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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 Comments (PZ Kelly reporting)
Well, sorry to have been ausente this bash-oh! but damn, my new work has me on a keyboard 11/6, so I have little compunction to log on once home and write about men to whom I am but a gnat to be crushed on their way to glory and god. Since I have remained wholly unaware of the circumstances of this basho, I have decided to check neither the daily reports nor the paths the men battling today took to reach Day 15 of the Tokyo Grand Sumo Summer Tourney before writing this report, which I will be writing off a link of all the bouts uploaded to the Web by some guy in chronological order. It is my fervent hope that this tickytack tactic results in some fresh and hellaciously entertaining sumo rayporTAHGE!

First off, props to our man Kagamio, who took the Juryo yusho. "Kagamiooooooo, Kagamioooooo, Kagamio juryo. Magnifico-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho." You're NOT just a poor boy and EVERYBODY loves you.

Starting off, Jokoryu henkad Chioytairyu and still lost in a heartbeat, the bugger. Chiyotairyu gets 9 wins and will definitely be taking one spot in Makuuchi whilst Jokoryu will vacate same. What a tangled web, indeed.

Toyohibiki, at 5 wins and perched precariously low in the division, went a slappin at Kotoyuki, who with his 8 wins in the bag had little interest in the days proceedings. The Zit may hang in Makuuchi, but with the way Chiyotairyu fought, will there be room?

Fellow Kokonoe man Chiyomaru had a tough basho evidently, and today it was not improving, as Kyokushuho at 8 wins wanted 9 and got it with some straightforward but uneventful yotsu.

Kyokutenho had 8 wins coming in, so against He Who Maketh The Panty Wet, the one and only Endo sitting at 5 wins, the former Mongolian put on a good show and likewise let himself be worked out with nary a struggle as well.

Two men with 7-7 records went at it, and the one with the reputation for tachi-ai hijinks took the envelopes as Takanoiwa hedged his bet at the start so as not to be made a henka fool of, and when he guessed wrong, Takekaze brought some strong shoving to which Takanoiwa responded quickly with forward movement, but Takekaze had moved to the side and was able to get behind his foe and manlove him out with no trouble. Solid sumo today by Takekaze, but built on a career of evasive malfeasance.

Amuuu You had no reason to risk incurring the gods' wrath today by playing around, with his KK in the bag, and so gave Sadanofuji a straight up shoving battle, trying his best to budge the gargantuan W7 through sheer gonadability. Alas, Sadanofuji was in no mood to lose to a lighter and less accomplished rikishi today, and stayed his slide down the ranks somewhat with his 6th win in convincing yorikiri fashion. The Russian got worked today, but I still wouldn't mind having that dude's body for my own. (That came out a little differently than I intended, but since I'm dictating this report, it cannot be taken back!)

Okay. The day's first surprise and what a surprise it IS! Yoshikaze mathematically in the yusho race at 10-4 means not only that someone screwed the pooch BIGtime, but that that someone is Hakuho (unless he dropped out?) Yoshikaze took on Gagamaru, who was looking for his 7th win but more importantly looking to play the role of spoiler. Big Gaga bided his time, letting Starbuck make the occasional foray into his space, which at one flash resulted in Gagamaru connecting on a big shove and sending the wee Yoshi back to the edge where he was sacrificed to the gods of Intherunningfortheyushoonday15getthefuckouttahere.

Resisting the urge to look ahead or behind to find out just what is going on, I next watched two guys in a frenetic bout but was too stunned by the knowledge I now possessed to focus. All I know is some guy whose shikona ends in "awashi" won via a resounding uwate-nage. I also noticed the guy uploading the videos has a really corny sense of humor. Must be a foreigner.

Next up were two fellas at 3-11. NEXT!!

Aminishiki came in with his MK, but he was not of the mind to let Sadanoumi simply waltz to his KK 8th win. A furious scramble led to both men throwing each other by the belt at the edge, and I think it was called a do over, but I was watching the semi-hot female dressed in pink in the front row who reminded me of. . . fellatio (on a related note, I've always felt a touch of pity for gals named "Felicia," just ahead of girls named "Gina"). As it turns out, they did call for a rematch and this time Sadanoumi ran The Bedroll back and out tout de suite.

Tokushoryu may not have sent Toyonoshima a postcard from the Land of Henka, but he dropped off a travel brochure at his dressing room. Minimally hitting and then bouncing to his right, Tokushoryu got his hand on the back of Tugboat's mawashi and gave him the bum's rush.

Tochinoshin came back from looking like he was beaten when Homarefuji got the deep inside moro-zashi from the gun, but the Private was able to find a left belt and used his right arm to kind of twist the cap off Homarefuji's bottle. The E9 misses his KK.

Another 10-4 rikishi went down as Takarafuji (lots of fujis in Makuuchi at the moment) kept himself at a kind of 90 degree angle to Ikioi and backed him down and out over the course of 30 seconds or so.

Yet another 10-4 guy was up, but what surprised me was that it was not Ichinojo, but his foe Kaisei. The two oversized foreigners locked up in some classic yotsu, and it was Ichinojo winning via a pedestrian yori-kiri. Kaisei had nowhere to run at the edge, and was smothered so completely he could not even find the leverage for a counter attempt. Nice to see the Mongolith get 8 wins here.

Seemed to me that Okinoumi was not intent on defeating 7-7 Komusubi Tochiohzan. Why else would Okinoumi win the tachi-ai, drive the Komusubi back, and then just let a perfect inside left arm dangle weakly while at the same time staying high and picking up his right leg to make it easy for Tochiohzan to push him back? The Komusubi turned the 9-5 W10 around and rammed him out. It's possible it was just poor sumo strategy by Okinoumi, but lucky for Oh Snap either way.

Takayasu was also 10-4 and he had Sekiwake Myogiryu, who was already MK at 6-8. Still, win and you likely remain in Sanyaku. Myogiryu was the aggressor, knocking Takayasu back and getting in close. So close, in fact, that Takayasu figgered he'd go for an armbar. Problem is, he didn't the chutzpah, the moxie, the sand to finish that armbar off like former Ozeki Kaio used to, wrenching and wrenching while whispering, "Stay down, Luke." After his second armbar attempt, Myogiryu slipped out of it and with one might shove knocked the W8 into the expensive seats like a discarded muppet.

That's four guys at 10-4 falling to 10-5.

So next we had Terunofuji vs. Aoiyama. Terunofuji is 12-3 and so now I see what is happening. The Sekiwake easily snatched hold of the big, bad Bulgar and worked him around and out with no worries. Then the story was plastered on the screen--Hakuho is also 12-3 and if Hakuho loses to HowDo (I do know that Le Coq is out for this tourney) then Terunofuji becomes an Ozeki. Hmm. What are the odds Hakuho will lose? I'd say pretty high. If he is going to give Geeku and Kisenosato and Goeido their Ozekihoods, why not his countryman? And really, winning seven yusho in a row for a second time in his already beyond comparison career is kind of being greedy.

So next up we had Kisenosato, who had been obviously eliminated from the yusho race in the previous bout, against Kotoshogiku, who had clinched his kadoban status for July. Playing for pride I guess, Geeku got in tight and then just became the immovable object, leaning in on his fellow Ozeki and making the fans feel like something was happening. Eventually Kisenosato wore him down and backed him out via yori-kiri. The anti-climactic in the room could be felt in this one. As throughout his entire career, Kisenosato was denied a shot at glory by a Mongolian.

Finally, Hakuho took on Harumafuji. The two kept their distance after the tachi-ai, and then Hakuho started moving forward. At the exact moment Hakuho made this ludicrous looking two handed push move that resembled nothing so much as a half gainer at the Sarajevo Olympiad, HowDo happened to squat down like he was using an ancient Japanese toilet, causing his foe to whiff bigtime. Leaping up from his crouch, Harumafuji slammed into Hakuho's ribs. Hakuho extended it a bit by turning his back to the ropes and forcing HowDo, now bent over into Hakuho's mostly perpendicular form with a nearly invincible moro-zashi (while Hakuho held onto his fellow Yokozuna's arm like it was a life preserver), to wait for several moments until making his push forward, which Hakuho tried to counter with a throw and was unable to do.

Okay, just went back and read the daily reports and learned what transpired. Then I watched some of the key bouts. Seems like Terunofuji earned his yusho, but Hakuho losing to both Kisenosato and Goeido tells us all we need to know.

I think Hakuho was legitimately surprised by Ichinojo on Day 1, intentionally rushed it vs. Goeido on Day 12, should receive a Razzie for yesterday's bout, and today was not interested in winning.

As it turns out this report was anything but hellaciously entertaining, but I may well be finished with this gig by July, and back in bidness to write two or three times with verve and panache, so see yall then.

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Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
For the day 14 broadcast, they put former Yokozuna Chiyonofuji in the booth, and around the 5 PM point of the broadcast, NHK actually produced a graphic showing the similarities between Chiyonofuji and Terunofuji when they were both ranked at Sekiwake and on the brink of promotion to Ozeki. Both started with average kachi-koshi from the M2 rank; both then scored double-digit wins as newly-promoted sanyaku rikishi; and then both followed that up with double digit performances from the Sekiwake rank. Chiyonofuji finished his third basho at 11-4, and with Terunofuji coming into the day at 10-3 with just Myogiryu and Aoiyama left to battle, it's pretty safe to say that he will end up at least 11-4 as well.

That points us to the next basho. In Chiyonofuji's case, he went 14-1 and ended up capturing his first career yusho, which cemented his status as a new Ozeki, so it will be interesting to see how Terunofuji does in July, the basho where he will presumably clinch promotion to Ozeki. Even if Terunofuji loses out here in May the rest of the way, he still heads into Nagoya with 23 wins over the last two basho meaning he'd need to go just 10-5 to reach the unwritten mark of 33 wins over three basho. His promotion to Ozeki is a foregone conclusion, and I think NHK showed that graphic to emphasize to the Japanese fans that not only is Terunofuji going to be an Ozeki sooner rather than later, but get ready for him to capture his first career yusho. That's not to say it's gonna happen in July, but as I stated sometime during this basho, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see it happen before the year is done.

As they showed the graphic, Fujii Announcer asked Chiyonofuji to compare Terunofuji to himself at this same stage in their careers, and the Wolf kind of laughed and said, "He has a lot better arsenal than I did." (Motto motto haruka ni ii mono wo motte imasu.) Chiyonofuji went on to praise Terunofuji for his dedication to keiko, and then he correctly stated that having a Yokozuna in his stable and other rikishi with whom to spar helps. Damn straight it does, and you can just see the progression Terunofuji has made in just this year. I mean, go back and look at his last five losses. Four of them were total flukes with his only real legitimate loss coming at the hands of Hakuho this basho. Fuji the Terrible is the future of sumo, and those in the know can already see it.

Okay, let's now turn our attention to what would turn out to be a wild day 14 by first examining the leaderboard:

11-2: Hakuho
10-3: Terunofuji, Kaisei, Ikioi

As I'm wont to do, let's start at the bottom of the leaderboard and work our way up in chronological order, and then I'll comment on the rest of the bouts working in descending order.

First up is M11 Kaisei who had his hands full with my favorite rikishi this basho, M1 Tochinoshin, and the Private showed why crushing his foe at the tachi-ai and coming away with the right inside position and left outer grip. Tochinoshin was also burrowed in lower keeping Kaisei upright, and while Kaisei actually managed to grab a brief left outer of his own, Tochinoshin wrenched him back upright breaking it off with ease. Tochinoshin made sure he had his gal in snug taking about 10 seconds to do so before mounting an outstanding yori-kiri charge that sent Kaisei beyond the straw and off the leaderboard in the process at 10-4. Tochinoshin clinches kachi-koshi with the win at 8-6, and this is the exact type of sumo I expect to see from anyone ranked at Ozeki or above.

If you thought Kaisei had his hands full with Tochinoshin, what about M10 Ikioi who needed to solve Komusubi Ichinojo? Similar to the previous bout, the higher-ranked rikishi exhibited a smash-mouth tachi-ai coming away with the right inside position and solid left outer grip, and Ikioi was out of options at this point. Normally, a rikishi in this position will counter with the right inside, but Ikioi's right arm was lost throughout, so by the time he remembered to grab Ichinojo's belt with it, the Mongolith was already making his force-out charge easily schooling Ikioi for the yori-kiri win. Ichinojo is still alive at 7-7 while Ikioi is knocked off the leaderboard at 10-4.

In the battle between our two Sekiwake, Terunofuji secured the right inside position from the tachi-ai and followed that up with the left kote grip smothering Myogiryu back and out in mere seconds. What's so scary about this dude is that Myogiryu actually had the left outer grip, but it doesn't matter against Fuji the Terrible. I mean look at that picture at right...that is an ass-kicking.  You give Terunofuji the position to the inside, and he will beat you unless your name is Hakuho. Great stuff from Terunofuji who scoots to 11-3 and has a great shot to finish 12-3 again tomorrow. If he does, he will be sitting at 33 wins the last three basho, but with that first basho having come from the M2 rank, they'll likely make him wait until July. As for Myogiryu, his make-koshi becomes official at 6-8.

With the three loss rikishi out of the way, that leaves us with our sole leader, Yokozuna Hakuho who faced Ozeki Kisenosato. Thanks to Terunofuji's win, the yusho would be extended to senshuraku regardless of the outcome of this bout, but Hakuho made sure we'd all be watching tomorrow. After slapping the Ozeki hard in the face with the right hand at the tachi-ai, Hakuho secured the left arm easily to the inside, but he failed to do anything with the right arm keeping it up high and inside. Despite only having one arm in the game, Hakuho made yet another reckless charge against an Ozeki forcing Kisenosato back near the edge. The right outer grip or the right inside position was there for the taking throughout, but Hakuho monkeyed around with a few weak gaburi attempts surely thinking to himself, "Make your counter move already ya dumbass." Kisenosato finally responded with a right tsuki to Hakuho's shoulder with no oomph behind it, but the way the Yokozuna hit the dirt, you'da thought he was just hit with a wrecking ball...with that gal Miley Cirus riding on top of it!! If only that was the case...we'da at least got our money's worth catching a glimpse of Miley in her tight outfit. Anyway, the same points that I made after the Hakuho - Goeido bout are easily applicable here, so I won't rehash them as this was obvious yaocho.  Just look at Kisenosato's awful footwork there in the pic at left.  That kind of stance is going to send the Yokozuna crashing to the clay against his own volition? Uh...no.

After the bout, they spent considerable time with a camera up close in Kisenosato's face, and you could just tell that the dude knew he didn't deserve it. There was no emotion, no adrenaline, no read face, and not even a drop of sweat on his brow. Dude knew it, but there's nothing he can do about it. His reward is a 10-4 mark, and don't look now...but Kisenosato is back on the leaderboard at 10-4! As for Hakuho, he falls to 11-3 tied with Terunofuji heading into the final day.

I have no idea what's in store tomorrow, but I'm almost certain that both Terunofuji and Hakuho don't go down in defeat, so your yusho will come from that twosome while everyone else at four losses is just meaningless fluff.

Following the Hakuho - Kisenosato matchup, Yokozuna Harumafuji chose to defeat Ozeki Kotoshogiku, and he did so by catching the charging Ozeki in the moro-zashi grip and just holding onto the slippery fish until he secured him in tight, and once that happened, the yori-kiri came without argument. With the loss, Kotoshogiku's make-koshi is official at 6-8, but ya know, a 7-8 is the same as a 4-11 for an Ozeki. They still hold their rank; he should get his eight in July; and the wins he needed were put to much better use elsewhere (just look at the leaderboard at the end of my comments). As for Harumafuji, he improves to 10-4 and jumps back on the leader board. Who else joins him? Let's get to the rest of the bouts and find out.

The lead story heading into the day was the withdrawal of Ozeki Goeido citing an injury to his left shoulder. He reportedly broke or cracked a bone in the joint in his win over Hakuho and required a cortisone shot before his henka against Kaisei yesterday to secure kachi-koshi. You know what? It was actually nice not having him around today because it meant more straight-up, hard-fought sumo. M8 Takayasu benefits from the Ozeki's absence moving to 10-4 with the freebie and finding himself back on the leaderboard. As for Goeido who will finish yet another basho at 8-7, you know what they say when a rikishi lets up in the ring...someone's bound to get hurt. Sure enough.

