very dangerous tactic but it worked today. Homasho skips to 4-2 while Tochinonada flounders at 2-4.

Delving into the dregs, M16 Tokitsuumi made a valiant return after sitting out the first dive days only to be welcomed back by M13 Hokutoriki's best sumo of the basho.  Hokutoriki has this knack of sensing when his opponent is down, so he took full advantage going for the neck at the tachi-ai and driving his opponent back and out faster than I can type "Tokitsuumi."  Hoku moves to 3-3.

And finally, M14 Katayama hit and immediately moved back and to his right looking for the cheap uwate. M12 Takamisakari proved too gangly, however, and escaped the attack fairly easy slapping the now position-less Katayama down to the clay. To lowlight this rather poor display of sumo, a guy sitting in about the sixth row wearing a red t-shirt stood up and started pounding at his chest as Takamisakari does before his own bouts. Not funny. What made it worse is I don't think the guy was inebriated. Hey Richard Carpenter (translation: big nerd), while I'm not gay and therefore cannot officially comment on your fashion, if you wear a t-shirt with jeans, do NOT tuck said t-shirt in your pants...and for godsakes, don't wear a belt!

I better hit the eject button now before it gets worse. Kenji plays the jug for ya'll tomorrow.

Day 5 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Kicking off the Day-5 soirée were the swarthy Buyuzan and smooth young Yoshikaze, meeting for the third time and coming together in a burst of tsuppari madness. I'll give one orange to Buyuzan for his few good shoves and attempts to move forward but he dropped his head just as the New Taikai had abandoned his offensive and barely stopped himself before hitting the tawara. Yoshikaze I'm giving an automatic ten oranges to because he - and you'll hear this once or twice tonight I think - is my Yusho pick. Now that the shell-shock has worn off, his (4-1) is saying one thing only: "I'm taking this to Senshuraku, baby!"

Kitazakura gets a five-orange nod for that ass-kicking of Baruto last night and even making him cry afterwards! Wait, I'll give him five more. That's ten oranges, folks, and he's not even my Yusho pick. Hokutoriki is my Yusho pick, so ten oranges there, and I'll give him two more for pulling that sly (1-14) in Osaka to position himself so low for the 'Yaocho basho' they all knew was coming up. Tricky, tricky, Hokutoriki, (2-3) and twelve oranges is just the start of something good. For the bout itself I don't think I'm parting with any more oranges as the lone 'Zakura just couldn't get past that weak 'Riki morote attack and was stepped out with 'nary a growl.'

The Toyonoshima vs. Jumonji fight was all right I guess. Jumonji pounded Takami the other day and was well in charge of this one until Toyonoshima slipped to one side at the edge. Good effort by both rikishi and a solid one orange to each party. If I HAD to pick one to yusho, and they're both at (3-2) now, I'd go for Jumonji because... he beat up Takami and I can't get enough of the little guy's pout. All the way, Africa, and ten oranges for you!

Alright, now for Baruto. This wasn't an especially pretty match against Katayama but I'll start with two oranges to the K-man for showing up the Beluga with those big old Shiko of his. Baruto got his reach-around going and used the Uwate to spin Katayama right past him before easily pushing him out at the edge. This was a safe win for the big guy but he did get a good headbutt to the jaw that left him doing a great Simon Siddall impression with the masticating monster-voice and everything. If he rolled his head around a bit more he'd be doing it perfectly. I just don't see Katayama Yusho'ing from his (2-3) now, but I'll say for certain that Baruto is my Yusho pick, and I'll give him eleven whole oranges because, well, 10 might leave him hungry, and I don't want him crying again. We've got enough of that from the Mongolians these days.

Tochinonada took a crack at Tosanoumi today but couldn't make his struggle count. I'll give them three oranges to split and reserve on any Yusho picks for now.

Iwakiyama was dipping down the ranks for a meeting with Sumo's sad clown, Takamisakari, and decided he'd squish the little scamp and take the prize money for himself! At (4-1), Moonface is my total pick to Yusho and when I throw in a couple extra 'round ones' for his victory today, he's walking away with twelve whole oranges for his efforts. Takami nearly had him with a left-handed throw at the edge but Iwakiyama fought it off before breaking his grip and driving him out. I'm giving one orange to the rusty Robocop because he looks sadder with it than without.

The Homasho-Hakurozan bout had me spilling my oranges all over the place with excitement. Homasho has been the Savage Sub-Mariner this week with his head down around his ankles half the time but certainly nobody is arguing against his fitness. Today he absolutely schooled Hakurozan in the first Big Sumo match of the evening. Locking up and taking turns attacking, these two were like the lower-Elite Alphas going at it, and I'm sure Hakurozan's perfect record going in had something to do with it. In the end it was Homasho who once again showed that he had the goods and ejected the exhausted Russian for a five orange performance. Hakurozan is getting three for his footwork plus ten for being my Yusho pick. I think this first loss will be his last and I'm certain he'll clinch Natsu on Day 14. At (3-2) Homasho isn't looking too shabby either, but hey, you can only pick one, right?

Tamakasuga and Dejima, yeah, the usual Dejima charge, a bit of decent evasion by Tamakasuga and a pulldown at the edge. One orange to Tama for the win and I might even chose Dejima to win his second Yusho and so I'll give ten of my juiciest oranges to keep him healthy through the next week. This was Tamakasuga's first win while Dejima sits at a very promising (2-3).

I'm giving two of my roundest oranges to Tochinohana for ballsily standing up to Futenoh today and getting tossed like a Mandarin salad. Maybe not having Asashoryu around calms this sensitive young man's nerves. In any event I can't see anything stopping (3-2) Futenoh from taking his first emperor's cup and he is 100% my pick to Yusho. Funny thing though, he wouldn't take my oranges! Like he's got another orange connection or something. Kooky, huh?

Kasugao had to face a dirty Roho today and got his face rearranged a few times in the process before Roho got around him and railed him out excessively from behind. The crowd was far from appreciative and certainly wouldn't condone my giving of ten oranges for the win and budding (3-2) Yusho run. I'm weary of giving even a single orb of sweet citrus to Kasugao because, well, you know what they say about oranges and Koreans! I think it's Koreans...

Aminishiki is going home with at least ten oranges tonight to cement his (4-1) promise to go all the way. He was all up in there on Tamanoshima, keeping the big man all stood up and toothless for the bout. The struggle ended quickly as Tama started a pulldown but couldn't break free, and I'm not sure if he's getting even a single fruit from me. The Fridge sits at a nearly fruitless (1-4).

Kokkai got his tsuppari going out there but couldn't keep his Mongolian opponent at bay for long before giving up the inside and trying a week kotenage at the edge. I'll give the Albino Gorilla an orange for his efforts but I just don't see him staking the Yusho from (2-3). Asasekiryu is another story, and I have little doubt that he is the frontrunner to Yusho as he's already beaten a few Ozeki and gotten the Hakuho ordeal out of the way. His (4-1) is (14-1Y) in the bank, take my word. Sekiryu takes ten oranges, plus two for stepping up his game while the Short One is away.