Komusubi Tochiohzan struck M4 Tokushoryu well at the tachi-ai coming away with the left inside despite Tokushoryu's tsuppari attempts. Sensing he was danger after having given the Komusubi the solid inside left, Tokushoryu attempted a counter right kote-nage, but Oh survived the move and used it to turn the tables by slapping Tokushoryu down to the clay kata-sukashi style. Tochiohzan is still alive at 7-7 while Tokushoryu falls to 5-9.

M1 Takarafuji and M10 Okinoumi hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Okinoumi actually grabbed the right outer grip, but the banzuke rarely lies, and so Takarafuji's strength advantage was able to keep him in the bout despite giving up the outer grip to the lower-ranked Okinoumi. Okinoumi really needed to make his move after grabbing that uwate, and when he didn't, he allowed Takarafuji to settle in, break off Okinoumi's outer grip, and then send Okinoumi flying with a sweet inside belt grip. Takarafuji picks up kachi-koshi at 8-6 while Okinoumi is still one better at 9-5.

M8 Takekaze hit M2 Aminishiki hard at the tachi-ai standing him straight up, and as Aminishiki tried to duck back into the fray, Takekaze predictably just slapped him down to the dohyo. I'm not a huge fan of the hataki-komi win, but if you set it up with a superb tachi-ai, more power to ya as Takekaze survives at 7-7 while Shneaky suffers make-koshi at 6-8.

M5 Tamawashi used some outstanding choke holds against M2 Toyonoshima keeping him perfectly upright before The Mawashi timed a right tsuki to the back of Toyonoshima's left shoulder sending Tugboat over the edge. Great stuff from Tamawashi who never did let Toyonoshima get a sniff of his belt (not that anyone would want to sniff his belt, but you know what I mean). Tamawashi improves to 5-9 while Toyonoshima is 4-10.

M3 Sadanoumi took full advantage of M11 Kyokushuho at the tachi-ai securing moro-zashi and then immediately mounting a force-out charge. Kyokushuho tried to evade at the edge and go for a pull, but Sadanoumi tripped his foe back for good with a right hand to the back of the thigh (fresh!) scoring the nifty watashi-komi win in the process. Sadanoumi improves to 7-7 with his best sumo of the tourney while Kyokushuho is stuck at 8-6.

M5 Kitataiki just jumped to his left at the tachi-ai sending a vicious henka M12 Arawashi's way causing Arawashi to tumble to the dirt hard. Not sure why you'd have to henka a guy coming in with just two wins when he's seven ranks lower than you on the banzuke, but whatever. Kitataiki moves to 3-11 with the grease job while Arawashi falls to 2-12.  Remember the good ole days at ST when I used to rant about henka rather than the Ozeki?

M6 Aoiyama met M14 Yoshikaze with some decent tsuki at the tachi-ai, but he quickly tried to parlay that into a stupid pull that failed to work. With his momentum now compromised, Aoiyama looked to try and square back up with his gal, but Yoshikaze just yanked hard and downward at Aoiyama's left teet pulling the former Sekiwake down by what looked like the boob. Ouch! Yoshikaze is 10-4 if you need him and somehow backs his way onto the leaderboard...on day 14! Aoiyama settles for 9-5 and will likely have to go braless for the next day while he lets the swelling go down.

M6 Gagamaru and M15 Kotoyuki both stuck to their tsuppari guns in a great shoving match that saw the larger Gagamaru use his legs nicely and stay in front of his opponent the entire time, and the result was a dominating oshi-dashi victory from Gagamaru as he moves to 6-8. Kotoyuki settles for 8-6 and still draws his biggest applause by hocking a loogie into his fist prior to each bout.

M7 Sadanofuji used moro-te-zuki against M14 Kyokutenho at the tachi-ai, but his legs quiet weren't into it, and so as he plodded forward timidly, Kyokutenho was able to dart to his left and pull Sadanofuji down by the back of the head with the right arm and the left arm locked up and under the Sadamight's right shoulder. Pretty good stuff from Tenho who clinches kachi-koshi at 8-6 while Sadanofuji falls to 5-9.

M9 Endoh hit senpai M15 Jokoryu with some great tsuki at the tachi-ai sending him upright and allowing Endoh to work his way inside for the left inner position. His tachi-ai and follow up advance to the inside was so good that the right outer grip was there for the taking, and once obtained, the yori-kiri was swift and decisive. This was Endoh's best sumo by far as he moves to 5-9, the same record held by Jokoryu.

M16 Amuuru stayed low at the tachi-ai constantly trying to duck to the inside against M9 Homarefuji who was intent on using tsuppari to set up a pull. He got two pretty good pull attempts in, but the Russian survived them both and was finally able to grab the back of Homarefuji's belt with the left outer, and once he secured the right inner, he made his yori charge. Homarefuji tried to slip left at the edge, but Amuuru was tripped him up on his way earning the kiri-kaeshi winning technique. If Amuuru knows to shore up his gal with both hands before making his charge, surely Hakuho is aware of such a basic move. Anyway, Amuuru improves to 9-5 while Homarefuji falls to 5-9.

M12 Toyohibiki clobbered M16 Takanoiwa so hard with a right tuski to the throat from the tachi-ai that it knocked Takanoiwa back onto his heels like a drunken salaryrman. With his de-ashi in perfect form, Toyohibiki finished off Takanoiwa with a final shove scoring the impressive oshi-taoshi win improving to 5-9 in the process. Takanoiwa falls to 7-7.

J1 Seiro moved closer to his Makuuchi debut by grabbing the front of M13 Chiyomaru's belt with both hands and lifting up Maru completely upright setting up the solid yori-kiri win leading with that moro-zashi gained from the tachi-ai. At 7-7, if Seiro can win one more, we'll see him up here in Nagoya. Chiyomaru falls to 3-11.

And finally, J2 Chiyotairyu just pulverized M13 Fujiazuma (3-11) back and out with his forward tsuppari attack that was actually good enough to put him up in the Makuuchi jo'i for a spell. It amazes me that he ever abandoned it in the first place.

As we head into senshuraku, the leaderboard shapes up as follows:

11-3:  Hakuho, Terunofuji
10-4:  Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Takayasu, Kaisei, Ikioi, Yoshikaze

It'd be nice if they had Terunofuji - Aoiyama fight first, so we wouldn't even have to put up with the senseless yusho talk surrounding the four-loss rikishi, and just the fact that the four-loss dudes are still in the running on senshuraku tells you how crappy the basho has been.

I think Kane said it best this morning when he messaged me saying something like, "I'm just going to pretend that everything up to this point was real and get me a burger and root beer float and just enjoy the action."  And speaking of enjoying senshuraku...you know him, you love him, that Kelly feller is back tomorrow to wrap 'er all up!

Day 13 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
The leaderboard is so thick with rikishi it is groaning with the weight, a happy thing for this stage of the tournament. Friday the 13th day of the tournament is sometimes where the winner gets decided. Not this time, as we have eight guys within one win of each other, but nominally this should have been a good day for drama. Instead, match quality was weak--there was no signature "match of the day" today--and the day thinned out the leaderboard field, setting us up for a likely Saturday decision.

The last third is a time in the tournament where story lines have settled in and sumo sometimes takes a backstage to exhibition, as falls and giveaways become so abundant trying to point it out is like a game of whack-a-mole. Matches that earlier in the tournament would be straight up are now turned over for best-play, and wrestlers who set their roll on days one through six or so now see others take the reins and help them steer their now petrified momentum edifice to the destination everyone has determined is right and proper. This is true at the higher levels, where it matters most and big decisions are made, and at the lower levels, where agendas opaque to us play out, and in all sorts of directions, for crowd favorites, against them, for Mongolians, against them, for the love of god, against nature. It is as if you play half a match of football (soccer), then the coaches and teams get together in the locker room at half time and say, "all right, Bayern München, you've been playing pretty well, you go ahead and win, give us two goals to make it exciting, we let you out with the 3-2 victory." In this way the best team still wins, but it is part real play, part constructed narrative, and little is left to chance (see Goeido vs. Kaisei today). Meanwhile, across town the Stuttgarter Kickers may be in a true dogfight because their narrative didn't matter enough to get culled and pickled (see Endo vs. Takanoiwa today).

Let's narrate the narratives.

Leaders: Nine Wins

M9 Homarefuji (6-6) vs. M10 Okinoumi (9-3)
Homarefuji did some spinning around to keep Okinoumi off balance, and Okinoumi made loud slapping sounds as he flailed at the belt of Homarefuji but couldn't hold on. Frustrated, Okinoumi then tried a pull, but Homarefuji moves forward well; he used the failed pull to drive Okinoumi out yori-kiri. One down.

M14 Yoshikaze (9-3) vs. M7 Sadanofuji (4-8)
Yoshikaze was doing a fine job of keeping Sadanofuji upright with upward shoves, but probably needn't have been so careful against this schlub. He hung around too long, and when he ducked in too low after a bit, Sadanofuji slapped him on the back of the head and Yoshikaze staggered through a lurching fall to a hiki-otoshi loss. Two down.

M3 Sadanoumi (6-6) vs. M10 Ikioi (9-3)
I like Ikioi a lot; he shows good concentration, works very hard in the ring, and doesn't play a lot of tricks. However, he has seriously underperformed at higher levels. His 9-3 performance from M10 is expected and has been satisfying to watch, but he'll need to repeat it in the jo'i next time. This match showed promise for that: Sadanoumi has built himself into a jo'i guy, and Ikioi obliterated him with an overpowering oshi-dashi force out. Ikioi stays on the leaderboard for today, but tomorrow his story will be put to bed until July with a loss to Ichinojo.

S Terunofuji (9-3) vs. M8 Takayasu (9-3)
After the initial hit with weak arm action by Takayasu, Takayasu deliberately turned his back to The Mountain of Terror (Terunofuji) and let himself be walked out okuri-dashi (watch the overhead slow-mo replay). Hign ‘n' Easy (Takayasu) wasn't trying. Does The Future (Terunofuji) need that kind of help? Nope. Did he get it? Yep. But why, why??? Hard sayin', not knowin'.

O Kisenosato (9-3) vs. Y Harumafuji (8-4)
The key here was that while these guys had their foreheads together and hands on each other's elbows during a lull after the tachi-ai, Kisenosato had his feet aligned and Harumafuji didn't, allowing Harumafuji a very easy grab of Kisenosato's head and long-length, good-looking, pull-down hataki-komi win. Repeat readers will know I think Kisenosato is a legit Ozeki, and while he is nowhere close to as good as the explosively powerful Harumafuji, he must have owed Harumph (Harumafuji) something today, because he let this happen too easily. Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and I see ‘em both ways. The boys are busy narrating. Four down.

Leaders: Ten Wins

M11 Kaisei (10-2) vs. "O" Goeido (7-5)
Goeido henka'ed a bit, but didn't need it. Kaisei slapped him lightly on the shoulders thereafter in what was meant to look like a shove, then compliantly let Goeido get a right hand grip and sling him down uwate-nage. Kaisei put out his hand to break his fall before he had even lost his balance on the throw. Kaisei has no business being in the true yusho race, and now he isn't so much anymore.

Y Hakuho (10-2) vs. O Kotoshogiku (6-6)
This match was a carbon copy of the Harumafuji/Kisenosato match: tachi-ai, then moment of sussing out during which loser (Kotoshogiku) aligned his feet, allowing winner (Hakuho) to pull him forward and out in an easy uwate-nage long toss. Kotoshogiku helped out by taking leetle baby steps forward, a tottering tot, as Hakuho began his throw. Kotoshogiku also took as pretty a little "whoo! This is fun!" roll out of the dohyo as you'll ever see. I don't think Kotoshogiku had an interest here. That's right: I'm calling mukiryoku against, rather than by, Hakuho, and for the second time by an Ozeki against a Yokozuna today. And why would that be? Why, gumdangit, why!! Again, that is hidden. As I discussed on day 9, we have little predictive power here, and no sight into the smoked glass world of the backcourt. All comers at this height of the banzuke get to participate in the storyboarding.

The Rest of the Sanyaku

K Tochiohzan (5-7) vs. K Ichinojo (6-6)
Giveaway here by Ichinojo, as he draped his ample, fleshy arms over Tochiohzan's and let himself be driven out, quivering like struck tofu, oshi-dashi.

M4 Tokushoryu (5-7) vs. S Myogiryu (5-7)
Prack! Good tachi-ai. Flash-fast, Myogiryu had his left arm inside. Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) was struggling, and when he lifted his arm on the other side to try to get a better grip, ‘Mon Git You (Myogiryu) stuck his other arm inside for mono-zashi. Then he did a little flip throw for the yori-taoshi win; I like it when they do this: on most throws the loser topples from the fulcrum of his foot, but in this type of throw the fulcrum is the center of the loser's body, as the feet are dislodged from the ground one way and the torso goes in the other. An uprooting. Takes some strength.


M15 Jokoryu (4-8) vs. M13 Chiyomaru (3-9)
Chiyomaru had a nice double-choke hold going here, but decided to go for the pull, and Jokoryu punished him with quick, respondent oshi-dashi revenge.

M13 Fujiazuma (3-9) vs. M16 Amuuru (7-5)
Easy to say when a guy has a winning record, but yes, nice tournament for Amuuru. Here, he quickly got a long inside left and a weaker overhand right. Plenty effective as Fujiazuma grunted and struggled, but couldn't move or get any worthwhile grips himself, so once Russian River (Amuuru) was sure of himself, he worked Fujiazuma out with solid yori-kiri sweepstakes.

M16 Takanoiwa (6-6) vs. M9 Endo (4-8)
These two friendly fellows spent a long time cheek to cheek and on the belt with each other. We can blame it on the knee, and I'm happy to give him a break, but Endo may not have enough power to push out or throw down Takanoiwa no how, so he tried a couple of pulls in there, but eventually ran out of gas and Takanoiwa ran him out yori-kiri. Takanoiwa's belt was so disheveled after this one he looked like the bad chick in a bad Showtime late night bad flick smoothing down his bad garment after the bad bathroom scene with the bad boy so he can return to his bad high school class. That up-ruffled dress told you all you need to know: Endo yanked and yanked at it, but Takanoiwa was the only one who powered through to satisfaction

M8 Takekaze (5-7) vs. M11 Kyokushuho (8-4)
Takekaze patiently rolled-the-barrel with Kyokushuho for a few moments, then, with his opponent sufficiently upright, pulled, stepped aside, and swiftly squared back and pushed his man out oshi-dashi. We saw two weak pull-caused losses by Okinoumi and Chiyomaru earlier. If you are going to pull, take Sunday School class with Takekaze-sensei: as the announcers said, "veteran no umasa" (veteran skill).

M15 Kotoyuki (8-4) vs. M6 Aoiyama (8-4)
Kotoyuki decided to challenge Aoiyama at his own game: a thrusting battle. You ain't all that yet, kid. Aoiyama destroyed him for the oshi-dashi win; better guys usually beat lesser guys, but nobody demonstrates this visually so plainly as Aoiyama.

M6 Gagamaru (5-7) vs. M14 Kyokutenho (6-6)
Kyokutenho stood around high and weak, but Gagamaru felt for the belt, let it go, and dropped flat on the ground on purpose like a sturgeon slapped onto a marketplace counter. Kata-sukashi. Who knows why?

M5 Kitataiki (2-10) vs. M12 Toyohibiki (3-9)
Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) tries to win every match by simple straight-line-force; here it worked, oshi-dashi. Kitataiki looked really bad in dropping to Juryo a few tournaments ago, and based on this tournament looks like his Indian summer is over.

M12 Arawashi (2-10) vs. M2 Aminishiki (5-7)
If you wanted to win a sumo match, would you head butt a guy in the stomach with your arms back by your hips, then dive face first in the dirt? Me neither, but Aminishiki not only did that but got a win out of it (following a mono-ii stoppage), as Arawashi brushed his foot out first. Oshi-dashi win for Aminishiki, but part of me thinks he was saying "here, slap me down now, two-win-sad-patsy! Oh, crap, too slow, man!"

M5 Tamawashi (4-8) vs. M1 Tochinoshin (6-6)
After some slaps and grabs of the face and such, Tochinoshin settled in with a strong left overhand grip which he parlayed into a convincing yori-kiri dismantling of Office Worker (Tamawashi).

M1 Takarafuji (6-6) vs. M1 Toyonoshima (4-8)
Lottery (Takarafuji) moved Toyonoshima nothing but backwards in this one, and he is strong and was able to leverage a good grip around Toyonoshima's shoulders into a simple, swift kote-nage throw and victory. Out with the old, in with the new.


Hakuho 11-2
Ikioi, Kaisei, Terunofuji 10-3

Tomorrow's Report

Y Mike (13-0) vs. Y Mike (13-0)

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I talked a bit yesterday in my intro about the implications of Hakuho fighting Terunofuji on a Wednesday, especially if Hakuho won the bout, and when Hakuho ended up defeating the Ozeki-hopeful, the basho was over at that point. That realization was definitely felt at the start of today's broadcast as NHK first reviewed the leaderboard and next reviewed Hakuho's remaining opponents, which shape up like this:

Day 12: Goeido
Day 13: Kotoshogiku
Day 14: Kisenosato
Day 15: Harumafuji

The names of the three Ozeki stood out like a sore thumb because it was clear that there were no roadblocks ahead of the Yokozuna, and both Yoshida Announcer and Kitanofuji were in a sober mood as they discussed the prospects. I always like to note the general feel of the day's broadcast because I don't believe anything is really spontaneous, and after seeing that graphic and listening to the discussion, I scribbled in my notes, "The only suspense now is whether or not Hakuho will throw a bout to one of the Ozeki." And really, that's all this basho has left to keep it alive, so let's get right to the action beginning as always with a review of the leaderboard at the start of the day:

10-1: Hakuho, Kaisei
9-2: Kisenosato, Takayasu

Going in chronological order among our leaders, M11 Kaisei got the early right to the inside looking to hook up in yotsu-zumo, but M6 Aoiyama backed out of it forcing the Brasilian to give chase. In the process Aoiyama scored on a nice series of pull attempts that really neutralized Kaisei's momentum and forced the bout to a tsuppari-ai, a style that favors the Bulgarian. With the probability of running out of gas at this pace growing, the two then hooked up in a lightweight gappuri hidari yotsu position, and I say lightweight because they were not burrowed in chest to chest. With Aoiyama staying low, Kaisei went for right belt throw, but with just one fold of the belt, he had no momentum and Aoiyama was able to dump him with a counter left scoop throw near the edge. The loss sent Kaisei to 10-2 meaning that Hakuho at this point was the sole leader of the basho. As for Aoiyama, he picks up a deserved kachi-koshi with the win standing at 8-4.  Before we move on, as I was scanning the headlines the next morning, I saw one that mocked Kaisei saying, "Yappari, chikara busoku," or "Of course he wasn't strong enough."  What?  You mock Kaisei and give the Ozeki a pass?  Unbelievable.  As may dad likes to say, the Japanese media has more gall than a bladder.

Up next was M8 Takayasu who stepped into the ring against Ozeki Kotoshogiku, and this was really a damned if you do damned if you don't situation, so what would the leader choose? He decided to keep his arms wide at the tachi-ai and just stand there waiting for Kotoshogiku's charge, so the Ozeki led with the left arm and just bulldozed Takayasu back and out in under two seconds in a bad movie that I've seen one too many times. With the loss, Takayasu is knocked off of the leaderboard at 9-3, and dude better be compensated somehow. You work all the way to get into this position on the leaderboard only to have to give it up to an Ozeki. It's hard to stomach as Kotoshogiku improves to 6-6 on paper.

In probably the most compelling bout of the day, Sekiwake Terunofuji rammed his right shoulder into Ozeki Kisenosato at the tachi-ai knocking him a bit to the left, and the two came out of the fray with mutual left inside positions, and the chess match was on. Both rikishi kept their hips back denying the other an outer grip as they jockeyed briefly in the center of the ring, but Terunofuji must have sensed an opening because he brought his hips forward and planted his left leg firmly to the dohyo. As he did, Kisenosato grabbed the right outer grip, but Terunofuji was already executing a powerful left scoop throw that sent Kisenosato over and down with some oomph. I thought this was by far Kisenosato's best effort of the tournament, and his ability to kinda hang with these guys at times is what sets him apart from those other two clow...er...uh...Ozeki, but the difference in power and technique here was obvious as Terunofuji skates to 9-3 while Kisenosato falls to the same level. It was interesting to read all of the headlines after day 11 regarding Terunofuji "missing out" on promotion to Ozeki. He's not missing out on anything. He's got 22 wins banked already with 18 bouts to go. How does he not go 11-7 over that stretch?

With both Kisenosato and Takayasu having been knocked off of the leader board, we turn to Yokozuna Hakuho who holds the fate of every basho firmly in his grip. Today against Ozeki Goeido, I guess you could say the Yokozuna had a few choices to make as well. Choice number one was his approach at the tachi-ai. Hakuho's tachi-ai is easily defined as a forceful charge forward where he looks to get the right arm to the inside in order to set up the left outer grip. He's demonstrated that tachi-ai a few times this basho against the likes of heavyweights Terunofuji, Tokushoryu, Tochinoshin, etc. all with favorable results. So a question I have is...would there be any reason why he wouldn't use that tachi-ai against a certain rikishi?

Against Goeido today, he abandoned his bread and butter tachi-ai offering two hands to Goeido's neck before turning it into a slap that sent Goeido over to the edge. Instead of following his gal and finishing the Ozeki off, Hakuho waited to square back up, and when Goeido came close, Hakuho got his left arm deep to the inside and wildly drove Goeido to the straw. Goeido had no choice but to wrap his right arm around the Yokozuna's neck (the same thing he did against Harumafuji yesterday), but Hakuho was in complete command here crashing himself into the clay with the right shoulder while Goeido just hung on for the ride sorta like a rodeo clown whose lassoed a raging bull and trying to just hold on. The referee of course pointed in the Ozeki's direction as the crowd went wild, and Hakuho looked around feigning surprise like, "What? I won that right? He touched down first, right?"

Nope. You lose Hakuho. Beaten by Goeido again!

If you were looking at the finish of this bout and trying to detect something that Goeido did in order to send the Yokozuna down to the clay first, you're missing the forest for the trees. I already talked about the tachi-ai. Why would Hakuho not move forward against Goeido and look for the right inside position? Then, after swiping Goeido to the side, why would Hakuho not be in hot pursuit and shove the Ozeki out from behind? And then, when he did square back up getting the left to the inside, why would he commit on such a reckless charge before shoring his gal up with the right outer grip or right kote position? You don't have the best rikishi in the history of sumo make such blatant errors against a hapless rikishi like Goeido. Well, not if the Yokozuna's intention was to win.  And then there's the simple physics surrounding the bout.  In order to successfully mount a kubi-nage throw, you have to be planted to the dohyo and use your hips...two aspects curiously missing from today's finish.

I approach my comments each day as if all subsequent bouts will be fought straight up, and so my attempt yesterday was to paint sort of a dire straits picture in terms of a basho that lacked any potential for excitement the rest of the way. Terunofuji's Ozeki run...done. Chances of a Kaisei or Takayasu yusho...implausible. Kisenosato's yusho hopes...done with the loss to Terunofuji. I'm not sure at what point Hakuho made his decision, but instead of a lifeless basho the final three days, we now have a contest on our hands and an exciting leaderboard as we head towards the weekend! Hakuho is such a team player that it really burned me up when the media was on his case after his candid comments in January, and once again, he has snatched up a basho that was circling the drain and suddenly breathed new life into it. Make no mistake, Hakuho will take the Natsu basho yusho, but his act today has given a renewal of life to a tournament that was done as of Wednesday night.

As for Goeido, he is now 7-5, a mark he hasn't seen at this point of a basho as an Ozeki, well, ever.  His situation today kinda reminded me of that Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow.  Tom Cruise is totally hapless and incompetent in the beginning, but by some stroke of luck, he happens to get that alien's blue jelly into him, so he becomes the hero of the day and gets to spend the rest of the flick with a hot chick in tight clothing.

Before we get to the new leaderboard, let's move to the final bout of the day where Yokozuna Harumafuji kept his arms out wide as he stood straight up at the tachi-ai offering a meager pull attempt allowing Sekiwake Myogiryu to just plow straight into him sending him back and across the straw wildly in under two seconds. While Myogiryu is a more capable rikishi than his stable mate, I still have the same questions about Harumafuji's sumo today, especially in regards to his tachi-ai. What's the point of standing there with your arms wide open if your intent is to win the bout? It just doesn't compute with me and insults my intelligence, but the loyal Japanese fans are not acute enough to logically put it all together, and so we end day 12 with the arena all abuzz and me sick to my stomach.

If we must, let's reshuffle the leaderboard, which has now conveniently dipped down to the three-loss rikishi:

10-2: Hakuho, Kaisei
9-3: Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Okinoumi, Ikioi, Yoshikaze

In the eyes of the Japanese sumo fans, that's a lot more compelling than the following leaderboard:

11-1: Hakuho
10-2: Kaisei

Turning our attention to other bouts of interest, Komusubi Ichinojo got the right arm to the inside and latched onto M3 Sadanoumi's left arm at the tachi-ai, and there was nothing Sadanoumi could do at this point sucked into the abyss. Ichinojo quickly transferred that left kote grip into an outer grip scoring the force out win easy as you please as both dudes end the day at 6-6.

Komusubi Tochiohzan stayed low fishing for moro-zashi, and while he didn't get it to the extent that he was burrowed in tight, he neutralized M5 Tamawashi's ability to thrust forcing him into retreat mode. The Mawashi didn't really look to evade and really didn't do anything to counter as Tochiohzan just worked him to the side and out. Tamawashi's hands were wide at the tachi-ai, and I really didn't see any effort to thwart his opponent's attack, so I suspect that the Mongolian was mukiryoku here sorry to say. Tochiohzan is still alive at 5-7 while Tamwashi falls to 4-8.

M1 Tochinoshin got the right arm to the inside against M2 Toyonoshima denying him moro-zashi, and with Toyonoshima pressing in tight looking for a maki-kae, Shin gave him a nice gaburi shove back creating a bit of separation. As they hooked back up, Tochinoshin got his left arm to the inside and right arm to the outside of Tugboat's belt, and he used it to drag Toyonoshima over and down near the edge. Tochinoshin has been one of my favorite dudes to watch this basho as he moves to 6-6 while Toyonoshima's make-koshi is official at 4-8.

Credit M1 Takarafuji for attempting to get to the inside with the left arm against M6 Gagamaru, but there's too much girth there to really work with, and so he retreated and attempted to grab the back of Gagamaru's belt with the right hand and drag him down. His hand slipped off, however, leaving him standing there at the rope and upright, but Gagamaru conveniently whiffed on a shove-out attempt allowing Takarafuji to shift right again and send Gagamaru down by yanking at his extended left arm. Gagamaru's fall was a bit too wild for my taste considering the light amount of pressure applied, and this bout just didn't look natural to me. Probably yaocho here as Takarafuji moves to 6-6 while Gagamaru couldn't care less about his 5-7 mark. He'll gladly take that kin-boshi over Harumafuji in exchange for a loss to the Yokozuna's stablemate,Takarafuji.

M4 Tokushoryu kept his hands wide at the tachi-ai allowing M2 Aminishiki the clear path the inside, and Shneaky complied with a series of shoves straight up into Tokushoryu's torso and neck. Tokushoryu feigned a few pulls as he was driven back, but there was no intent to counter here as Aminishiki scored the easy pushout win. Tokushoryu was mukiryoku here from the tachi-ai as both parties finish the day 5-7. Wait...has there been a bout of sumo today I've called that hasn't been set up?

At least we know the M9 Endoh matchup will be real thank the gods. M5 Kitataiki was wide and half-assed at the tachi-ai gifting Endoh moro-zashi, and Elvis took advantage straightway forcing Kitataiki back to the edge. Kitataiki instinctively positioned himself for a right counter kote-nage, but you gotta move right to execute it. He didn't opting to put his right arm up around Endoh's neck just keeping it there as he stayed square in front of his foe allowing himself to be pushed out with ease. Endoh improves to 4-8 with the gift while Kitataiki falls to 2-10.

M7 Sadanofuji kept his eyes locked on his opponent offering beefy thrusts straight into his neck, and with Sadanofuji's length, there was just nowhere for M15 Jokoryu to hide resulting in the Sadamight literally choking his opponent upright and across in the end. Both fellas end the day at 4-8.

M8 Takekaze smelled blood against M13 Chiyomaru coming hard with his thrusting attack that worked to drive Chiyomaru back and around the ring, but in the process, it looked as if Takekaze's thrusts were sliding upwards due to the curvature of Maru's gut, so with Takekaze pushing up high, Chiyomaru was able to sneak to the side and then catch Takekaze with a left shoulder / shove that pushed him across the straw for the comeback win. Chiyomaru improves to 3-9 with the win while Takekaze falls to 5-7.

M16 Takanoiwa grabbed onto the early frontal belt grip with the left causing M9 Homarefuji to panic and evade left, but Takanoiwa stayed snug keeping his arms to the inside allowing him to take advantage of his retreating foe, force him back to the straw, and then send him across with a couple of shoves. Good stuff from Takanoiwa as both gentleman stand at 6-6.

M10 Okinoumi--who will be featured on the leaderboard tomorrow!--ducked his way in between M16 Amuuru's probing tsuppari to get the left to the inside where he just planted it into the Russian's side and shoved him sideways and out before Amuuru could evade to his left. Pretty straightforward stuff here as Okinoumi improves to 9-3 while Amuuru is still searching for kachi-koshi at 7-5.

M10 Ikioi and M11 Kyokushuho hooked up in migi-yotsu whereupon Ikioi drove Shuho straight back to the edge and then reversed gears dumping him back into the center of the ring with a nice scoop throw. Kyokushuho actually had the left outer grip but was completely mukiryoku here adding an exaggerated spin as he was thrown. With the win, Ikioi improves to 9-3 and will join the other on the leaderboard tomorrow while Kyokushuho falls to 8-4.

M12 Toyohibiki offered two hands into M12 Arawashi's throat and then just stood there waiting for Arawashi to shove him sideways with a single swipe. Toyohibiki went down just as they teach 'em in practice each morning, and that was that as Arawashi moves to 2-10 while Toyohibiki falls to 3-9.

M15 Kotoyuki used repeated tsuki into M13 Fujiazuma's torso to easily walk him back and across in a boring affair as Kotoyuki moves to 8-4 while Fujiazuma is 3-9.

And finally, M14 Yoshikaze shaded left against M14 Kyokutenho, hooked his right up and under Kyokutenho's left, and then shoved him down by the side in two seconds flat. Yoshikaze earns leader status now at 9-3 while Kyokutneho's engines have cooled a bit at 6-6.

Wow, what a day of sumo. Since I of course write all of my comments in chronological order as I watch the broadcast, you can imagine my frustration when I got to the final two bouts of the day. Of the 19 bouts today, it's my opinion that rikishi were mukiryoku in nine of them. Contrary to what many of you believe, I'm not looking for bouts of sumo to be fake. What I am looking for are tactics from both parties that factor into the result of the bout. When I see a guy with both arms wide open at the tachi-ai--and he's not ranked as an Ozeki, I get suspicious. When a guy's fall to the dirt doesn't match the action of his opponent who sent him sprawling, I get suspicious. When a losing rikishi doesn't even attempt a counter move, I get suspicious.

It makes no sense for a guy like Toyohibiki to purposefully lose to Arawashi, especially when you consider that he's never beaten the dude to begin with, but you watch this bout and the replay, and Toyo the Hutt is clearly just standing there employing no de-ashi waiting to be pulled down...all against the worst rikishi in the division at the moment.  It doesn't make sense that a guy would allow himself to suffer a key loss like this that could result in his demotion to Juryo, but it still doesn't mean that Toyohibiki wasn't mukiryoku. He absolutely was, and if I see a guy that isn't trying, I'm going to point it out.