That nineteen year old Kisenosato wants it so badly, how can I not pick him to go all the way? I like a guy who makes you fear the M1 rank, and he totally deservers the ten oranges I gave him as a 'Good luck with the Yusho' gift. Today he simply shut the door on Kyokushuzan with a few solid neck-thrusts before turning away with his usual disdain. The kid sits at a dangerous (3-2). No fruit for the Mongolian today but I'll honour his (3-2) with zest for his drinks if that's his thing.

I thought Wakanosato was looking good this basho, but now that I think about it, the only thing he did right was catch Yogurt with his knees straight on Day 3. The back-pedaling was back again tonight against Kyokutenho who was still waiting for his first win. Kyokutenho was a split-second faster than Wakanosato and scored a right hand inside grip that soon won him the bout by yorikiri. I'm impressed with Sato's comeback and while I'm not thinking Ozeki quite yet, I'll certainly give him a kinboshi orange for Day 2 and ten more because I think he's the one to take the cup. Kyokutenho is orangeless but on the board at (1-4).

Kotomitsuki had the hatakikomi gameplan in mind against Kakizoe today and stayed true, posting a (3-2) record with a lazy slapdown and certainly thinking of Emperor's Cup glory from here. I'll give him ten succulent oranges to fill that Cup, plus one for that paused win over Kissy on Day 2. Kakizoe has been fairing poorly against veterans this week, and I just don't think his (1-4) has earned him an orange yet.

Kotoshogiku had a shot at the aging Kaio tonight fresh off a Kokkai win and his Ozeki-booting against Tochiazuma. Koto-Elvis pulled a slight shift away from Kaio's right side at the tachi-ai and was soon driving him back to the edge and looking for a leg scoop to finish him off. Kaio has some fight in him this basho after all and finally got his left arm under Elvis' armpit to lift him up and charge the whole way across the ring. Kaio has won three straight against smaller Rikishi, and I'm confident backing him as my Yusho horse here in Tokyo. Ten oranges to Ol' Sad Eyes and three to the (2-3) Giku for cracking Tochiazuma. Those post-bout comments were priceless.

Chiyotaikai is already at (5-0) and should technically be in the Yusho hunt but, nah, I just don't see it. I'll give him a couple oranges and a grapefruit for his Tsuppari attack being so effective this basho, but it is Tokitenku who gets my nod as the unassailable Yusho champ. His (1-4) isn't looking good so far but if this basho comes down to a playoff, watch out. Did I mention the ten oranges I gave him?

If there is one man besides Hakuho to challenge for the Yusho, it's Kotooshu. He's taken a few licks this tournament but seems to have found his form once again with a bread-and-butter win over Takekaze. I'll give the little guy one of my oranges for that little side-step of his, but once the space opened up between them it was all Kotooshu's game. The best part of this bout, and the reason he's most deserving of the THIRTEEN oranges I'm sending his way, is that he set up the Hatakikomi with one of the fastest face-slaps I've ever seen. Even in slow-motion you have to freeze-frame to catch it. All the way, my Giant, all the way!

Ah, the Ama-Tochiazuma callout match. Another highlight reel classic from the eczematous Komusubi, Ama once again shows that the size of the ring extends right to the outsides of the straw bale as he fells an Ozeki with more of his patented tawara magic. Similar to the Aminishiki match, Ama got the morote going from the beginning and never let his foe recover his posture as he was circled backwards around the ring. Tochiazuma was on the run the entire match and nearly escaped when Ama ran out of room at the edge, but didn't, and the Ozeki's hopes are mercifully scuttled by yorikiri. I'm picking (2-3) Tochiazuma to take the whole thing, but only because I want to mess with him and continue with the false hopes. Ama gets four oranges for his four manly losses, and I'm looking forward to his quest for seven more wins.

I haven't been exposed to anyone else's opinion's on the Hakuho-Miyabiyama match, but I, for one, think that Hakuho won it straight-up from the 'Dead in the air' rule. Hakuho was in control from the beginning and used his left uwate grip to pull Miyabiyama to the edge before squaring off for a final shove. Miyabiyama shifted away just enough to attempt a pulldown before having to leap clear of the carnage himself. Some of the replay angles don't show it well but somehow the big guy went airborne before Hakuho hit and I can't help thinking that the Shin-Ozeki was robbed. Robbed, robbed, robbed I tells ya! He jack-knifed an Asa-esque hovering move as he went down and was still floating nearly horizontal as Miyabiyama's second foot left the dohyo. I say a rematch at least although the pull-down attack from the Sheriff was certainly there. (5-0) Miyabiyama seems to have the gyoji on his side, and I'll endorse him whole-heartedly as the eventual winner this tournament. Hakuho goes home with a trio of oranges, never fear, and maybe next tournament he'll give the Cup another shot.

Why oranges? I have no idea. Mike's here tomorrow to clean up the juice.

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Under the immense pressure that comes with being not only a sumo fan, but a sumo writer, it was inevitable, I suppose, that one of Sumotalk's regulars would crack, fall to the soup, catch a ride on the loopedy loop, begin the long, slow descent toward madness.

Those of you who read the Day 3 report will know immediately I am referring to the Manchester Mantis himself, his badness Simon the Sid. We're not sure if it was his recent move to a drastically higher tax bracket (the royalties we are all receiving from the Bluehost adverts alone are obscene), his discovery that he is distantly related to Mohandas Gandhi, or his April penis reduction surgery (I'm done with it, his wife informed him. Enough is enough or, Too much is too much, as the case may be), or perhaps it was a combination of all these and more. We know only that when the Yokozuna pulled out after Day 2, Simon went off his nut. Started walking around shouting things like Game Over! in a frantic, half-crazed bellow, then suddenly quieting and whispering, Send in the clowns, to people he passed in the hallway, giggling to himself and vigorously rubbing his thighs.

( I should take a moment here to explain, during the course of each basho, Mike and Kenji insist that they, along with Simon, Georgie Boy, Bernie Birnbaum and yours truly all live in the same hotel for the duration of the tourney. They fly us in to the city where the basho is being held, rent an entire floor of some swank hotel, and then post burly guards--yes, occasionally ex-rikishi--at all the exits. It's not as bad as it sounds. It's all done on their dime, and I heard a rumor they might try and cop us some girly action in Nagoya.)

Anyway, long story short, we got together and decided that Simon was worth saving, or at least worth giving it one shot, so we planned an intervention. I took the notes.

Simon: Hey fellas. Whaddya'll doin' here? (The quirky lapses into a Texan accent also concerned us.)
Mike: Simon, we've come to see you about...
Kenji: ...a problem we've noticed you developed. (Kenji and Mike often finish each other's thoughts. It's spooky the first few times, but you get used to it.)
Simon: Developed? Like Asa's x-rays? Hnn hnnn hn hnnnn.
George: Si, you're cracking man! Do you hear me? (Gives two ineffectual slaps across the cheek.) Bernie, some help here, huh?
Bernie: Eh.
Mike: Look, Simon, we just think it's not as bad as it looks. Miyabiyama is having, uh...Tochiazuma still could, maybe... Hakurozan and Kitazakura are looking strong.
(At this point Simon leaps off the bed and starts brushing his hair with a vacuum attachment.)
Kenji: I don't think this is working.
George: I've seen this happen at my company.
Clancy: Let me try something.
Bernie: Eh.
Clancy: Simon? Si old buddy? Can I ask you a question?
Simon: All the king's horses and all the king's men.
Clancy: Do you recall The Tellytubbies?
Simon: (starts singing) Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La-La...
Mike: and Simon! Do you want that? Do you?
Simon (realization dawning slowly): You mean...if I act mad...then people will see.
Kenji: Yes?
Simon: And...they'll equate me...with unformed alien fetuses...frolicking on...public television?
George: Precisely!
Bernie: Eh.
Simon (suddenly invigorated): Well then, can't have any of that, now can we? Right! You boys have got work to do. Clancy! To Day 4.
Clancy: Aye aye, skip!
Simon: Mike, Kenji. I believe you've got a meeting with Kitanoumi at 7:00. Am I wrong?
Mikenji: We're off!
Simon: Bernie, George, continue doing whatever it is you do, I've got an ointment to rub on my John Thomas, surgery is no walk in the park, and neither is the recovery.
(George and Bernie stand mesmerized by the mighty Brit, splendid in all his sanity.)
Simon: Be gone!

I'm not sure that many people notice, but under all that gorgeous back and front hair lies a true rikishi in Buyuzan. He is one of a dying breed, taking his foe straight on, giving all he's got (like his stablemate Kakizoe). He learned that under retired Daiyokozuna Musashimaru (who, as an aside, is the most self-centered, conceited blowhard when he does the NHK English language commentary, a total shocker, that). But now with Musashigawa beya in slight decline, and his age creeping up there, Buyuzan just doesn't have much left to go on. Today he lost to 2-2 Toyonoshima, letting the diminutive M13 get under his arms and onto his belt, where he was thrown down to his 3rd loss. At M15, too many more days like this and he's Juryo, and at 32, that would be a daunting climb back, perhaps too daunting.

Maybe M12 Takamisakari was telling the truth when he said he feels poorly. Don't get me wrong, Jumonji is a big boy, with skills, but he would have lost the bout today against the Circus of old. At the tachi-ai, Circus was slow as usual, making Jumonji's stand and face slap look like the start of fisticuffs between a husband and wife at the dinner table. The guy in the funny hat really should have stopped it right there, but as is typical down low in Maegashira, he didn't. Still, Le Cirque recovered quickly and after getting spun around a few times had Le Ju right where he wanted him: On the ropes and with both hands inside, but the M16 was able to twist away and then throw him down, far too easily in my opinion. He must be ailing, which bodes ill for his remaining in the top flight.

The Homa (Simpson) sho went on the road to take on M14 Katayama and lost to a strange kimarite, under shoulder swing down. Then again, with the M11 acting as if he is bowing to his opponents with that almost submarine approach, it is probably a kimarite he loses by often. Both are 2-2.

M15 Kitazakura, with his sights on a yusho at 2-1, took on M11 rookie Baruto (who Mr. Maple Syrup, the senile, serial maligner of names and titles English announcer on NHK, has confused with Popeye's nemesis, calling him "Bruto") in the best match of the basho, possibly through Day 15. Both men got tremendously deep belt grips, Baruto a bit more so because of how huge he is, and they stalled at the center, each ready to make his move. Baruto, with a backside two-handed grip that reminded me of some of the more brutal wedgies I saw back in junior high school, finally pushed forward, but Kitazakura found the strength of ten men, planted his right leg, pivoted and just barely lifted his leviathanic foe up and around, with Baruto's feet a scant few centimeters off the dirt for the entire 180 degree trip. Listen to me when I tell you it looked unbelievable. Upon further reflection, Kitazakura was in juryo from some time before returning to the top rank in January, so perhaps he garnered some experience when he fought Baruto down there last Sept., losing by okuridashi on Day 15. Still, the timing and power he showed today lifting Moby Baruto will forever stay in my (admittedly feeble) mind. Call me Ishmael!!

M7 Futenoh looked ready to move out of his parent's basement against M9 Tochinonada. Faster than an ADSL connection he got hold of his foe's belt with an inside left, outside right and never relinquished it, moving the former sanyaku man around and being moved around, but all the while maintaining great balance, even in the face of a few decent throw attempts by Tochi. It ended yorikiri as it should have with such an advantageous grip, and Futenoh may, MAY be ready (although that loss on Day 2 to Tama was worrisomely Hokutorikiesque) to show us that sweet sumo he got everyone drooling over just a year ago when he went 11-4 at M10 in May and then 10-5 at M3 in Nagoya. Both men are 2-2 and Futenoh looks like he must have switched to Bluehost.

M8 Hakurozan remained unbeaten but ugly with a retreating pull down win against left-leg immobile M6 Tamanoshima (1-3). It is so demoralizing to watch huge and potentially talented rikishi like Hakurozan waltz around and then win with evasion.

M5 Kyokushuzan auditioned for Ang Lee's next film at the tachi-"ai" against M8 Kasugao, winning after the South Korean recovered enough to make a contest out of it. Shu, as he always does, confounded us all by performing like a tiger once the hijinks were out of the way, fighting a strategic belt battle before twisting down a visibly tiring Kasugao for his 3rd win, sending his foe to his 3rd loss. Wish I could say I enjoyed watching, but I didn't.

M7 Dejima (2-2) dropped one of those thrice a basho tachi-ai bombs he conjures up to utterly annihilate M4 Tokitenku (1-3), who tried a miserably feeble pull down, as weak an afterthought as kissing the wife as you're sliding the condom off.

2-2 Kokkai started by slapping away at M3 Kotoshogiku, but the Geeku made a fantastic stab at the big Georgian's belt and snagged it, and it was all over but the shouting as he quickly shoved out the hapless M6 for his 2nd win. There was some dismay on Day 2 over The Geeku defeating Tochiazuma (mostly because of Tochi's completely absent sumo), but I for one was unsurprised at the win. I think the Geeku has the chops to one day make Ozeki.

3-1 M3 Aminishiki is good, but 2-2 M5 Roho made him look spectacular. How does such a small man rush forward and just power out a big Russian? I'll tell you how. Roho, like so many of the big ugly white guys in sumo these days, loves to try back of the head pull downs. I say save that malarkey for when you're with your girlfriends (oh, yeah, even Roho has a gal. Japanese chicks will shag any foreigner. Look at me, fercryinoutloud.) 

Sekiwake Koto Hit or Mitsuki went head to head against M2 Asasekiryu, or should I say head to air, as there was no one there when Mitsuki reached the other side of the dohyo. Another henka. Ewww. Is this how the only remaining Asa wants to get his wins?

Sekiwake Miyabiyama showed why he is a serious, serious contender for the jun-yusho as he bludgeoned M4 Takekaze into submission. There is not a chance under the heavens that Miyabi will defeat a healthy Hakuho this tourney, so runner-up is all he can shoot for. And I think he may very well get it. I am in total agreement with all that Simon said yesterday about the former Ozeki. Would it be a record amount of time between demotion from and return to Ozeki? What, almost five years now, isn't it? I'd love to see it, because Miyabi works so damned hard, and when he fights cleanly I'm in his corner 100 per, baby.