Nuff said for today. Harvye tries to make sense of it all tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The day 11 broadcast opened with a graphic that showed a list of rikishi who spent just three basho or less in the Komusubi / Sekiwake ranks before being promoted to Ozeki. The only dude on the list that I saw fight with my own eyes was Miyabiyama, who took three basho, and while his stint at Ozeki was a disaster, there were other notable Yokozuna on the list like Futabayama and Yoshibayama who took two basho and then Hagurozan and Taiho who joined Miyabiyama at three basho. This theme was of course in reference to Terunofuji and his current quest for the Ozeki rank. Prior to the basho, several of the directors in the Association stated for the record that 13 wins and the yusho would likely get him promoted, but I've stated several times in the last few weeks that I thought that was too soon. Let the kid earn it the old fashioned way by winning 33 bouts or more over the span of three basho while ranked from the sanyaku. Regardless, NHK led with this theme today in order to hype the most anticipated match of the tournament: Hakuho vs. Terunofuji.

After slipping up twice to Maegashira rikishi, Terunofuji had to beat Hakuho today in order to keep those Ozeki hopes alive for May. With a Terunofuji win, the basho is literally turned up a notch as the Sekiwake would share the lead with Hakuho (just disregard any other rikishi) heading down the stretch. And with Harumafuji, Terunofuji's stablemate, sitting there on senshuraku to run interference, the more favorable schedule would belong to the Sekiwake. A Hakuho win, however, saddles Terunofuji with his third loss and puts the Yokozuna in the clear driver's seat the rest of the way.

Had Terunofuji been able to make it this far with maybe just one loss, I think they would have considered moving their date back a bit, but with Fuji the Terrible coming into the day with two losses, you couldn't show him that respect by prolonging his matchup with the Yokozuna when you have other two-loss rikishi as well, especially when one of them is an Ozeki. The Sumo Association really had no choice but to have them face off today, but it's kind of risky to play your biggest hand on a Wednesday, especially if the Yokozuna wins. I suppose we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit, however, so let's review the leaderboard at the start of day 11:

9-1: Hakuho, Kaisei
8-2: Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Okinoumi, Kyokushuho

Let's start with the leaders first in chronological order and then we'll go in reverse order from there the rest of the way.

M11 Kyokushuho offered a left hari-te that took too long to develop, and so M14 Yoshikaze slipped right, grabbed Kyokushuho's right arm in the kote fashion, and then yanked him over to the rope where he then assumed moro-zashi and scored the yori-kiri win from there. Yoshikaze picked up kachi-koshi in the process and knocked Kyokushuho down to the same record and thankfully off of the leaderboard. I have nothing against Kyokushuho, and I've appreciated his fighting spirit this basho, but having these low Maegashira guys "hanging around" is nothing but an annoyance. I know there are probably some that think, "Well, he's still technically in it. He could win out ya know." No, he's not technically in it, and if the Sumo Association was really taking him seriously, they wouldn't be having him fight as a leader in just the third bout on the docket. Case in point is Kaisei, who stands atop the leaderboard with Hakuho at one loss. They're so scared of him they're giving him Aoiyama on day 12. Pair 'em against Terunofuji, and now they're in the conversation.

Speaking of M11 Kaisei, he kept both arms in low and tight denying M16 Takanoiwa the inside, and from there he just lumbered forward nudging Takanoiwa back near the edge using his right arm to lift up beneath Takanoiwa's left, and it was good enough to disallow Takanoiwa an evasive maneuver, and so Kaisei just finished him off with two methodic shoves at the edge. Easy peasy Japanesey as Kaisei improves to 10-1 while Takanoiwa drops to 5-6.

M10 Okinoumi and M10 Ikioi clashed in hidari-yotsu, but Ikioi pinched in tight with his right outer position so much so that he was able to grab the right outer grip a few seconds in, and then it was text book from there: wrench your opponent upright and then dump him with a sweet belt throw. We never see such a basic tactic from the Ozeki.

And while we're on the subject of the Ozeki, I've been having a bit of difficulty describing in actual words the content of their sumo collectively. I think part of it is I'm frustrated by what I'm NOT seeing from them, and so it's hard to describe something that isn't there. Perhaps Kane sensed my frustration because he put it perfectly into words when he messaged me right before the day 11 bouts saying, "I keep thinking they should drive a small clown car onto the dohyo and all of the Ozeki jump out one by one and run around bouncing off each other." In a single sentence, he nailed it. And of course I had to have a picture to go along with the words, so I sent Kane a rough mockup, he provided the finishing touches...and I'm proud to introduce my first ever collaboration with Kane Roberts. It may not be a sweet rock n' roll song, but a picture is worth a thousand words indeed.

Okay, where were we? M8 Takayasu connected on a beautiful right hari-te against M16 Amuuru getting the left inside and right outer grip with such precision that the Russian didn't even know what hit him. Takayasu wasted no time in stepping to the side and wrenching Amuuru over and out, and it was smart move because if you go chest to chest with the taller dude, there's always the risk of a counter attack. Great stuff today as Takayasu keeps himself firmly on the leaderboard at 9-2 while Amuuru's kachi-koshi must wait another day at 7-4.

M4 Tokushoryu got the early left inside position from the tachi-ai against Ozeki Kisenosato but just stood there and let Kisenosato nudge him back, grab the right outer grip, and score the three second yori-kiri. I'm sorry I ever called this dude a clown as Kisenosato moves to 9-2 while Tokushoryu falls to 5-6.

And now it's time for the grand poobah. Yokozuna Hakuho gained moro-zashi from the start leading with the deep right, and instead of just crushing Sekiwake Terunofuji back and out--something he could have easily done, he let Terunofuji survive and actually maki-kae with the right arm turning the bout to migi-yotsu although the master maintained the left outer grip. The two dug in at this point for a few seconds, and Terunofuji proactively went for a right scoop throw to try and set something up, but it didn't even budge the Yokozuna, who used the momentum shift to wrench Terunofuji off balance using the left outer before putting his right hand at the back of Fuji's head and just dragging him down by the belt in about 10 seconds. Ballgame! Yusho to the Yokozuna.

This bout didn't even have to last that long, but you can't have the most anticipated bout of the tournament end in two seconds as a one-sided affair. And even though this thing played out for 10 seconds, it was still as one-sided as they come. The fact of the matter is that Terunofuji can let anybody else get moro-zashi on him and still survive, but not Hakuho. In choosing to lower the bar in the content of his sumo basho in and basho out, Hakuho has created the semblance that he is vulnerable, and Terunofuji walked right into it today. And while I don't think Hakuho was trying to send a statement with this match, he sent a statement that he is still far and away the best rikishi in the field as he moves to an insurmountable 10-1. As for Terunofuji, he falls off of the leaderboard at 8-3 and must wait until July at the earliest for promotion to Ozeki, but I honestly don't think the dude cares about Ozeki promotion this basho. The key for the Sekiwake is to learn from his mistakes, and his mistakes today were to let Hakuho breeze into moro-zashi and then stand there chest to chest thinking he was in some kind of stalemate. I'm confident the kid will learn and progress just as he has done the last few basho, and I still expect him to improve to a level where he can defeat Hakuho all on his own sometime next year. This third loss won't phase the kid, and besides, there's no room for him in that Mini Cooper anyway.

With the leaderboard reshuffled at this point, the race for the yusho is as follows:

10-1: Hakuho, Kaisei
9-2: Kisenosato, Takayasu

Fortunately, Kaisei and Takayasu are fighting well enough and low enough to continue to make this interesting on paper. As for Kisenosato, he's got his work cut out for him tomorrow against Terunofuji. Let's see what the Sekiwake decides to do in this one.

In other bouts of interest, Yokozuna Harumafuji demanded the right inside position at the tachi-ai from Ozeki Goeido and then easily grabbed the left outer grip aligning his chest with the Ozeki. Goeido was unable to mount a counter move or apply sufficient defensive pressure, and so Harumafuji gathered his wits and just steamrolled Goeido back and out. On his way back, Goeido went for a senseless maki-kae with the right, but that just left him vulnerable for a wicked trip off of the clay had Harumafuji chosen to send him flying. Thankfully he didn't, and as far as I could tell, Goeido came away largely unscathed with the rouge on is cheeks still intact. Harumafuji clinches kachi-koshi with the easy victory while Goeido slips to 6-5. Don't look now, but he draws Hakuho tomorrow.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku offered a timid left hari-te against M6 Aoiyama, and then he was just up to the mercy of his opponent. Aoiyama wasn't in a giving mood today, unfortunately, getting the right to the inside with ease and demolishing the Ozeki back and out in about two seconds. The Geeku falls to a dangerous 5-6 and must stop the beast known as Takayasu tomorrow.  Something tells me Takayasu will go easy on him.

Sekiwake Myogiryu and M5 Tamawashi traded a few tsuppari with the Sekiwake looking to get to the inside while Tamawashi was trying to shove his foe off balance. A few seconds into the fray, Myogiryu timed a pretty good pull move that knocked Tamawashi off balance and off of his game, so by the time The Mawashi squared back up, Myogiryu was finally able to get to the inside that he covets and score the force-out win. Both fellas end the day at 4-7.

Komusubi Tochiohzan got the early right arm to the inside and looked to mount a charge, but M3 Sadanoumi grabbed the left outer grip and just retreated dangerously towards the edge looking for a quick pull. With Tochiohzan committed to the push, it was now a question of whether or not Sadanoumi could keep his last foot on the ropes before Tochiohzan crashed down. The referee saw it in Oh's favor, but a mono-ii reversed that decision as Tochiohzan's left elbow clearly touched the dirt before Sadanoumi was out. Tough break here as Tochiohzan falls to 4-7 while Sadanoumi is poised to take over that Komusubi slot at 6-5. I still don't think Sadanoumi's been kicking ass this basho, and his act today didn't help that perception, but he's one of the most formidable dudes Japan has at the moment.

M2 Aminishiki came with a right choke hold into Komusubi Ichinojo's neck (yes, Ichinojo has a neck!) keeping the Mongolith upright, but the question from there was, "How does Shneaky get to the inside?" Due to weak de-ashi, he didn't, and he was ultimately forced turn to the bout to migi-yotsu, and from there, Ichinojo got his right arm easily to the inside and lifted Aminishiki over and back without argument. Ichinojo plods along to 5-6 while Aminishiki is 4-7.

M1 Takarafuji and M1 Tochinoshin hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai as you'd expect, but Takarafuji kept his hips back and away from the outer grip. Both rikishi jockeyed like this for eight seconds or so until Tochinoshin timed a perfect maki-kae with the right hand giving him the clean moro-zashi. Takarafuji didn't anticipate the move and was had at this point as Tochinoshin scored the methodic force-out win from there leaving both dudes 5-6. Ya know, with Tochinoshin ranked up high on the banzuke of late, there's no doubt he's taking notes from the Ozeki and learning all of these sweet sumo moves from them. Or not.

M5 Kitataiki charged hard into M2 Toyonoshima who was looking for moro-zashi all the way, but he only got the right to the inside while Kitataiki kept his left arm up high and in tight. This defensive tactic from Kitataiki was okay, but it didn't give him an opening to attack, and so Tugboat started up the diesel engines and just bodied the upright Kitataiki back and out with relative ease on his way to a 4-7 record. Kitataiki is not only battered physically, but he's way over matched at this level on the banzuke falling to 2-9.

M12 Toyohibiki won the tachi-ai with some good tsuppari against M6 Gagamaru, and it actually set up the path to easy moro-zashi, but Toyohibiki just stood there and let Gagamaru readjust securing the left to the inside while grabbing the right outer grip. Toyohibiki looked to dig in at this point with his own left to the inside, but he just let Gagamaru drive him back and out offering little resistance along the way. There was like this weird pause just after the tachi-ai, and it was Toyohibiki refraining from continued forward movement until Gagamaru could get settled. Not sure of the politics behind this bout, but Toyohibiki was mukiryoku here no doubt. He suffers make-koshi at 3-8 as a result while Gagamaru improves to 5-6.

M7 Sadanofuji struck hard at the tachi-ai gaining the deep left inside position and right outer grip against M13 Fujiazuma, and from there he just powered Fujiazuma back to the edge causing Mainoumi to declare his position as "banzen ni yuuri," or the complete advantage, but for some inexplicable reason, Sadanofuji just released his right outer grip and pressed his palm into Fujiazuma's gut. And when I say "pressed" I mean lightly pressing a gauze pad against an open wound. From there, Fujiazuma was able to grab his own outer grip and turn the tables forcing Sadanofuji out in the end. The announcers were just befuddled at Sadanofuji's actions, and why not? You can't explain such sumo. Both rikishi fall to 3-8 as a result of Sadanofuji's gift.

M8 Takekaze came with both palms extended against M9 Endoh and then lightly swiped downward at Endoh's dickey do throwing Elvis off balance, and at this point Takekaze moved in with the right hand at the back of Endoh's head and left at the shoulder. Just like yesterday, Endoh was in a pickle at this point, but just like yesterday, his opponent graciously let him out of the hold, and so Endoh was able to square back up and "survive" Takekaze's meager pull attempts from there on his way to what would turn out to be the easy oshi-dashi win. Hallelujah! Endoh's gonna stay in the division as he improves to 3-8 while Takekaze takes one for team sumo falling to 5-6 in the process.

M9 Homarefuji used some good shoves right into M15 Jokoryu's grill and upper torso forcing him back near the edge where Homarefuji just reversed gears springing the pull trap and yanking Jokoryu forward and down. Good thing Homarefuji had Jokoryu pushed all the way to the brink because he needed every centimeter of the dohyo to keep himself in the ring going the opposite direction as Jokoryu tumbled to the dirt. Homarefuji gets his head above water at 6-5 while Jokoryu falls to 4-7.

M14 Kyokutenho came with the early left inside and right kote grip against ailing M12 Arawashi, and the force-out from the Chauffer took two seconds...if that. Kyokutenho moves to 6-5 with the win while Arawashi is completely defenseless at 1-10.

And finally, M15 Kotoyuki and M13 Chiyomaru engaged in a tsuppari affair where both dudes had their knees locked meaning there were a lot of shoves thrown around with little effect. Kotoyuki was the more proactive of the two, and it seemed as if Chiyomaru spent most of his energy waxing on and off against KotoLoogie's onslaught, but it didn't matter in the end as the livelier Kotoyuki scored the tsuki-dashi win. That was ruled tsuki-dashi?? Kotoyuki is 7-4 while Chiyomaru falls to 2-9.

I'm back again tomorrow, and one of these days I'll keep my promise to keep the comments short.

Day 10 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I got a text from Kane this morning (after watching the day 10 bouts) that simply said, "What the heck was that?" Not only has Kane learned to cuss like a Mormon, but he understands bad sumo when he sees it. I knew right away that he was referring to the Harumafuji - Gagamaru matchup specifically, but as we briefly chatted back and forth, it was clear that we had both witnessed the worst day of sumo this basho, and it may have ranked even higher than that, but with Takamisakari finally seated in the mukou-joumen chair, it's hard to have a really bad day of sumo. Since we are well into week 2, let's focus our attention on NHK's leaderboard, which dipped down to the two-loss rikishi meaning it shaped up as follows:

8-1: Hakuho, Kaisei, Kyokushuho
7-2: Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Okinoumi

First up among the leaders was M11 Kaisei who kept his arms in low and tight befuddling M16 Amuuru who likes to duck low and fish to the inside, and with no momentum from the Russian, Kaisei began a methodical charge with average shoves, and Amuuru's response was a weak move to the left and a pull. Kaisei was all over that like stink to bait scoring the easy push-out win. He's your first 9-1 rikishi if you need him while Amuuru has cooled just a bit at 7-3.

Next up was M10 Okinoumi who faced the semi-hot M15 Kotoyuki who offered his usual thrusts at the tachi-ai into Okinoumi's torso, but his legs weren't into the affair allowing Okinoumi to back up going along for the ride and then spring the tsuki-otoshi trap at the edge moving to his right and sending KotoLoogie down using his forward momentum against him. The key here was Kotoyuki's lack of confidence that was manifest in his poor footwork, and so Okinoumi was able to clinch kachi-koshi at 8-2 and stay on the leaderboard with a purely defensive bout.

Two of our leaders clashed where M11 Kyokushuho was beat at the tachi-ai by M8 Takayasu's sheer force as Takayasu gained the left inside forcing the bout to the belt and then grabbing the right outer grip a few seconds later. When Kyokushuho felt that outer grip, he immediately went for a left counter scoop throw, but Takayasu was nestled in too tight and was able to take advantage of the momentum shift to fire off two outer belt throws felling Kyokushuho down to the clay on the second attempt. Pretty good sumo from Takayasu who moves to 8-2 tied with Kyokushuho.