Not quite sure what Ama (0-4) was thinking against 4-0 Chiyotaikai, but going neck shove for neck shove against a guy that much larger, even a wrestler as depleted as Chiyo, just cannot be good for one's health. The Ozeki smashed out the tiny shin-Komusubi after the fast and fierce exchange of blows. As an aside, maybe it was just me, but when the camera showed Ama getting up from the third row, it actually showed Wakanosato, who was waiting seated for his bout. The way that shot followed the previous shot I thought I was going crazy for a moment, because it looked like Waka was getting up after being thrown out. Check it out on if you didn't see it or don't recall.

Concerning a possible yusho for the Ozeki, all I can say is that today I was driving to work and I passed, no lie, a woman who was the spit and image of Chiyotaikai. Dead ringer, neck up of course. For what it's worth.

Ozeki Kotooshu beat Komusubi Kyokutenho, but I really don't have much to say because above M2, Kyokutenho has his mommy call in sick for him it seems. Real boring and no contest, so no way to judge if the Bulgarian will bounce back to batter his betters this basho. Two winless Komusubi, three Ozeki at 2-2. Yawn.

Tochiazuma and Wakanosato was lame, lame sumo. This is exactly why we think there are many yaocho. Why was Waka just blindly pushing against a man he KNOWS is an accomplished retreater and twister? It all looked so scripted, but why would it be on Day 4? Who knows and who cares. I say get these three tired old Ozeki out and let the new guys rule. I have absolutely no tension in my body when Kaio, Chiyo, or Tochi wrestle. No butterflies, no nail biting, no anticipation. I don't even take my hand out of my pants, it's that bad. It tires me just to type this paragraph. What a waste of time.

See, what did I tell you? Higher up the banzuke tachi-ai are called a wee bit differently. Kakizoe got jobbed vs. Kaio, with the sideline judge waving off the tachi-ai, not the ring ref. What the fock was that? Kaio had made the hands down move he always does, barely touching if at all, and Kakizoe railed his old ass. But n-o-o-o-o-o-o, we have to save this guy, so do it over. In the re-match, for the first time in my sumo watching career, I ENJOYED the henka. Too bad that Kaio recovered and won.

The bout between Hakuho and Kisenosato was fun, well contested and decisive. Real sumo. After the by now familiar Kise "Let's get it ohn" butt wiggle, the M1 hammered the shin-Ozeki at tachi-ai, two hands to the neck as he pushed him all the way back to the edge with the Ozeki holding up his foe's elbows to keep him off the belt. But Kise stayed on the neck too long. Once Hakuho's feet hit the rope, he allowed his opponent to get closer and dropped his hands down onto Kise's belt. Kise was left with the pickings, and slim they were, an outside left and no chance at a right. They briefly settled into a standoff, chest to chest, but Hakuho had a deathlock inside left and his brilliant balance, feet placement and jangly hipped weight shifts befuddled Kisenosato, who was summarily thrown down for his 2nd loss, while Hakuho remains unbeaten. Hakuho has such a combination of strength and skill, it's really only a matter of time before he sits at West Yokozuna. Can't wait for that.

Oh, and yes, I passed my fork-lift truck driving test with flying colors. Come back and see how Bernie writes much more than, Eh, on Day 5.

 Day 3 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
The Natsu Basho stands in disarray after only three days. The withdrawal of Yokozuna Asashoryu has a number of implications, three major ones, to be precise: one being a general lowering of the level of sumo we will see as other rikishi realize their job just got easier, another being a very happy Hakuho, who is surely now the yusho favourite knowing he realistically has only a crocked Kotooshu and a seemingly passionless Tochiazuma to get past. And the most intriguing implication is the effect on the promotion of Tochiazuma. What will they do if he wins it with twelve? Would they really promote him with no other Yokozuna active after only a 12-3 last time, not even a jun-yusho? For me, this is a potentially explosive, albeit unlikely situation. Let's just wait and see. One thing should be obvious to all the up-and-comers: this basho is a chance to shine. Let's hope someone gives Hakuho a decent contest over the stretch.

While we're on the subject of Tochiazuma, let me get some unpleasant business out of the way. Mike was spot on yesterday in calling the Ozeki out. Never have I witnessed a performance from him so bereft of...anything, most notably passion. He got into his ottsuke as he so often does but Kotoshogiku, a man possessing practically nil experience with the top level rikishi got his favoured hidari yotsu grip. Right, Tochiazuma was in a bad position, and Kotoshogiku pulled off some good forward sumo, but if that had been Asashoryu there, we would have seen vicious desperation moves to get out of the crap, twisting of the opponent left and right, anything to turn things around. What we wouldn't have seen was a limp, lifeless capitulation at the edge. Tochiazuma later said he was trying to think of something to do but it was over before he could do it. Not good enough. This is possibly his last chance at promotion. He should have - does have - enough experience now to think on his feet, go with least put up a bit of a fight. As a long-time Tochiazuma fan, I hate to say this, but if he fights that disgracefully again, I can no longer support him. And before today's bout with Asasekiryu, I fooled myself into hoping yesterday must have been a bad hair day. Kotoshogiku! What a nightmare! Now, how did Tochiazuma do against Asasekiryu today...

...The fool almost certainly kissed his (admittedly slim) Yokozuna hopes goodbye with yet another overly cautious performance. To be fair to his Mongolian opponent, Asasekiryu did well and never allowed the Ozeki to get him under control, constantly shifting backwards and to the side. It was always going to be a pull-down win for Asasekiryu in these circumstances, but that in fact did not come to pass: Tochiazuma just slipped and went down flat on his unfortunate end to his dreams (for this basho at least). So there we have it: two losses to vastly inferior rikishi who have no business beating him. I have to say that I am pretty relieved because it would quite clearly be a disaster to promote Tochiazuma if he continues to employ this kind of guarded sumo. I've been a supporter of his Yokozuna bid thus far because he IS capable of that level when he is on his game. Sadly, when the spotlight is on him, he just seems to fight like an idiot, and a one-dimensional one at that. He is still technically in with a chance but needs to win all twelve remaining bouts and hope Hakuho screws up – a rather tall order.

Ozeki Hakuho (3-0) showed everyone how to fight like a Yokozuna with a bread and butter win over a bread and butter opponent. I think we can safely call the yusho now – Hakuho should win it easily. Komusubi Kyokutenho (0-3) never stood a chance as the Mongolian genius got his favoured left-hand uwate grip and took control for the inevitable yorikiri win. I just love the way he gets that grip at the tachiai, coming in low and slightly around to confound any attempts to keep him away. He is becoming invincible. With Asashoryu reportedly requiring two months of treatment for ligament damage, surely now is the time for Hakuho to pounce and steal away Tochiazuma's thunder by winning the next two basho thereby getting the promotion. I have seen the future, and it is Hakuho!

Ozeki Kotooshu said yesterday after his defeat of Ama that he likes facing midgets (watch The Office for the difference between a dwarf and a midget – the British [funny] version, not the American [woefully unfunny] one). M2 Wakanosato is neither midget nor dwarf so advantage went to him when Kotooshu failed to get the mawashi as he drove forward from the tachiai and allowed Wakanosato to wrap him up and throw him down with a sukuinage (belt-less arm throw). It is tempting to say that Kotooshu's injury is affecting his performance, but I don't think it would have made too much difference even if he had been healthy here. It was just a case of smart sumo from the veteran former Sekiwake. Wakanosato is a group one racehorse farmed out to stud in Hokkaido at 2-1 and is an early candidate for the Shukunsho. Kotooshu is a camel at 1-2.

Ozeki Kaio staved off impending retirement, currently a daily chore, as he tolerated no monkey business from Komusubi Ama, wasting no time in grabbing his opponent's left arm to pull off one of his (in)famous kotenage throws. This is the way to beat Ama – don't give him time to dig in, because if he had done, it would have been goodbye fading Ozeki. Kaio finally gets a win under his mawashi while Ama continues the Komusubi tradition and goes to 0-3, probably wondering at the injustice of him facing (and losing to) a healthy Asashoryu while everyone else gets away with it.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai faced one of the myriad (it seems) conquerors of Tochiazuma, M3 Kotoshogiku. Even before tachiai, we all knew what would happen. A few seconds of lightning tsuppari from Chiyotaikai designed not to push back but instead to throw the opponent off balance for the pull-down. I wrote the above words before the bout, knowing I wouldn't have to delete them! It was less tsuppari, more holding Koto off, and was actually a little hairier than usual as Kotoshogiku almost got lucky at the edge, but Chiyotaikai showed decent ring awareness to step to the side and get the hatakikomi win. Sadly, hatakikomi is by far the most common winning technique for this particular diminished Ozeki. In my pre-basho report, I called him a pirouetting buffoon...that turned out to be prophetic yesterday in his bout against Kyokutenho as he span around twice after the bout, the momentum from his side-step being so strong. Very sad. Whatever happens, Chiyo should waltz to a kachi-koshi this basho. Gods forbid, with Asashoryu gone, he could even win it. And what a nightmare for real sumo fans everywhere that would be. Kyokutenho stays winless.

It's pretty rare to see the two Sekiwake meeting on day 3, an indication of how crowded the Ozeki rank is these days. Miyabiyama kept up his fantastic tsuppari to dominate Kotomitsuki, and even managed to stay on his feet when Koto stepped to the side at the edge. With El Sheriff performing like this, Asashoryu out, his former Ozeki status, and his recent domination of Tochiazuma in mind, you have to say he is in with an outside chance of being in the yusho race deep into the second week. Oh my God...did I really say that? Miyabiyama in the yusho hunt? But the fact that the thought even occurred to me speaks volumes about the improvement in quality of his sumo. Another thing to consider: with his 10-5 at Komusubi in March, an eleven or twelve-win basho here will put him in line for re-promotion to Ozeki in September. With the retirement of Kaio looming, not to mention the promotion of Hakuho, there may only be three Ozeki left come the Aki Basho, so there would be more inclination to promote him with a borderline record. Well done Mr Blobby...and keep it going – no crappy henka, OK?

M1 Kisenosato tried a very risky harite against M4 Takekaze and was lucky his opponent wasn't strong enough to take advantage of the failure of the move. I don't remember Kisenosato ever trying this before and judging by this scrappy bout, I hope he doesn't repeat it. One good thing to come out of all this was a demonstration of improved balance as the young Japanese hopeful stayed on his feet and weathered the 'storm'. A scrappy win but they all count. The Kisser goes to 2-1. PLEASE PLEASE stay in the yusho race. Takekaze is already out of his depth at 0-3.

M1 Kakizoe (1-2) resorted to his old trick of coming out too early at the tachiai, but after one matta, got the timing perfect on the second attempt, and was successful in keeping M4 Tokitenku (1-2) well away from the belt, where he can be deadly for a straightforward oshi-zumo rikishi like Kakizoe. Knowing he was thigh-deep in excrement, Tokitenku attempted an uchigake (inside leg-trip) but he was being kept too far away and it led to his downfall (as he probably knew it would - a desperation tactic) as he was forced onto the back foot and driven out. Kakizoe is finally off the mark, and a fine display of sumo it was as well.

M5 Roho (2-1) got yet another pull-down win at the expense of M7 Futenoh (1-2), who really should have known better. The loss came courtesy of his own pulling attempt when Roho got himself into a strong position courtesy of a good tachiai. I won't slag Roho for this win because he pulled at the right time for once in his life. Futenoh desperately needs to work on his defense. He has plenty of excellent qualities but lacks two vital ones: steadiness and, as we all know, confidence. Maybe he should stop writing that blog – could be making him think about his sumo too much.

M6 Tamanoshima looks closer to normal after two basho of fighting with injuries. M9 Tochinonada (2-1) had me worried yesterday after a poor loss to Hakurozan, but I breathed a sigh of relief today as he pulled off a nice (and easy) throw after totally dominating his opponent and deftly keeping his left shitate grip. The throw was made to look spectacular thanks to Tamanoshima's momentum as he wrenched himself away from the edge. Still, it was a pretty ending.

M6 Kokkai (2-1) did almost everything right against M9 Iwakiyama, absorbing the big man's tachiai with ease and almost getting morozashi. Unfortunately for him, Iwakiyama (2-1) spotted the attempt and pulled back to his right as Kokkai was busy trying to get his right hand inside, and this pulled the Georgian off balance for his first loss.

With M10 Tochinohana back in shallower water, his skills have been allowed to flourish once more, especially in the fine brains-versus-brawn win over Baruto yesterday. M8 Kasugao, who has had an indifferent start, made a mockery of this argument with an excellent low tachiai that allowed him to lift Tochinohana (2-1) up and wrap around the body to drive him out into the second row. This was not the Korean's usual type of sumo. Let's hope he begins to show this kind of thing more often. Kasugao is on the board at 1-2.

Rumours have been going round that M13 Hokutoriki is still having trouble with his back. Against M11 Baruto, he showed no sign of that as he went forward with both hands to the neck, driving the big Estonian blondie back, but Baruto's vastly superior strength came to the rescue as he refused to panic and got a left-hand inside grip, allowing him to simply place his hapless opponent onto the clay. He makes it look easy sometimes, almost as easy as Hakuho does. Baruto is back on track at 2-1. Hokutoriki (0-3) is looking at another nightmare – Juryo promotion if he doesn't get his arse into gear shortly.

And finally M11 Homasho showed fine tenacity of a less suspicious kind than yesterday against M13 Toyonoshima, staying low to drive his opponent out very handily. Nice sumo, I thought. The young newcomer is looking good at 2-1. Toyonoshima stands at 1-2.