Sekiwake Terunofuji gave up moro-zashi to M2 Toyonoshima at the tachi-ai, but it mattered little as he just pinched in tightly from the outside and used his size and gut to force Toyonoshima back and across with little argument. The key to the bout was lifting Toyonoshima upright, and that's the same tactic that Tokushoryu used to beat Fuji the Terrible yesterday. Lift 'em off balance and attack; it's beautiful sumo. Terunofuji is a cool 8-2 with the win while Toyonoshima falls to the brink at 3-7.

Ozeki Kisenosato and Ozeki Goeido hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Goeido forced his gal back a few steps before Kisenosato dug in and forced the action back the other way. As he back pedaled, Goeido went for the stupid kubi-nage throw with his right completely compromising his position and allowing Kid Sato to just continue moving forward and knock Goeido across the edge. This match was so lightweight with little force exerted from either party that it hardly looked like two Ozeki fighting. Is it too much to ask two belt fighters to go chest to chest and jockey for belt grips? In the case of these two, the answer is clear. Sorry folks, but this was not Ozeki sumo and just looked awkward.  I mean,  how often do we see a slap on the back from the victor at the edge? At any rate, Kisenosato is in the hunt at 8-2 while Goeido falls to 6-4. With Terunofuji and both Yokozuna still to go, Goeido has no more room to spare.

In the Yokozuna ranks, Hakuho simply demanded moro-zashi from the tachi-ai driving the hapless M4 Tokushoryu back and out so fast that Tokushoryu was actually airborne at one point. Wow!  We haven't seen this from the Yokozuna yet this basho, and it's not as if Tokushoryu is a total slouch. Look what he was able to do against Terunofuji yesterday. I'm of the opinion that Hakuho could do this every day if he wanted, and while beating his opponents in two seconds is unrealistic, he can absolutely get an inside position and use his powerful legs to body anyone back and across the straw. This was fantastic stuff as Hakuho makes a statement at 9-1. Tokushoryu is doing well to stay at 5-5.

If we must, Yokozuna Harumafuji put his left hand at M6 Gagamaru's shoulder and did nothing better with the right hand kind of backing up a bit from the start, and so Gagamaru planted a stump into the dirt and caught Harumafuji with a single left shot to the throat that sent Harumafuji back to the edge where he sloppily stepped out as he turned to see where he was in the dohyo. This bout was riddled with mistakes from the Yokozuna, but we see this often from Harumafuji where he fights with reckless abandon and loses in ridiculous fashion. The difference between Harumafuji and the Ozeki is that Harumafuji can help it, and I've commented before why I think he intentionally gets sloppy. At 7-3, he's out of the yusho picture while Gagamaru picks up his first ever kin-boshi at 4-6. Before we move on, they fortunately had enough time left in the broadcast to bring Gagamaru into the interview booth, and the dude went on and on and on. I think they asked him a total of two questions, but he just started baring his soul all the while breathing heavily into the microphone. They finally had to cut him off and send it back up to the booth, and Kariya Announcer laughed as he said, "I think he could have gone on for another 30 more minutes." I find that I'm enjoying these candid moments of the broadcast more than I am the sumo.

Before we move to the other bouts of note, let's reshuffle the leaderboard.

9-1: Hakuho, Kaisei
8-2: Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Kyokushuho, Okinoumi

The only two guys capable of taking the yusho from that bunch are Hakuho and Terunofuji, and while Hakuho may let Fuji get him again this basho, he won't fall to him twice.

In other bouts of interest, Sekiwake Myogiryu got the firm left arm to the inside against Ozeki Kotoshogiku at the tachi-ai and had his choice of moro-zashi with the right or an effective frontal belt grip, but he let his right float out wide so the Ozeki could get established to the inside himself. As is usually the case, the Ozeki just charged forward at the mercy of his opponent, and luckily for him, Myogiryu just stayed upright and failed to counter as he was driven back and across with little fanfare. If you watch this one from the reverse angle, you can see Myogiryu's great position from the tachi-ai, but he just wastes it in favor of padding the Ozeki's record. And he needs all the padding he can get moving to 5-5 with a brutal schedule yet to come. Myogiryu falls to 3-7, but he'll have his reward.

Komusubi Ichinojo used a moro-te-zuki tachi-ai to keep M1 Takarafuji completely upright and away from the inside with continued hams to the face. Takarafuji moved laterally looking for an opening, and just when he looked to get the right arm to the inside, Ichinojo countered with a right scoop throw sending Takarafuji down to the clay. Ichinojo was fully in charge from the start in this one as he moves to 4-6. With a light load the rest of the way, Ichinojo's got a great shot at kachi-koshi. It would be nice to see him take his rightful place to the West of Terunofuji in the Sekiwake ranks. Takarafuji falls to 5-5 and is still in good shape to take over Ichinojo's Komusubi seat.

Komusubi Tochiohzan took advantage of an M2 Aminishiki right hari-te by getting the left to the inside, but before he could get established, Aminishiki backed up reaching his long left arm over the top grabbing Tochiohzan's belt and dragging him down in two seconds flat. Oh was caught napping here as both rikishi finish at 4-6.

M1 Tochinoshin offered a left hari-te at the tachi-ai that never connected and then used some surprising tsuppari to keep M3 Sadanoumi at bay, but Shin's legs weren't into it allowing Sadanoumi to easily slip out left, and when Tochinoshin attempted to square back up, Sadanoumi got the easy right inside and left outer grip mounting a forward charge that Tochinoshin answered by just leaning back and then stepping across without an attempt to counter. Sadanoumi was way up high at the edge and there for the tsuki-otoshi taking, but Shin just walked back leading me to believe that this bout was bought and paid for in some manner. Sadanoumi moves to 5-5 with the win while Tochinoshin falls to 4-6.

M5 Tamawashi kept M5 Kitataiki away from the inside with his tsuppari attack, and then near the edge when Kitataiki attempted to get his left arm to the inside, Tamawashi immediately committed on the right kote-nage throw sending Kitataiki down with ease. Tamawashi moves to 4-6 while Kitataiki suffers make-koshi at 2-8.

M6 Aoiyama rammed a left shoulder into M10 Ikioi and then grabbed the early left outer grip, but he relinquished that grip for no reason and then kept his arms out wide allowing Ikioi to just plow forward with moro-zashi and score the quick yori-kiri win. Not sure of the political implications behind this one, but Aoiyama gave him the victory. Ikioi moves to a safe 7-3 while you know both Aoiyama (6-4) and Tochinoshin will eat well tonight. I really think these two Easter Eur-ape-eans are in the top eight or so in the sport in terms of ability, but they likely exchange wins for caish here and there, and how can you blame them?

M7 Sadanofuji came with tsuppari at the tachi-ai, but used no legs for the attack just standing there with his arms extended, and M12 Arawashi figured it out pretty fast yanking his opponent forward and down by his extended arms. This was clearly mukiryoku sumo on the part of Sadanofuji who falls to 3-7 while Arawashi picks up his first win against nine losses.

M12 Toyohibiki used a proactive charge from the tachi-ai extending his arms and looking to set up a shove attack, but M8 Takekaze had mawari-komu on his mind from the start skirting and pulling Toyohibiki down with a tug at his extended left arm. Takekaze moves to 5-5 and nobody still cares while Toyohibiki is 3-7.

M9 Endoh drove M13 Chiyomaru back quickly from the tachi-ai, but Maru dug in and returned fire in the form of even better tsuppari that drove Endoh all the way back to the other side of the dohyo, but he dialed down the force at the edge and lamely pushed into Endoh's face allowing Endoh to grab the front of the belt and force the action back to the center of the ring. Chiyomaru instinctively went for a pull with a right to the back of Endoh's head and a left at the back of his shoulder causing Endoh to slump forward and face the dohyo much like an 85 year-old o-baachan pushing her little shopping cart down the street, but Chiyomaru let him out of it, and in the end, Endoh squared back up and mounted a yori charge where Maru just stood there and took his medicine like a man. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'll stop calling yaocho when the rikishi stop doing it. Endoh moves to 2-8 with the win, and he only needs two more to stay in the division for July. Chiyomaru falls to the same paltry mark.

M9 Homarefuji used busy tsuppari to keep M14 Kyokutenho away from the belt, and as Kyokutenho advanced with tsuppari of his own, Homarefuji quickly moved out right with an average pull and then jumped in with a right to the inside. While the sumo wasn't great here, Homarefuji's speed allowed him to get to the inside and score the quick yori-kiri win over the aging Kyokutenho. Both fellas are even steven at day's end.

M15 Jokoryu came with the early left from the tachi-ai ot the inside, but m13 Fujiazuma tsuppari'ed his way out of the yotsu-zumo contest and then went for the kill looking to have Jokoryu dead to rights, but quick as a cat, Jokoryu moved out right and threw Fujiazuma down with a right belt throw at the edge. I don't know how Jokoryu's has managed even a 4-6 record while Fujiazuma falls to 2-8.

And finally, M14 Yoshikaze offered two hands at the tachi-ai and then quickly moved left pulling M16 Takanoiwa (5-5) down in a second flat improving to 7-3 in the process.

I'm back at it again tomorrow and will likely just comment on the leaders and the jo'i in the interest of time...something I don't have a lot of these days.

Day 9 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
This tournament continues to be characterized by a large number of high win guys, including three of the four pre-tournament most likely champions: Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Terunofuji (minus long shot Ichinojo). With them among a fun pack of six guys at 7-1 today, that gives us plenty of interest to ride through week two. A possible break-out performance for Sadanofuji and a quiet sanyaku push by Takarafuji also make good storylines. Endo's terrible, broken-down performance is a story, but only because Endo still qualifies as "famous for being famous."

Day nine is the tail end of the dog days of the tournament--Harumafuji is paired against Tamawashi, land's sakes!--so today let's do an experiment and talk about expectations.

If I'm due to write a report, I often write the intro the day before, and I may also jot down some sentences of things I want to say about individual wrestlers and bouts. This saves a lot of time on game day and helps organize my thoughts. At its best, it ends up dovetailing perfectly with results, and the writing flows smoothly. However, the opposite often happens, too: the intro I wrote has nothing to do with or is at odds with the feel of the actual day, the individual bouts don't resemble anything I imagined, and I have to reconstruct or even scrap and rewrite.

How much predictive ability do we actually have? For most of us, not much. This is not news: that's why betting on sports is fundamentally attractive to people--you can beat long odds often enough to make people go back to the well again and again. But the oddsmakers usually are closest of all to right: that's why they have that job. This site states that it offers "expert analysis." I do know a good bit about sumo--though reading the forum and the comments tells me most of you know equally much and that there are a handful of you well more versed than I am. Nevertheless, no false modesty today: for the purposes of today's exercise, let us admit I do mostly know what I'm talking about, and am to a fair degree qualified to be the predictor today. Therefore, my expectations of what will happen in a bout should mostly be on target. Right?


Let's find out. Here's how it works: for each bout I've written up an "expectations" blurb before watching any of the matches of the day, which is narrative rather than "pick ‘em" style, but includes a prediction of the outcome. I will then write up the actual report after watching that bout. At the end I'll sum up how it went. In keeping with the theme, this intro was written before the day; the outro will be written after.

M14 Yoshikaze (5-3) vs. M15 Kotoyuki (6-2)
Expectation: Kotoyuki is feeling confident and is earning it; he is using his size well and dominating opponents with battering wins that remind me of Aoiyama. I've feared this guy was going to take a leap forward for a few tournaments now, and it is happening. Yoshikaze is still the better wrestler, but he may over-think and over-dance this one and find a loss while he still thinks he's setting something up.
Result: Kotoyuki looked over-cautious and got turned around in a tsuppari battle and was pushed out okuri-dashi. He also came in too high, and so lost this one from the tachi-ai.

M15 Amuuru (6-2) vs. M12 Toyohibiki (3-5)
Expectation: Amuuru is looking good; has he found his Makuuchi feet a bit? I will say yes but still can do no better than give him a retreating jump-out-of-the-way-at-the-edge-as-the-other-guy-falls-down win here.
Result: Nice match here, though it was keyed by evasion. Aggressive, head butting tachi-ai, and Toyohibiki had the initially momentum. However, Amuuru put a quick end to that by stepping out to his left, then re-engaged with a strong left inside belt grip, followed by an impressive shitate-nage: Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) is big and experienced, but Amuuru didn't let him move much once he had him wrapped up. Could we be seeing the wind-down of Toyohibiki as a Makuuchi rikishi?

M12 Arawashi (0-8) vs. M15 Jokoryu (2-6)
Expectation: I expect bad sumo. This is one Arawashi can win; with the bad knee Jokoryu can't keep up with the pace in this one. Expect evasion and maybe a tottari win for Arawashi.
Result: This one was close, and they got on the belt and battled it out in the "nage no uchi ai" where each guy tries to use his grip to win a simultaneous throw. As Arawashi had gotten inside by a minor tachi-ai henka, happy this worked out in the end for lame but game Jokoryu: during the throw-test, he not only leveraged with his winning shitate-nage grip, but pushed in with his body, causing Arawashi to fall down partially backwards. Nice work by Noni (Jokoryu).

M16 Takanoiwa (5-3) vs. M11 Kyokushuho (7-1)
Expectation: Working from the top down, I found I predicted hardly any backwards moving or pull wins. That in itself is interesting--who wants to imagine crappy sumo?--and polyanna-ish, so I'll put a pull here. Kyokushuho may be overconfident and there is nothing in it for anyone for this guy to be in the yusho race; time for him to take a fall.
Result: Takanoiwa henka'ed mightily, but Kyokushuho was ready for it, and spun with Takanoiwa, then stopped the momentum and turned the match in the other direction, knocking Takanoiwa down with a disdainful tsuki-otoshi about the shoulders. Thank you.

M14 Kyokutenho (5-3) vs. M10 Okinoumi (6-2)
Expectation: Hmmm. I love it that Kyokutenho is getting it done lately, surprising me for like the 18th basho in a row, but at this point in their careers Okinoumi is the better wrestler and I think he gets a no-no-nonsense win; I'll even give him an uwate-nage.
Result: Okinoumi just looked younger, faster, more powerful, and better: he got a quick moro-zashi and ushered Kyokutenho out yori-kiri so easily it looked like he was doing a "fantasy camp" courtesy bout against someone like me.

M13 Fujiazuma (1-7) vs. M9 Endo (1-7)
Expectation: Sigh. I wish I expected that Endo would take this weak opponent as a chance to display his superior technique and get a satisfying, clear win, but I don't. I think we continue to see how far Endo has fallen and how much his injury is affecting him in a dominant oshi-dashi win by Juryo/Makuuchi ping-pong-ball Fujiazuma.
Result: It started with oshi-dashi progress by Fujiazuma, but Endo prevented the quick loss by stepping to the side. Fujiazuma sought him quickly and they grabbed each other by the belt. There were a few moments of honest struggle after that, but Fujiazuma worked Endo to a confident yori-kiri tune. The sad thing this match is that the best thing Endo had going for him was evasion, and even that he executed poorly: he had Fujiazuma with his back to him but didn't get to him quickly enough to take advantage, and was dead meat once Fujiazuma was back on track. I will give Endo credit for not doing a lot of evasion normally, but he is getting killed straight up.

M11 Kaisei (7-1) vs. M8 Takayasu (7-1)
Expectation: Funny to find it so early in the day, but this is today's marquee match-up. Both guys are not only fighting well, but still have some potential. Kaisei is not young, but has learned to use his bulk better and more consistently the last few tournaments, and Takayasu is young and still has an outside chance of putting it all together. I like him better when he fights on the belt, but I think he goes tsuppari here in deference to Kaisei's size and wins it. I also expect both wrestlers to go all out; they want that eight and an inside track to a special prize. I'm looking forward to this one.
Result: Interesting. Nice, loud slapping chesty tachi-ai, and Takayasu trying and succeeding in getting a quick left grip and intending to turn and sling Kaisei out. However, Kaisei used his weight and power well, and instead of being slung out he used the momentum of Takayasu's turn to swerve-drive him over the bales, keeping him pulled in close despite having nothing but one tight arm around the upper back. Dominant yori-kiri work.