After three days of pretty dull sumo, the leaderboard is starting to take shape. Hakuho, Chiyotaikai and Hakurozan are all unbeaten, and a host of rikishi follow in their wake with two wins. I fancy Hakurozan to do well this basho, as well as Roho, Baruto and hopefully Kisenosato. Down at the lower end, Yoshikaze and Homasho are showing some nice touches as well.  I have a feeling that Hakuho will work himself into the role of Yokozuna in the absence of the real thing - a worthy replacement indeed.

One final thing - it hit me as the days bouts ended that sumo is just not the same without Asashoryu up there on the dohyo. He's been an ever-present for years now, a real character and a devastating force. The old cliché about not missing something until it is taken away struck home once again. Please, Asashoryu – don't stay away for long! Sumo desperately needs you. We need you!

Clancy gives us the results of his fork-lift truck driving test tomorrow.

 Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Can anyone recall an uglier and sloppier day of sumo than we witnessed today? Perhaps when Itai made his claims that 80% of the bouts on any given day were fixed, he meant that 80% of the bouts are either fixed or one of the rikishi doesn't give 100% effort. If so, he was definitely fingering day 2 of the Natsu basho. If there was a positive aspect to come from the bouts today, the worthless storylines of Baruto's 20-something bout winning streak and Tochiazuma's faux Yokozuna run were eliminated, so at least we can concentrate on sumo...if that's what you call today's display. I think we are in for an ugly, ugly basho especially when you consider that Asashoryu may be done. Since we have to, let's get right to just can't bring myself to say it...okay...the action.

M2 Wakanosato is the undisputed king of the fluke wins over Asashoryu, and today was no exception. Asashoryu delivered a beautiful head-butt tachi-ai that set up a stifling right outer grip that was so good it pinched Wakanosato's left arm on the inside so that it was rendered useless. Asa used the position to force Wakanosato quickly back to the edge, but Wakanosato is no dummy and pulled out the when-all-else-fails-run-like-hell maneuver. Actually, it was his only option and one that he has burned Asashoryu on for his previous two wins over the Yokozuna. With Wakanosato already back pedaling from the Yokozuna's force out attempt, the M2 evaded to his left at the tawara going for that last gasp pull down. Asashoryu did not calculate the possibility of the move and was left near the tawara with no opponent in front of him. Asa committed himself with a push at Wakanosato's face with the right arm, but Waka somehow successfully evaded the shove and kept his balance while Asashoryu toppled face first off of the dohyo. Before his fall, Asashoryu was trying to balance himself on his left leg--kinda like those nifty plastic flamingoes I have decorating my front lawn--but his body was so far forward that an ugly spill was inevitable. As Asa fell off the dohyo, his right toe kicked down hard jamming itself in the sand while his right elbow slammed down on the hard floor below. Obviously shaken, it took Asashoryu close to 20 seconds to pick himself up, and as he limped down the hanamichi, something was obviously bothering him.

The Yokozuna went straight to the bath without talking to reporters and could be heard screaming out in anger. He refused to visit the medical room at the Kokugikan and left the premises with his right elbow iced. Whether or not he can continue won't be known until day 3. My personal opinion is that the anger over the careless loss coupled with that numbing pain that shoots through your body when you bump your elbow like that caused Asa to pick himself up slowly. This is pure speculation, but I think that physically, Asashoryu will be able to continue. Whether he chooses to do that, however, is another story. Watching the Yokozuna of the mid-to-late 90's, taking a basho off after an early loss was very common. Asa has only done that once in his career, and I'd be surprised if he did it again because he's got to rack up the yusho before some of the other rikishi catch up to him completely. It's wait and see, but we'll post Asa's status on our news page as soon as we find out about it. The result on paper is that Asashoryu now stands at 1-1 while Wakanosato (1-1) picks up an ugly kin-boshi with yet another tsuki-otoshi win over the Yokozuna.

Dropping down to the Ozeki ranks, Kotooshu showed up today with a sizable supporter around his right leg, but it was no matter as he exhibited some of the best sumo of the day. From the tachi-ai, the Bulgarian used some amazingly effective tsuppari to keep Komusubi Ama away from his belt or any sort of inside position. Ama resorted to his quick mobility to try and attack laterally, but Kotooshu moved extremely well keeping himself in front of a frustrated Ama the entire bout. Kotooshu managed his coveted left uwate during the fracas and used that to beautifully force Ama back across the straw. I was extremely impressed with Kotooshu's lower body movement today, but remember, Ama is the lightest guy on the banzuke he'll face. We'll see how really damaged Kotooshu's right leg is when he's got to fight someone with amazing girth...uh...Miyabiyama for example. Oshu moves to 1-1 while Ama is left empty-handed at 0-2.

I'm not sure what to make of Ozeki Chiyotaikai's sumo today. Don't get me wrong; there were no surprises. On one hand, I don't like to see an Ozeki win by constantly backing up. On the other hand, how else was Chiyo going to defeat Komusubi Kyokutenho today? Certainly not by oshi-dashi. Chiyo fired off his usual machine-gun tsuppari today at the tachi-ai, but they had no effect in driving Kyokutenho back (do his tsuppari ever drive anyone back these days?). They were effective, however, in keeping Kyokutenho away from Chiyo's belt. As Kyokutenho gritted his teeth trying to ward off the slaps, Chiyo timed a pull on Kyokutenho's arm that sent the Komusubi haplessly to the clay. Whether Chiyo's sumo was good or bad is a matter of opinion, but the point that this was an ugly display of sumo cannot be debated. Chiyotaikai moves to 2-0 with the win while Kyokutenho surprises no one with his 0-2 start.

How about Sekiwake Miyabiyama? Damn, I've been enjoying his sumo this year. Today against Ozeki Kaio, he smartly used the lumbering tsuppari to keep the Ozeki standing straight up throughout the contest. Kaio never could get on the inside nor could he grab Miyabiyama's arm to twist it into offensive position for himself because Miyabiyama's thrusts packed too much of a punch. Miyabi simply wore Kaio down, and then when he had the Ozeki off balance a bit, he humiliated him with a two-handed thrust that knocked Kaio down to the clay in a heap at the corner of the dohyo. What an ass kicking...and Kaio's my favorite active rikishi. Miyabiyama moves to an impressive 2-0 while Kaio may say he's feeling better than he did in Osaka, but at 0-2 he's looking worse.

Along with Kotooshu and Miyabiyama, I thought Hakuho also exhibited great sumo today. Against M2 Asasekiryu, Hakuho used a crushing tachi-ai that stopped Seki in his tracks and set up a solid left uwate. Asasekiryu countered with a right inside grip of his own, but Hakuho took no chances by methodically using his superior power to force Seki back and out. Nothing flashy here; rather, it was smart, powerful sumo that reminds me so much of Yokozuna Takanohana in his prime. Hakuho improves to 2-0 and is the yusho favorite now in my opinion while Asasekiryu falls to a respectable 1-1.

I did not just see M3 Kotoshogiku beat Ozeki Tochiazuma did I? What in the hell was THAT? Whatever fighting spirit Tochiazuma used in his tachi-ai and attack against Kyokutenho yesterday was certainly absent today as the Ozeki settled for an average hidari-yotsu position from the initial charge. The Geeku's tachi-ai wasn't any better, but he does favor the left inner position, so when Tochiazuma suddenly came down with bump-on-a-log-itis, Kotoshogiku decided to press the action grabbing a left inside grip and forcing Tochiazuma back. During Kotoshogiku's offensive--which was anything but speedy, Tochiazuma showed little resistance, nor did he even attempt to evade laterally. My jaw was nearly resting on my laptop I was so shocked at what I was witnessing. And then to make matters worse, when Kotoshogiku had Tochiazuma pressed back against the tawara, rather than digging in his heels and evading this way or that as he has done against Iwakiyama in the same position, the Ozeki looked up into the rafters just before he was pushed out. Did he learn that trick from fighting Asashoryu last basho? I'm still in shock at his display even as I type this. I'd call Tochiazuma's effort horrible, but there was no effort to criticize. Tochiazuma actually drove Kotoshogiku back a step at the tachi-ai, but after that, he just stopped in his tracks and let Kotoshogiku have his way. Some things are still a mystery to me regarding Tochiazuma, but one thing I understand clearly is that he is not Yokozuna material, and I don't want to hear any justification otherwise. Tochiazuma's sumo today was flat out insulting. He drops to 1-1 while Kotoshogiku improves to the same mark.

Dropping down to the Sekiwake ranks, does Kotomitsuki get paid by the second? He had M1 Kisenosato by the short and curlies today and just stood there for about 20 seconds, probably trying to remember why he had stepped into the dohyo in the first place. Kotomitsuki backed up a step at the starting line causing an awkward tachi-ai for both rikishi where Kisenosato found himself a bit to the side of his opponent. I thought the kid was in the perfect position for a left ottsuke (sideways push), but he opted for the right nodowa. Kotomitsuki withstood the choke hold nicely and secured morozashi that had Kisenosato turned to the side a half step with absolutely nothing to counter with except for a weak arm around the neck. At this point, even I could have bulldozed Kisenosato back and out, but Kotomitsuki just hunkered down and stood there. Had Kisenosato been in any sort of position to counter, he would have, but he already had the stake driven through him and the apple in his teeth. Watching the "action" from this point was kind of like reading a novel by Alexandre Dumas (pronounced DOOH-muss by us learned Americans) when you come to those points of the story where he goes on and on about nothing because he got paid by the line. Finally, and for what reason I'll never know, Kotomitsuki decided to charge forward forcing Kisenosato back and out for the simple win. I was baffled by the display, but nonetheless, the Count of Kotomitsuki improves to 2-0 while Kisenosato falls to 1-1.

Dropping down to the Maegashira ranks, M1 Kakizoe does not look 100% to me right now. It looks as if he's lost that half step that allows him to stick to his opponent from the tachi-ai setting up moro-zashi. Today against M3 Aminishiki (1-1), Ami backed up slightly to his left after the initial charge and pulled Kakizoe (0-2) down with ease. The only reason I mention this bout is because Kakizoe looks dinged up to me.

M4 Takekaze was unable to budge M5 Roho at the tachi-ai today, and in the process, Roho grabbed a sneaky left inner grip that he used to lift Takekaze (0-2) up and off balance to the point where he was an easy target to just push down to the clay in a heap. Today's matchup was a perfect example of who should be fighting in the upper Maegashira and who shouldn't. Roho improves to 1-1.

M5 Kyokushuzan took care of countryman M4 Tokitenku in short order by grabbing his right arm at the tachi-ai and pulling Tokitenku (1-1) awkwardly to the dirt. Like Chiyotaikai, I'm not sure whether to praise Kyokushuzan's efforts or criticize them. I mean Kyokushuzan did win, and he did so smartly because he knew that Tokitenku's arms would be extended as he thrusted from the tachi-ai. I just have a hard time praising shenanigan sumo. Shu is 2-0.

M6 Kokkai has jumped out to a nice 2-0 start. Today he delivered a great forearm to the face of M7 Dejima (0-2) from the tachi-ai and kept thundering away with his tsuppari keeping Dejima away from his belt. With Dejima on the defensive and the run, Kokkai started to go for a pull down but didn't commit himself. The move allowed Dejima to regain his wits a bit, and as he tried to mount a charge of his own, Kokkai timed a perfect sidestep causing Dejima to lunge into a belly flop at the edge of the dohyo. Like that patch of hair on my lower back, today's sumo was anything but pretty, but this is Kokkai's style. I thought it was a good win for the Georgian.

M6 Tamanoshima opened up his bout with a relentless tsuppari attack aimed at M7 Futenoh's face disallowing him any sort of yotsu position. Tamanoshima kept up the constant pressure driving Futenoh back little by little, and at the edge Futenoh attempted to dig in, but it looked to me that he couldn't plant that left foot firmly due to a previous ankle injury. It wasn't the typical "dig-in-at-the-tawara" stance we saw from him before that injury. I think Futenoh's still dinged up as both rikishi are 1-1.

I thought M9 Tochinonada's charge was half-assed today against M8 Hakurozan. Tochinonada (1-1) looked to be driving Hakurozan back from the tachi-ai, but there was no lower-body push whatsoever from the veteran rikishi, so Hakurozan stepped back to his left positioning himself for the easy scoop throw near the edge. This bout contained two of the beefiest rikishi in the division, yet there was hardly any contact. It looked far too easy to me if you know what I mean. Hakurozan waltzes to 2-0. M9 Iwakiyama enjoyed a sloppy win himself over M8 Kasugao, who sort of backed up at the tachi-ai looking to set up a kote-nage throw I believe. Iwakiyama (1-1) knocked Kasugao off balance before the Korean could get anything going, and as Kasugao (0-2) tried to recover, he was easily slapped down to the clay.

Alright, M11 Baruto. If you were surprised by his loss today at the hands of M10 Tochinohana, you shouldn't have been. Let me go back about 8 or 9 days ago to Baruto's announcement that he would not perform any de-geiko prior to this basho. He made this statement after I posted my pre-basho report, but when I read it, I immediately fired off some emails to my peers saying "what in the hell is this guy doing?" Practicing with J4 Satoyama is not going to prepare you for the Makuuchi division. Big mistake. Today, Baruto met someone who matches up very well with him. Tochinohana is tall and has long limbs, long enough to keep Baruto away from his belt with tsuppari, and that's exactly what he did today. Baruto actually countered pretty well with some tsuppari of his won, but he's not an oshi-zumo guy yet. The veteran Tochinohana easily slipped under the rookie's tsuppari and secured a lethal morozashi grip that he used to drive Baruto back to the rope. Baruto countered with a kote-nage throw at the edge, but Tochinohana survived the attempt shoving his now committed opponent back across the straw with little trouble. School is in session Bart, and I suggest you prepare yourself better next basho. Now, I'm not suggesting that Baruto is going to fall on his face in May. I still fully expect him to kachi-koshi, but it will not be as easy as many people--including the Estonian himself-- thought it would be. And for the record, Baruto's one bout losing streak ended today. Hokutoriki should cure what ails him tomorrow. Tochinohana is a solid 2-0.