M8 Takekaze (3-5) vs. M9 Homarefuji (4-4)
Expectation: Blech. Homarefuji please show me your quiet 4-4 is a sign of slow and steady improvement… but no, Takekaze is too experienced and should eat up a bout like this with a little henka, evasion, and tsuki-otoshi.
Result: Takekaze dominated this one with experience and a plan. His hard, pushing tachi-ai neutralized Homarefuji, then Kaze mid-match-henka'ed heavily to his right, letting Homarefuji lurch into imbalance. Takekaze approached Homarefuji and applied pushes and light tsuppari, but it was already academic as his disoriented opponent pretty much just fell down hiki-otoshi.

M13 Chiyomaru (2-6) vs. M7 Sadanofuji (2-6)
Expectation: Meh. Two big roundies. I think Sadanofuji is just better, and I'll give him a yori-kiri win.
Result: Sadanofuji went in way too high off the tachi-ai, and that let Chiyomaru get the momentum and push him backwards. However, Chiyomaru has minimal reaction mobility, and when Sadanofuji very easily stepped to his side, Chiyomaru got gummed-up and put on the defensive. Sadanofuji went in very hard with blasting thrusts to a spinning Chiyomaru, finishing it off by returning to what he started with, hard-hands-to-the-face, and his scouting report on that must have been good as he got this excellent oshi-dashi win. The bottom line here was Sadanofuji had more presence in the ring as well as more power.

M6 Gagamaru (3-5) vs. M10 Ikioi (5-3)
Expectation: Ikioi should be able to befuddle Gagamaru with hyperkinetic tsuppari and knock him over like an overweight bowling pin in 5-10 seconds.
Result: One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand, six-one-thousand… no toppling necessary! Ikioi pushed Gagamaru out in six seconds oshi-dashi, and didn't need any tsuppari to do it, just hands to the body. Nice Force by Ikioi. When you can beat your opponent in his area of strength, it shows a clear difference in level, and these guys' ranks will properly re-order next basho.

M5 Kitataiki (2-6) vs. M6 Aoiyama (5-3)
Expectation: Mismatch. Aoiyama destroys Kitataiki tsuki-dashi.
Result: Aoiyama was cautious, and in a tsuppari battle, backed up and pulled Kitataiki down with a carefully considered and skillfully applied hataki-komi. He was fully in control here, but should practice being The Man, not imitating lesser flesh. This reminded me of a lot of Hakuho's whoopsy-daisy wins over the last year or so.

M2 Aminishiki (3-5) vs. M1 Tochinoshin (3-5)
Expectation: 3-5 at M2 is pretty good for Aminishiki, and with guys like Osunaarashi dropping out and Sadanoumi coming back to earth, Aminishiki may once again rise out of the mess for a surprise 8-7. If so, he needs some heady, genki trickery here. I don't think it will happen--Tochinoshin is too good right now. Expect Aminishiki to look like a dead mealy bug instead here--happens to him sometimes.
Result: Tochinoshin actually henka'ed, and Aminishiki was too surprised by this turning of the usual tables to come up with any "oh yeah but watch this!" sassy-creative retort. After Aminishiki found his balance, Chestnut Heart (Tochinoshin) was on him immediately for an easy tsuki-dashi win. Dead Mealy Bug (Aminishiki) had the ironic bad grace to look pissed off with a "yeah, okay, I lost" bow.

M2 Toyonoshima (3-5) vs. K Ichinojo (2-6)
Expectation: Ichinojo is looking slow and beatable, and Toyonoshima can exploit this. I'm calling for an upset here with Toyonoshima getting underneath the Iron Blob of Gravity Grease and leveraging him out with max belly effort, putting the stamp of surety on this disappointing, weakness-exposing basho for Ichinojo.
Result: Toyonoshima tried damn hard here, maintaining, keeping a careful distance, and weathering some powerful slaps and thrusts by Ichinojo, who looked like a cat playing with a macramé mouse. After a minute of this they paused to think about it, then both decided chest-on-chest might work better: Zoooooop! they sucked in towards each other like two magnets your kid finally gets close enough to each other to make ‘em slide across the carpet. Ichinojo then used his size: pinched both arms from above, and let Toyonoshima have both arms inside, which was useless as in this position Toyonoshima's brief belt grip was fingertip-quality. The Mongolith then dragged Macramé around the ring, bounding about on fat pins, and belly flopped on top of him as he felled him backwards over the straw yori-taoshi. Both guys looked good here, I think.

K Tochiohzan (3-5) vs. M1 Takarafuji (5-3)
Expectation: Interesting battle between an excellent guy unfortunately taking the first steps on the road to has-been and an up-and-comer who doesn't want to end up going from a maybe-someday to a never-wuzzer (to steal words from a great quote about the 1969 New York Mets). I think they're about even: I want and hope to see a tight, tense belt battle and my sense is just that Takarafuji's day may have already started--give it to him yori-kiri.
Result: Excellent pre-tachi-ai strategizing as Takarafuji put both fists down and focused mightily while Tochiohzan took that opportunity to watch his opponent carefully, hold his wrists back from the dirt, and go at the exact moment he wanted to. Tochiohzan worked hard to get moro-zashi, but Takarafuji did not let him get it, leading to Tochiohzan resorting to a pull. This turned the momentum in Tochiohzan's favor, however; when Takarafuji didn't advance hard and fast enough, Tochiohzan reversed gears, finally got his arms to the inside, and when Takarafuji tried to escape, ran him down to an oshi-taoshi loss.

S Terunofuji (7-1) vs. M4 Tokushoryu (4-4)
Expectation: Against competition like this, Tokushoryu is a useless blubber ball. Terunofuji should be smelling the glory rolling in, and I expect him to grab, dump, and destroy Tokushoryu likkety-split.
Result: Great match. The Future (Terunofuji) put both hands on the dirt and patiently waited with a look that said, "you got nothing. Let's go." However, the match was all "guess again." Yeah, Teru got Special Soysauce (Tokushoryu) moving backwards, but Saucy easily evaded at the tawara. On try #2 Fuji the Terrible (Terunofuji) got Special about half way across the ring before Saucy again did a little lilting turn that changed the momentum. Finally, Special Sauce pounced: he had an overhand right grip, and he heaved hard on it, impressively sending Terunofuji right to the tawara (which is exactly what Teru did to Ichinojo the other day). From there, Sauce stuck his left hand up onto Terunofuji's body, keeping Terunofuji bent backwards and unable to apply any pressure, and chugged his legs hard and pushed The Future out to a yori-kiri loss. This was a shocker. So much for expectations.

O Kisenosato (6-2) vs. M3 Sadanoumi (4-4)
Expectation: This is an excellent test of Sadanoumi. Does he smell kachi-koshi and go all out, or is he satisfied with four in the first week (great from this position) and give one up here? I think he goes for it. I also still think Kisenosato is better than him, Sadanoumi is too small, and Kisenosato grabs him and patiently pushes him out and back oshi-dashi.
Result: That's what happened (‘cept yori-kiri, not oshi-dashi). Hey! Glad I get to say that at least once today.

"O" Goeido (5-3) vs. O Kotoshogiku (4-4)
Expectation: Pure theatre here. Kotoshogiku has fewer wins, so needs one, and may get the trade in on his old Chevy. Expect Goeido to heave mightily about as if he just can't do anything about Kotoshogiku's vaunted gaburi power.
Result: Lurch! Pull! Ug! Blart! These two went at it hard and close, Kotoshogiku looking for drive and Goeido looking for pull opportunities, and Goeido found a nice moment to twist Kotoshogiku and push him down by the head sukui-nage. I will give them credit: I saw no theatre here.

M5 Tamawashi (2-6) vs. Y Harumafuji (7-1)
Expectation: Sometimes Tamawashi does well in the jo'i, but he belongs just below it, and he has looked lackluster this tournament. No reason for Harumafuji to lose today, and I expect he will blow the beejeezuss out of Tamawashi.
Result: Ridiculous. From the moment I heard the announcers talk about how Tamawashi was still seeking his fist kinboshi I suspected we might be in trouble. And Harumafuji just kind of stood there thinking of the beauteous waters of Lake Kucherla as his friend battered away at him. However, the battering did so little to the Yokozuna that Office Worker (Tamawashi) had to step back to reconsider; Harumph (Harumafuji) looked at the huge separation, thought, "well, okay," and nonchalantly ducked in there with a gimpy lurch, allowing Office Worker to knock him aside, at which point Harumphy clumsily put his foot outside of the ring and the gyoji called it for Tamawashi by tsuki-otoshi. Mukiryoku all the way. AAAAAGGGGGHHH!

Y Hakuho (7-1) vs. S Myogiryu (3-5)
Expectation: These days Hakuho likes to deek around with little breast pokes and such against guys he's giving a chance to, but dominate guys he's giving a message to. No message needed here--Myogiryu is not a threat and not making waves--so I expect the former: cautious looking little hand jabs and some retreat from Hakuho, but ultimately a win.
Result: I am happy to say I was wrong: Hakuho just watched the other two important leaders lose, and his approach in this match seemed to say, "okay, so I'm going to win the tournament now." He bulldozer-plowed out Myogiryu in three and a half seconds kime-dashi.

Results Summary:
What themes did I see in comparing expectations to results today? You are intelligent readers, and may have drawn other conclusions, but honestly mostly what I culled out of expectations vs. results was that there was very little correlation between the two. That could mean anything, from an outlier day to me being a bad prognosticator, but I think it means just what it suggests: sumo is hard to predict. And I don't mean that in the results/betting sense (btw, I went 10-9): I mean in the way bouts will develop and what aspects of a guy you'll see, what strategies will be chosen: my predictive ability was next to zilch. Also, if you reread my opening paragraph, it has a very "yesterday's news" feel (which of course it literally is--I mean, really, Sadanoumi as a primary story line??): one day of matches ploughed up the earth of what had gone before. All that is good: clear your mind, put away your pre-conceived notions, and enjoy what comes.

Half of the 7-1 guys lost today (Takayasu, Terunofuji, and Harumafuji), leaving Hakuho at the top with also-rans Kaisei and Kyokushuho. The tournament is his to lose. Let's see if he'll choose to do so--with a loss to Terunofuji, things could get exciting again, especially if Harumpha decides to return to the dinner table to eat his greens. Kisenosato could be there too (yes, really!). I have high hopes for a hectic and tumultuous yusho race.

Mike expects people to try hard tomorrow.

Day 8 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Due to a slew of baseball games and other responsibilities over the weekend, let's try something a bit different this basho and offer a wrap-up of the weekend and its storylines without detailing any of the bouts. As I've mentioned before, I really love the weekend broadcasts because NHK knows it's got a larger audience, and so they bring out the special guests and interesting documentaries. Not only are the weekend pieces special, but I believe they are carefully planned in order to prepare the fans for what's in store.

For example, Saturday began with a trip down memory lane going back to the 1973 Nagoya basho where a Sekiwake named Daiju posted a 13-2 performance earning all three special prizes in a single basho, the first time such a feat was accomplished. Daiju would eventually become an Ozeki, and for people of my generation, he's best known as the conehead judge who used to sit around the dohyo in the 90's. Daiju (current Asahiyama-oyakata) is getting on in age, and so you rarely see him anymore, but NHK spent considerable time interviewing Daiju and showing highlights from that basho.

Kitanofuji, who was providing color analysis on the day, recalled what a hard-worker Daiju was in the keiko ring. He said Daiju used to come to the stable every morning for keiko, and he wouldn't show up around 8:00 or 8:30 like the normal sekitori, but he'd arrive a few hours earlier and constantly work.  Kitanofuji laughed and said he was a real pest, and at times I just wanted a break from him.  It was a good story about how hard sumo rikishi used to work because that same work ethic can't be found among the Japanese rikishi today, and the ultimate reflection of that is the banzuke.

Anyway, they went on to display the following graphic, which lists the five rikishi in history who have captured all three Sansho in a single basho.

That list reads as follows:

Daiju at the 1973 Nagoya basho while ranked at Sekiwake
Onishiki at the 1973 Aki basho while ranked at M11
Takahanada at the 1992 Hatsu basho while ranked at M2
Dejima at the 1999 Nagoya basho while ranked at Sekiwake
Kotomitsuki at the 2000 Kyushu basho while ranked at M9

To me, I immediately saw the parallel between Sekiwake Daiju of 1973 and Sekiwake Terunofuji of 2015. And while Terunofuji's picking up all three Sansho isn't a guarantee this basho (he'd need to beat Hakuho again to do it), NHK relived the moment to emphasize that history is likely in the making with Terunofuji. As for the Sekiwake's sumo over the weekend, he gave Ozeki Kotoshogiku an eight second or so fight before easily scoring the yori-kiri win, and then on Sunday he stayed calm against a feisty Tamawashi managing to fell his countryman in fairly short order with a kote-nage throw. As I watch Terunofuji fight, he reminds me of watching the Ozeki of yesteryear, and I can already tell that his time at the Ozeki ranks will be short-lived. He is easily the second best rikishi on the banzuke, and I think that he surpasses Hakuho as the man in about two years. Currently at 7-1, his bout with Yokozuna Hakuho should determine the Natsu basho yusho, so we'll see if the Association waits until day 14 to pair him with the Yokozuna. They should.

While NHk was on the subject of Sansho, they also produced the following graphic, which shows the all-time Sansho leaders:

That graphic reads as follows:

19 Prizes Akinoshima
18 Prizes Kotonishiki
15 Prizes Kaio
14 Prizes Tsurugamine, Asashio, Takatoriki
I've been fortunate enough to watch four of the guys on this list, and so I think I have license to claim just how weak the banzuke is these days. If you have a rikishi in this day and age as good as the top five on this list, they'd make it to Ozeki so fast that they wouldn't have time to garner all of those special prizes. The leader on this list, Akinoshima, was an absolute bulldog, and the fact that he was never able to make it to Ozeki is a testament to just how strong the Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks were back then. It's hard to really describe it in words. You just had to have gone through it.

Once they were done with their discussion of Sansho records, NHK next introduced the leaderboard for the first time, which contained a whopping nine rikishi all entering the day at 6-1. The list read as follows:

Hakuho, Harumafuji, Terunofuji
Takayasu, Okinoumi, Kaisei
Kyokushuho, Kotoyuki, Amuuru

On the day, Kyokushuho defeated Kotoyuki while all of the other rikishi won. The most notable bout on Saturday had to have been the Ozeki Kisenosato - M3 Osunaarashi matchup. In a wild affair, the Ozeki eventually shoved Osunaarashi down at the edge via tsuki-otoshi, and Osunaarashi really crashed to the dohyo hard cracking a bone in his left shoulder causing him to withdraw. It's really a shame because the Ejyptian entered the day at 4-2 and was fighting marvelously among the jo'i. But...you know the old adage in sumo...you let up in the ring and someone's gonna get hurt.

Day 8 began with a pretty sweet documentary on M12 Arawashi, who promptly went out and lost to Fujiazuma making him the only rikishi with an 0-8 start. Oops. The documentary was already in the can and planned for the middle Sunday, and it makes me wonder why Arawashi? Why now? I think they chose Arawashi because he's got an interesting story that tugs at the heartstrings of the fans.  Due to a series of dislocated shoulders, it took Arawashi over 10 years to finally reach sekitori status, but the kids has remained humble and shows the utmost respect to the kamisan of the stable (the wife of his stable master).  Arawashi also talked about his own parents and said the reason that he didn't quit sumo despite all of the injuries was because he wanted to see his father's tears of joy when he made it to the big time.  It really was a riveting documentary, and it kind of reminded me of the special they did on Takamiyama a few basho where the theme was the concept of having foreign rikishi in sumo isn't that bad.  I think they're trying to put as positive of a spin on things as possible in an effort to prep the fans for what's coming for at least the next decade and keep them buying tickets.

And for good reason. On a day that included zero upsets and began with eight rikishi tied for the lead at 6-1 coming in, the leaderboard at the end of the broadcast was displayed as follows:

Hakuho, Harumafuji
Terunofuji, Takayasu
Kaisei, Kyokushuho

From top to bottom in the division, the foreign rikishi are dominating sumo, and I don't see anyone coming up through the ranks that's going to change it. On the bright side, we do have a handful of Japanese rikishi at 6-2, but by the time the yusho line dips down to that point, they'll be long gone at the Natsu basho.

And so the main storyline as he we head into week 2 is the continued emergence of Terunofuji. Exempt from fighting Harumafuji, there's really no one to stand in his way until he meets Hakuho, and don't be surprised if #69 steps aside again for his fellow countryman. The yusho will already come down to one of the three Mongolians, so you may as well prepare yourself mentally for it. The Japanese fans are being prepped in such a manner.