I don't want to start this yaocho talk up again, but I don't see how M11 Homasho wasn't gifted his win today against M10 Tamakasuga. Both rikishi came out shoving from the get-go, but it looked to me that Tamakasuga was in control throughout. Homasho was trying to grab any sort of belt grip, but Tama kept him on the run and out of position. Tamakasuga is a savvy oshi-zumo guy, and a veteran to boot. One thing about oshi guys is they all know how to pull their opponents down when they are too low...Chiyotaikai, Kokkai, Takekaze, Hokutoriki...they do it nearly half the time in their bouts, and they're good at what they do. Tamakasuga is the same, and today he had multiple opportunities to pull Homasho down in my opinion, but he didn't do it. In fact, at one point of the bout, Homasho was bent over bracing himself with his hands on his knees while Tamakasuga stood over him pushing at the back of his head...with just one hand!  It was a scenario I have never seen before, and it looked phony. All Tamakasuga has to do is step to his side a bit and nudge his opponent over. Somehow, Homasho miraculously recovered from that predicament to turn the tables and finally push Tamakasuga out. The bout reminded me of a butsugari-geiko session where you have one rikishi who is tiring out, yet he must still force his opponent back and out of the ring. The rikishi guiding the session senses when his opponent is tired and starts dragging him around the ring by the hair or the ears sort of playing with him. It looked to me that Tamakasuga was indeed guiding this bout and was in control throughout. Yet, Homasho pulls off the win. I may be wrong on this yaocho call, but I call it as I see it, and I thought today's bout was thrown. Nevertheless, Homasho picks up his first win while Tamakasuga falls to 0-2.

I'm not rooting against M13 Hokutoriki; I'm just rooting against one of his fake yusho runs. M12 Tosanoumi all but closed that deal today handing Hokutoriki his second loss with an awesome grunt at the tachi-ai and a charge that invited a meek pull-down. This was a textbook win for the smashmouth Tosanoumi who improves to 2-0. And finally, M12 Takamisakari picked up his first win against M13 Toyonoshima today. Toyonoshima actually secured moro-zashi from the tachi-ai, but the Robocop used a firm right outer grip to lift Toyonoshima off balance, turn the tables, and force him out. It was vintage Takamisakari, and also a great illustration of why Toyonoshima (1-1) struggles in this division.

I don't think we'll have a wackier day of sumo than we had today. Let's just hope things settle down and that Asashoryu can continue to fight. If you thought sumo was ugly for awhile there while Asashoryu had little competition, wait until you see a basho where you don't have that cornerstone to keep things neat and tidy. Simon gets us back on track tomorrow. 

Day 1 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
We're off and running in the 2006 rendition of Natsu basho, one ripe with stats and story lines. We've got five Ozeki for the first time in three years, one of which is the fourth youngest promotion in history. And can you believe it?  For the first time in ten basho, we don't have an Ozeki mired in Kadoban status (on the block for demotion). Five of the top 10 rikishi are foreign, and there's a huge one crashing the Makuuchi party at M11 that hasn't lost since mid-January. Enough numbers? I agree, let's get right to this thing. 

Asashoryu, coming off his 16th yusho in March, got past ubiquitous countryman Ama to start unscathed. Ama, making his debut at Komusubi, had a trick ready to deploy but it never came to fruition when Sho came at him head first. Once the Yokozuna garnered a convincing left outside grip, you could smell the throw coming. It did, but Ama survived the first attempt. On the second attempt there was little real estate left in the dohyo and, once Sho leaned into the throw a little, it spelled doom for Ama. Ama stated later that if Sho came at him looking for the inside grip as he often does, the plan was to shift about and grab the leg. But once Sho came at him head on, the plan went out the window.

Tochiazuma, coming off a 12-3 March to keep his Yokozuna hopes alive, got past the other Mongolian Komusubi in Kyokutenho. Of course the nation is desperate for a native rikishi to rise amid this foreign invasion that is today's sumo landscape. Right now Tochiazuma is that hope, and he didn't disappoint coming out of the gates with his trademark attack. That is, head planted squarely under opponent's chin and thrusting upward with suffocating pressure. Tenho certainly succumbed to it today to the delight of Azuma's hometown crowd. 

Still-a-little-gimpy Kotooshu took on M1 Kisenosato in a meeting of "old" rivals. Oshu and Kise were promoted to Juryo together and both made short work of the division that resulted in an almost simultaneous Makuuchi debut as well. However, that's where the similarities ended as Kotooshu continued his meteoric rise while Kisenosato stagnated a bit. But now the other big Japanese hope is finally up at the top of Maegashira to rekindle the rivalry. This time it was Kisenosato who overcame Oshu with an outward display of desire and grit. Oshu got hidari-yotsu at the tachiai but Kisenosato broke loose and marched forward with freight train intensity. At ring's edge he unleashed a scoop throw that flipped Oshu as if to make the statement "it took me a while, but my wigglin' butt is now here to stay".

The most ho-hum of the Ozeki bouts featured Chiyotaikai and M1 Kakizoe. The clash was okay, but in predictable fashion Taikai pulled his opponent down once his forward momentum was neutralized. Let's see how many times we can recycle the previous sentence to describe Taikai's wins this basho.

Shin-Ozeki Hakuho, poster child for Natsu basho, took on the resurgent Wakanosato. Hakuho is trying to live up to his company for youngest Ozeki promotions, and what company it is. He sits just behind Takanohana, Taiho and Kitanoumi in accomplishing the feat. To make things more difficult, he was a career 2-6 against Waka coming in, not to mention the scrutiny of shonichi as a shin-Ozeki. On top of that he did not get the left front grip at the tachiai. Doomed you say? Nah, no problem. All the keiko paid off as he still managed a tsukiotoshi win. With day one out of the way, look for Hakuho to settle in and continue to make serious noise this basho. 

Both Sekiwake collected day one wins. Miyabiyama followed up his 10-5 March with a victory in his first-ever bout with M3 Kotoshogiku (even if it was an unimpressive pull-down) and Kotomitsuki ran his career record against M3 Aminishiki to 7-0 with a hard-earned, turn-the-tables yori-kiri win. 

Okay, can we cut to the chase to close out day one? Who wasn't excited to see the clash of Makuuchi rookies sporting a combined 27-3 record last basho? On one side you have Homasho, a 25-year-old female magnet and proud pupil of the popular Terao (Shikoroyama Oyakata), quite the female magnet himself a decade ago. On the other side you have Baruto, a 21-year-old Estonian behemoth who accomplished a 15-0 Juryo yusho last basho for the first time in 42 years. In fact, this kid hasn't lost in 20 bouts. Make that 21. Following a left harite to start matters, Baruto looked like he was going for migi-yotsu but soon changed his mind and got moro-zashi. From there it was lights out quickly for Homasho. A yori-kiri and a trip to the interview room it was for the latest foreigner to make a splash. Something tells me this splash will be bigger than Hakurozan, Roho, Kokkai, and maybe even Kotooshu. And best of all, he has charisma. Look out for this kid, folks.

Mike's on deck for tomorrow.


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