Finally, the best picture from the weekend had to be the one below. Do you recognize the two people in this photo?

This dates all the way back to 1991 when an undersized rikishi actually got silicon injections in the top of his head so he could pass the physical sumo exams back then that required rikishi to stand at a certain height. Yes, that is the one and only Mainoumi, the best color analyst by far in sumo, standing there in his boxer shorts being measured by Kitanoumi.

They went on to show a bout between Mainoumi and Kaio when the two were in the Makushita division and both skinny as hell.  Mainoumi survived a Kaio kote-nage attempt (remember how potent those would become) and eventually felled the future Ozeki with an inside belt throw.  It was fun to hear Mainoumi reminisce on the bout, his first ever meeting with Kaio.  He said that Kaio already had a name for himself, and so he was a bit surprised when he didn't seem as strong as he thought.  Things would quickly change, however, because when Mainoumi started fighting him in the Makuuchi division, he said he was one of the strongest rikishi around.

I just love to hear talk from the good old days because it reminds me when sumo was good for all the right reasons.

Harvye opines tomorrow.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As the final bout ended on day 6, there was certainly a lot more to be desired in terms of good sumo, and thank the gods for the weekend where NHK can bring out the guns in terms of celebrities and other high profile people (I'm still waiting for Takamisakari to grace the mukou joumen chair) to keep the broadcast interesting. Now, chances are good that will also see some lively bouts as well on the weekend, but we certainly didn't have any today, especially in the latter half. As soon as we hit the sanyaku, every single bout was a complete dud in terms of a hard fought contest where both parties either tried or were competent enough to be fighting this late in the day.

I'm already on the record as questioning the competence of the Ozeki at this level, but you can also see the Isegahama-beya effect in full play here. Since stable mates don't fight each other at hon-basho, we have four rikishi from a single stable ranked M2 or higher, and so that means the high-profile rikishi from these stables dig down deeper in the banzuke to find opponents. For example, Takarafuji has a much lighter schedule each basho than say Ichinojo because Takarafuji has three stablemates all within his range on the banzuke, and the only place to go in order to find replacement opponents is down. Instead of fighting Harumafuji, Terunofuji, and even Aminishiki, Takarafuji will get guys from the M5 - M6 range while Ichinojo doesn't have that luxury. That's just the way it is and props to Isegahama-oyakata for building the best stable in the bidness, but it sure doesn't contribute to interesting sumo matches in the dog days of a basho.

Since we are still in week 1, let's start from the bottom up where old time friend and former mancrush, J2 Chiyotairyu, came up from Juryo to battle M15 Kotoyuki (with Sokokurai's withdrawal, each day a Juryo rikishi will come up to replace him). I expected a good bout between Chiyotairyu and Kotoyuki, but it was Kotoyuki who was quicker out of the gate catching Chiyotairyu with two hands to the neck early and shoving him back and to the side so hard he drew the tsuki-dashi technique as he sent Tairyu into the lap of the chief judge. I'm still hoping to see Chiyotairyu back up here in July as he falls to 4-2 while Kotoyuki skates to a 5-1 start.

M13 Fujiazuma and M14 Kyokutenho hooked up in hidari-yotsu, and Fujiazuma actually grabbed the right outer first, but just as he did, Tenho pivoted out to his left and felled Fujiazuma with a nice scoop throw in a nage-no-uchi-ai just inside the straw. Don't blink now, but Kyokutenho has reeled off four straight to stand at 4-2 while Fujiazuma is still winless.

M13 Chiyomaru led with tsuppari against M16 Amuuru, but his legs weren't into it, and so the Russian was able to dance to his left around the ring countering with defensive tsuppari of his own until he was able to get Chiyomaru's back turned to the edge, and from there, the taller Russian made his intentions known shoving Fujiazuma back and out in a decent fight. Amuuru is a sweet 5-1 while Chiyomaru is hapless at 1-5.

M16 Takanoiwa charged hard smelling blood against winless Arawashi shoving his countryman back near the edge, but these are desperate times for Arawashi, and he predictably was looking for a pull move along the way. It came a few seconds in as he darted to his right, but Takanoiwa had to have been expecting it because he survived it with ease, squared back up with his gal getting moro-zashi, and then easily turned the tables for the force-out win. Two rikishi here going in different directions as Takanoiwa moves to 4-2 while Arawashi is still a bagel.

M15 Jokoryu admirably charged hard into M11 Kyokushuho with a right hand to the neck that resulted in the migi-yotsu position, but unable to apply serious pressure, Kyokushuho gained his right inside position and then quickly grabbed the outer left, and once he did, he was able to dump Jokoryu to the clay with little argument. Kyokushuho is cleaning up in these parts to the tune of a 5-1 record while you can't blame Jokoryu at all for his 1-5 record. I feel bad for the dude.

Two of the busier rikishi in the division hooked up today in M10 Ikioi and M14 Yoshikaze, and curiously, both opted to forgo tsuppari in place of keeping their hands in tight looking for moro-zashi. Yoshikaze came out of the fray with the decent left to the inside as the two hand-slapped around on the opposite side denying each other position with both hands. Ikioi smartly used his size advantage to counter Yoshikaze's left inside position with a powerful right kote-nage grip, and the bout went to the edge at this point in a nage-no-uchi-ai where Ikioi's kote-nage was just a bit better forcing Yoshikaze to the clay an instant before Ikioi crashed down. This was one of the better bouts on the days the two gentlemen end the day at 4-2.

M12 Toyohibiki met M9 Endoh with a stiff right ham to the throat, and with Endoh unable to dig in due to his gimpy knee, Toyohibiki just maintained that choke hold and churned his legs forward shoving Endoh clear off the dohyo by the neck. Ouch! Toyohibiki is even again at 3-3 while Endoh is still winless. Can't wait for that mini round-robin tournament among Arawashi, Endoh, and Fujiazuma over the weekend. Stay tuned!!

M8 Takekaze charged straight into M11 Kaisei and then quickly backed out of the fray wisely avoiding a belt contest. As Kaisei gave chase with a few shoves, there was just too much distance between the two for his tsuppari to have much effect, and near the edge, Takekaze slipped out to his right and timed a perfect tsuki into the left side of Kaisei turning him around 180 degrees. Takekaze knows manlove when he sees it, and so he rushed in embracing this larger man from behind and escorting him beyond the ropes okuri-dashi style. After the bout, they caught up with Kaisei and asked him about the fight, and his response was, "I needed to close up the distance between us." Couldn't have said it better myself as Kaisei is marked with tsuchi the first time at 5-1 while Takekaze breathes a bit easier at 3-3.

With Kaisei suffering a loss, that left M8 Takayasu as the only remaining undefeated rikishi, and perhaps he felt the pressure because at the tachi-ai against M10 Okinoumi, he opted to put his left hand on Okinoumi's teet keeping his right arm out wide...in hopes of an outer grip. But Okinoumi had different plans getting his left inside firmly and forcing Takayasu to put up or shut up. Takayasu responded with a half hearted pull maneuver, which easily gave Okinoumi moro-zashi, and the former Sekiwake wouldn't waste the position forcing Takayasu back and across so fast, Takayasu didn't even bother with a neck throw at the end. Takayasu blew this one at the tachi-ai and paid for it with a hard fall as he drops to 5-1 while Okinoumi improves to the same mark.

M9 Homarefuji and M7 Sadanofuji went toe to toe from the tachi-ai in a pretty good shoving affair, and while Sadanofuji connected early with some good blows to the neck, Homarefuji was able to move to his right and withstand them. With Sadanofuji fighting mostly from the waist up, Homarefuji was able to time another move to the right grabbing Sadanofuji's belt in the process and dumping him down to the clay with a dashi-nage. Both of these fellas are still struggling at 2-4.

M3 Osunaarashi delivered two hands to the throat of M6 Aoiyama at the tachi-ai, and the Bulgarian responded by charging forward full boar with arms extended. The crafty Osunaarashi quickly moved left, however, offering an inashi tug at the back of Aoiyama's right arm, and the combination of Aoiyama's forward momentum and that little inashi sent Aoiyama all the way to the edge with his back turned to the Ejyptian. The okuri-dashi was academic at this point as Osunaarashi is threatening a bid for the sanyaku at 4-2. Aoiyama falls to the same mark and should return to the sanyaku in time.

M2 Aminishiki moved out left at the tachi-ai looking for the quick and dirty outer belt grip against M6 Gagamaru, and while his hand wasn't able to latch on, the mini-henka already had Gagamaru off balance forcing him to move laterally...something the big lug doesn't want to do. As Gagamaru looked to square back up, Aminishiki timed a nice inashi with the left that shoved Gagamaru forward just a bit to where Shenaky then pounced in for a real left outer grip with Gagamaru turned to the side, and the force-out from there was akin to shooting fish in a barrel. It ain't no kin-boshi, but this win is better than nothing as both rikishi finish the day 2-4.

M5 Tamawashi offered a few light shoves at the tachi-ai as he shaded to his left, but M1 Takarafuji saw right through that funny business getting his right arm to the inside and left arm at the back of The Mawashi's mawashi, and with Tamawashi turned just a bit to the side, the yori-kiri came in three seconds...if that. Takarafuji is in fine position at 3-3 while Tamawashi is slowly fading at 2-4.

Sekiwake Terunofuji used a right kachi-age from the tachi-ai against M5 Kitataiki that morphed into the right inside position on the front and the left kote-nage on the other side. As Terunofuji looked to set up a kote-nage throw, Kitataiki attempted to nudge him off balance with his hip but he got twisted around in the process resulting in a sort of backwards kote-nage throw (if such a thing is possible) from the Sekiwake. The bout lasted about two seconds, and they ruled it a kiri-kaeshi leg trip in the end, but regardless of the kimari-te, Terunofuji won this one with sheer size and strength as he skips to 5-1. Kitataiki, who was clearly overmatched, falls to 2-4, and this is an example of what I was talking about in my intro where the Isegahama guys are going to have to go outside of the sanyaku to find opponents for three days.

Moving along, Komusubi Ichinojo got the right arm to the inside of Sekiwake Myogiryu, but before he could reel his gal in tight with the left kote-nage, Myogiryu jumped back creating separation. Ichinojo doesn't exactly define speed, and the last thing he wants to do his chase his foe around the ring (just ask Gagamaru), and it showed as he offered a lame pull that allowed Myogiryu to take advantage of the momentum shift and pounce in close with the right inside and left outer position that was good enough to body Ichinojo back across the straw. Ichinojo's reaction time is so slow that a quick rikishi like Myogiryu seems to give him trouble. Myogiryu rilly (as we say in Utah) needed this one as he improves to 3-3 while Ichinojo falls to 2-4.

M3 Sadanoumi and Ozeki Kotoshogiku hooked up in the migi-yotsu position, and as is usually the case, Kotoshogiku just charged straight forward hoping for the best. He got it today as Sadanoumi applied no pressure with this right arm and then feigned the tsuki position with the left hand, but he didn't even try to move out left to set up the counter tsuki-otoshi just staying in front of the Ozeki and getting plowed out of the ring in less than two seconds. Both dudes end the day at 4-2.

Ozeki Kisenosato exhibited a good tachi-ai grabbing the early right outer grip with the left sort of to the inside, and he executed his force-out charge straightway nudging M2 Toyonoshima methodically back and across. As for Tugboat, he really didn't do anything with his left inside, and there was no attempt to really dig in and counter to either side, so make of it what you will. I just didn't see much effort from Toyonoshima and would liken him to a fish who puts up no fight as he's being reeled in. He's been here before as he falls to 1-5 while Kisenosato is a meaningless 4-2.

Ozeki Goeido slipped out left at the tachi-ai against M1 Tochinoshin offering a henka, and Tochinoshin just ducked forward a step and went along for the ride as the Ozeki swung Tochinoshin over and out in two sloppy seconds. It's funny because Tochinoshin is now 1-5, but he shats on the three Ozeki with room to spare. Goeido joins his cohorts at 4-2, and the strategy now for all three of them is to get to eight wins as fast as possible as the week 2 competition looms.

Moving to the Yokozuna ranks, Hakuho looked to offer a right kachi-age at the tachi-ai against Komusubi Tochiohzan, but Oh kept both arms in tight denying Hakuho a path to the inside. No one makes adjustments faster than Hakuho, however, so he resorted to an inashi pull with the left at the back of Tochiohzan's right shoulder and moved out left easily pulling Tochiohzan forward and down for the speedy win. Hakuho has recovered from his day 1 loss to stand at 5-1, which is good enough for the lead while Tochiohzan falls to 2-4.

And finally, Yokozuna Harumafuji demanded moro-zashi at the tachi-ai against M4 Tokushoryu creating a large slapping sound as the two clashed chests, and there was nothing Tokushoryu could do from this point as Harumafuji quickly rushed him back and out. Harumafuji also moves to a sweet 5-1 with the win while Tokushoryu falls to 4-2.

If you go back and start from the first sanyaku bout on the day (Terunofuji vs. Kitataiki) and add up the duration of each successive bout, you wouldn't even be able to fill up a time slot for a 30 second commercial. That's a tough way to end the day, and it's why I'm looking forward to NHK's weekend presentation of the bouts because the sumo sure ain't creamin' my Twinkie.

As for the weekend, expect brief comments from me on both days before Harvye makes his return on day 9.

Day 5 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I think the biggest story right not only surrounding the Natsu basho but the entire sport of sumo at the moment is the emergence of Terunofuji. If you go back the last three basho and measure his progress against a formidable opponent in Ichinojo, you'll remember the two clashed for nearly four minutes in January. After a mizu-iri (water break) at the 3:30 mark, the two resumed their bout where Ichinojo eventually forced Terunofuji out. Two months later in Osaka, the two endured another epic bout that once again required a water break, but it was Terunofuji who came out on top at the end of that one. The two were paired again yesterday, and everyone was prepared for another long bout of o-zumo as they aligned chests, but Terunofuji took charge from the start and had Ichinojo defeated in under 10 seconds.

I believe I stated back in March that I thought Terunofuji was about 18 months away from legitimately beating Hakuho, but after watching his progression the last few months, I'm going to upgrade that number to within just a year. Back when I did that radio interview with Don Roid, we talked about Terunofuji's style of sumo, which was easily defined at the time of a defensive-minded approach. That same style was still present at the start of the Haru basho, but you can see in the dude now that he is learning how to fight offensively, and the results are stunning.

I guarantee you there has been more than one sweaty forehead on one of the sport's directors as they've sat around the executive roundtable and discussed the current state of sumo. I'm sure the feeling six months ago was, "Let's bide our time and keep the fans occupied enough until Hakuho retires." The conversation now, however, is we have 12 more years of Terunofuji?? And if that conversation hasn't taken place verbally yet, it's on the forefront of everyone's mind. By the end of this year, it's conceivable that we could have four Yokozuna atop the banzuke, and not only are all of them Mongolian, but Japan's answer to that are Larry, Curly, and Moe. Then, you also have Ichinojo waiting in the wings, and whose to say that Osunaarashi can't reach the Ozeki rank if he can perfect that moro-te-zuki tachi-ai? PR-wise, the Sumo Association finds itself in a difficult place, so expect them to continue to come up with various gimmicks (like those Endoh picture panels) and keep the focus on everything except what is actually taking place in the ring.

Speaking of action taking place in the ring, let's move our attention to the day 5 bouts. I should have seen this one coming, but I must admit the fast-forward button on my DVR got the best of me, and I missed the pre-bout hype surrounding M14 Kyokutenho. Apparently, the 40-something came into the day having fought in 1,444 Makuuchi bouts for a mark good enough to tie him with former Ozeki Kaio who retired after 1,444 contests. NHK created a longevity graphic that showed Kyokutenho finally surpassing Kaio's mark pending his participation against M16 Amuuru today. At the tachi-ai, Amuuru kept his right arm out wide giving Kyokutenho the left inside, and while the Russian had his own left inside position, he did nothing with it and just let Kyokutenho body him straight back and out in about two seconds. Amuuru did nothing to try and dig in, and there was no attempt at a counter move. At first I was like, "What is going on here?" but then when I heard "Housou-seki! Housou-seki!" and they went down to the interview room where a glowing Kyokutenho was asked about celebrating his 1,445 milestone with a win, it all made sense. This kinda stuff actually appeals to old people, so more power to 'em. But...what a way to start the day...with blatant yaocho just so they can milk an interview with Kyokutenho afterwards and ask him about his new record. Amuuru, who was a red-hot 4-0 coming into the bout, settles for 4-1 and has officially lost his Makuuchi virginity. As for Kyokutenho, he improves to 3-2 with the gift.

M14 Yoshikaze was as busy as I've ever seen him today against M15 Jokoryu doing everything possible to keep his foe away from the belt. At one point, Jokoryu leap frogged backwards going for a risky pull, but Yoshikaze survived and ultimately grabbed the left inside belt which he used to dashi-nage the injured Jokoryu around and down. I feel bad for Jokoryu, who is fighting through a bitch of a knee injury as he falls to 1-4 while Yoshikaze improves to 4-1.

M13 Fujiazuma was his usual lame self at the tachi-ai allowing M16 Takanoiwa to grab the left frontal belt, and he followed that up with the right inside position as well giving the Mongolian moro-zashi. Fujiazuma's defense was as bad as his tachi-ai allowing Takanoiwa the easy force-out win on his way to a 3-2 record. Without any fresh faces in the division for half a year, having guys make their return like Fujiazuma and promptly start out 0-5 doesn't exactly help matters.

M15 Kotoyuki smelled blood against the ailing M12 Arawashi and absolutely released the hounds in the form of two hands to the neck and perfect de-ashi. Arawashi had no chance to even try and move to the side Kotoyuki's charge was that swift and decisive. Tsuki-dashi here all the way as Kotoyuki moves to 4-1! Arawashi can't wait to be paired with Fujiazuma as he drops to 0-5.

M11 Kyokushuho and M12 Toyohibiki engaged in a tsuppari-ai where neither rikishi was using their legs, and you just knew a pull attempt was coming at some point. Kyokushuho struck first with a risky and committed head pull with both hands, and I suppose it was good enough causing Toyohibiki to stumble over his own feet and crash to the dirt before he could be shoved out. Ugly bout here, but Kyokushuho will take the win as he moves to 4-1. Toyohibiki continues to sputter at 2-3.

A desperate M13 Chiyomaru henka'd to his left at the tachi-ai, and M11 Kaisei almost fell for it. When you come into the day 4-0 and your foe is a paltry 1-3, you have to watch for the move. Kaisei didn't and was pulled dangerously to the edge, but he survived and was able to mawari-komu to his right countering with effective tsuppari that drove Chiyomaru back across the dohyo and out. The Brasilian is 5-0 if you need him while Chiyomaru falls to 1-4.

Not to be outdone, M8 Takayasu came out with tsuppari from the tachi-ai causing M10 Ikioi to paint the fence so wildly that I swear Pat Morita tried to sit up in the grave and take notice. After that wild start, the two eventually settled into hidari-yotsu where they pressed their chests in tightly vying for the outer grip. Takayasu, the better belt fighter, got it first, and once he obtained it, he began his force out charge. Ikioi countered at the edge with an inside scoop throw, but Takayasu's outer belt throw was forceful enough to send Ikioi down first. Takayasu keeps pace with Kaisei at 5-0 while Ikioi has still been sharp despite his 3-2 record. Since I haven't mentioned the Ozeki yet, why can't we see a single bout from them that resembles the hard-fought contest of these two?

M8 Takekaze was looking pull all the way against M10 Okinoumi, but Okinoumi was having no part of it charging forward hard and just slapping Takekaze's arse down to the dohyo floor in mere seconds. Nothing to break down here other than Goei...er...uh...Takekaze's incompetence as he falls to 2-3. Okinoumi is just swell at 4-1.

M6 Aoiyama hissed beautifully at the tachi-ai against M9 Homarefuji just pulverizing him with dual Christmas ham thrusts, and with Pat Morita having rested himself comfortably in peace again, there would be no waxing on or off here as Aoiyama pushed Homarefuji around and eventually down beating his opponent so badly he drew the tsuki-taoshi technique. Aoiyama is a predictable 4-1 while Homarefuji falls to 1-4.

M6 Gagamaru stopped M9 Endoh in his tracks with a right arm to his side at the tachi-ai that he used to shove Elvis back near the straw. As the two squared up, Endoh looked in desperation for anything to the inside for himself, but with no legs to dig in, Gagamaru simply used those attempt as kote-nage holds that Endoh would not overcome. Endoh flirted with the right arm to the belt, but unable to burrow in, Gagamaru just grabbed hold of that arm and used it to force Endoh back and across kime-dashi style. No sense continuing to beat a dead horse here as Endoh falls to 0-5 while Gagamaru breathes a bit easier at 2-3.

M5 Tamawashi and M7 Sadanofuji traded nice shoves into each other's necks as they went back and forth in the ring with a fairly even steven tsuppari-ai. With everything straight up, the better rikishi usually wins, and such was the case today where Tamawashi's de-ashi and confidence were just a bit better. The banzuke rarely lies as Tamawashi, who has consistently kept himself higher on the charts, improves to 2-3 while Sadanofuji falls to the same mark.

At this point of the broadcast, they announced M7 Sokokurai's withdrawal after a Tokushoryu fist cracked the bone around his right eye socket yesterday. Sokokurai will end the festivities officially at 1-14 while Kitataiki improves to 2-3.

Speaking of M4 Tokushoryu, he used busy tsuppari in order to keep M3 Sadanoumi away from the belt, and damned if it didn't work to perfection. After a few seconds of no luck, Sadanoumi reached his right arm forward in an attempt to grab Tokushoryu's belt, but Tokushoryu's shoves were too beefy allowing him to tug at Sadanoumi's extended arm, move to the right, and pull the relative newcomer down to the dohyo and his first loss. You could hear a few groans from the crowd as the only full-blooded undefeated Japanese rikishi left suffered his first loss, but this shouldn't have been a surprise. I believe it was day 3 when I commented on Sadanoumi's quick start as having been inflated. If you've followed ST for the last year, you know how much I dig this guy, but an inflated start is an inflated start, so it should have been no surprise to see him outmuscled here. Both rikishi are still hot, though, at 4-1 apiece.

All Komusubi Tochiohzan needed was a single arm to the inside against M2 Toyonoshima, and he not only got the right in so deep his hand was at the back of Toyonoshima's belt knot, but he got the left arm inside as well. After shoving Toyonoshima back to the edge, Tugboat just stood there and waited for Tochiohzan to hurl him back into the center of the ring with an outer belt grip. At the edge, Toyonoshima managed to maki-kae with the left arm, but he did nothing with it, and after watching the replays, my yaocho antennae was as erect as...well...let's just say it was erect. I'm not sure what the political implications would be behind this one, and perhaps Toyonoshima thought he was a goner anyway, but he clearly went Obi-Won Kenobi at the edge and just waited to be hewn down. Regardless, Tochiohzan moves to 2-3, a record that's just fine for a Komusubi while Toyonoshima stings a little more at 1-4.

As much as I've enjoyed Sekiwake Terunofuji this basho, M1 Tochinoshin has been a close second. Today, the two hooked up in the immediate gappuri migi-yotsu position and treated us to exactly the kind of bout we wanted to see where both rikishi pressed in their chests and looked for openings. After testing the waters for a few seconds, Terunofuji musta known that he had his gal because he began lifting Tochinoshin off of his feet enabling him to force him back to the edge and ultimately across. This was nearly tsuri-dashi Terunofuji was that strong. I'll admit it...I'm totally in love as Terunofuji moves to 4-1 while Tochinoshin is a quality 1-4.

Sekiwake Myogiryu got his left arm to the inside of Ozeki Kisenosato and flirted with moro-zashi with the right as well. As is usually the case, Kisenosato had no defense allowing Myogiryu to just press forward hard leading with the left inside and the right arm pinning the Ozeki's left in tight. The force-out took about three seconds as the crowd was shocked at the loss. Look, you have a guy ranked Sekiwake, and he's coming into the day at 1-3, and he's got a tough schedule ahead of him...what do you expect him to do? You can see the pattern where guys will allow themselves slow starts, but by day 3 and 4, they're like, "Sorry dudes, I'm gettin' mine today," and that's exactly what Myogiryu did. He can rest a bit easier at 2-3 while Kisenosato loses even more luster at 3-2.

Ozeki Goeido exhibited his best tachi-ai of the basho forcing the migi-yotsu contest against M1 Takarafuji. Goeido's limited abilities were apparent, however, as he allowed Takarafuji to grab the left outer grip way too easily. From this point, the dude with the outer grip usually makes his move, and Takarafuji did begin the motions of an outside belt throw, but credit Goeido with a nice right inside belt throw to counter and force the two to square back up in the middle of the ring. From this point, they dug in for a few moments before Goeido reached for the left outer grip, and just as he did so, Takarafuji just leaned sideways and toppled over. Whether it was due to force from the combination left outer push / right inside tug by Goeido, or whether or not Takarafuji's intention was to lose, I really don't know. What I would like to emphasize is that there were a few positives to Goeido's sumo today: 1) he displayed a great tachi-ai, and 2) he countered with the right belt throw just as Takarafuji was loading his own uwate-nage. The drawbacks from the bout were Takarafuji's curious fall and the fact that the much larger rikishi in the yotsu-zumo contest had the outer grip but did nothing with it. I'll indirectly say that I think Luis Suárez was taking notes from Takarafuji, but who really knows? It wasn't clear cut. Regardless, Goeido improves to 3-2 while Takarafuji falls to 2-3.

Komusubi Ichinojo had two clear cut choices today against Ozeki Kotoshogiku: win or lose. It was as simple as that. From the tachi-ai, the Mongolith actually got his right arm to the inside, but he just let it hang there all limp like a dude whose misplaced his prescription of Viagra. As for Kotoshogiku, he really has one choice in his bouts these days...press forward and hope charity is on your side. It was today as the Ozeki mounted an immediate charge that forced Ichinojo straight back and out in a matter of seconds. I don't think even the Japanese fans believed this one was legit as Kotoshogiku improves to 3-2 while Ichinojo falls to 2-3.

In the Yokozuna ranks, M3 Osunaarashi was completely lost at the tachi-ai just standing there with hands extended allowing Harumafuji to show his prowess by simply demanding moro-zashi at the tachi-ai and driving Osunaarashi back and out before he could finish his WTF just hit me? I have no idea what happened with the Ejyptian today. It didn't look as if he was necessarily out of sync at the tachi-ai, but when they blew the starting whistle, he was wide open and exposed, and the Yokozuna easily took advantage with Osunaarashi giving up at the edge. Harumafuji moves to 4-1 with the win while Osunaarashi is still an impressive 3-2.  Some may think...Osunaarashi clearly gave up in this one, so why wasn't this yaocho and you call yaocho so much for the Ozeki?  The answer is simple.  You'll see this happen with Harumafuji's foes twice a year maybe.  With the Ozeki, you see their opponents give up like this in 80-90% of their wins.

If I described the Yokozuna Hakuho - M2 Aminishiki bout blow for blow, it'd take up so much bandwidth you'd all go over your data plans. Talk about a strange bout that began with a half-assed right kachi-age from Hakuho and a couple of jabs to the throat as he chased Shneaky around the ring like a dog in heat. Aminishiki eventually ducked down beneath the Yokozuna's hot pursuit and looked to have the Yokozuna in some trouble, but a left tsuki from Hakuho and a right inside position allowed the Yokozuna to settle back in. Aminishiki countered brilliantly, however, with a counter left kote-nage that sent Hakuho spinning around 180 degrees. Shneaky grabbed back of the Yokozuna's belt and looked to have the clear path to shove him out from behind, but he was out of gas at this point and just crumbled to the dohyo at what appeared to be a pending arm blow from the Yokozuna. If I knew what happened in this one, I'd give you my opinion, but I was flabbergasted after this bout. Suffice it to say that it was an ugly bout of sumo, and it's unfortunate that any newcomers to the sport have to see the Yokozuna fight like this. My opinion is that Hakuho could straight up kick anyone's ass every day if he wanted to, and so I don't like to see such cat and mouse sumo. The end result of the scuffle is Hakuho holding serve at 4-1 while Aminishiki just misses out on a kin-boshi at 1-4. Switching to my girl side, there was quite a tender moment after in the dressing room when reporters surrounded Aminishiki, and the dude couldn't utter any words due to his tears bless his heart.  Apparently his tsuke-bito his retiring and he wanted to send him out with a kin-boshi.

It was too bad we ended the day on a bit of downer, so let's see what day 6 has in store.

Day 4 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
The match of the day (the tournament?) was undoubtedly Terunofuji against Ichinojo, and that deserves top billing. Also, one of the Yokozuna matches featured a do-over, probably could have had another, and was a thing of odd and thrilling beauty that could also rank as today's top story. We will get to those. However, there is a something brewing here with the Ozeki, all three of whom would lose today. In the comments, Brian wrote, "Re Mike's pre-basho report, Mike was surely exaggerating - Kisenosato couldn't possibly be as bad as M5/M6 level! Even Kotoshogiku couldn't be that bad. Goeido maybe." That was in response to Mike's pre-basho report--which I am certain was no exaggeration--and to my limited defense of Kisenosato (and let me by the way say thank you to all the commenters, positive and negative, who have motivated me and pushed me to do better across my reports--always much appreciated, and read and considered). I will stick with saying that Kisenosato is a real Ozeki, earns it, and belongs there. However, I can also agree with much of Mike's analysis: Kisenosato doesn't always get guys going after him hard. Hence, there is no telling how good or bad he could be. Perhaps this is also frustrating to him: he is swimming in manure soup out there. And Mike is exactly right that if they were allowed to float, Kotoshogiku and Goeido would sometimes be at M5/M6. I think they'd also get up to Sekiwake from time to time, and you might see an M11 out of them, etc.--if Takekaze and Tamawashi can get into the sanyaku, so could these Ozeki. And if guys like Takayasu and Chiyootori can sometimes drop into the lower half, so could these Ozeki: there is no significant difference to those wrestlers in their sumo level, only in their fixed rank.

I went down the banzuke and did a mental exercise: which other wrestlers do Goeido and Kotoshogiku most remind me of? For Goeido, it is Takekaze, an M8, and for Kotoshogiku, it is Toyonoshima, an M2. Those would be perfectly normal, acceptable ranks for these two Ozeki if they could float, and I do think they are currently pretty much on a par with those guys (Goeido is slightly better than Takekaze, though). The Ozeki have, in a sense, been cursed by getting to their current rank. While Tochiohzan, who is probably better than them, gets to fight like a man and see where fortune takes him, the Ozekis have to pretend they're better than they are until they just can't anymore. Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Kotomitsuki did these for year after awful year to tarnish great, exciting early careers. Ozekis are sentenced to fraud by the rulebook. Friends, it's a dumb system, and what I feel for the Ozeki isn't disgust--it is something closer to pity.

Here are the recent records for Goeido (since becoming Ozeki) and Kotoshogiku (beginning Fall 2012):

Goeido: 8-7, 5-10, 8-7, 8-7. Even WITHOUT any bout fixing, if he were allowed to float, that 5-10 would have dropped him to, oh, M3, and he'd be back at Komusubi or Sekiwake with the two 8-7s, which is a very acceptable rank for him. In short: he is not an Ozeki by his record quality, even at face value. (And if you haven't read Freakonomics on 8-7 finishes, you should.)

Kotoshogiku: 2-2-11, 8-7, 8-7, 8-7, 11-4, 9-6, 10-5, 1-2-12, 9-6, 8-7, 5-10, 12-3, 9-6, 6-9, 9-6, 8-7. Again, imagine that 2-2-11 was allowed to drop him to M8 or so, and what do you get in subsequent tournaments? A competent jo'i guy who floats up and down the high M ranks. No shame in that.

Yes, I know they did those records against the top 15 guys every time, and that you can't argue the counterfactual (the thing I'm suggesting didn't actually happen, so evaluating it has little meaning). Nevertheless.

Much as I respect Kotoshogiku and bear no ill will towards Goeido, they are not worthy of the Ozeki rank. Not even if all their tournament records are legitimate, because those records would not maintain them at their rank without the rule that they must stay there. I'd like to see sumo ditch this rule, let these guys have the title "Ozeki" forever, and some extra pay to go with it, but let them float up and down in rank just like everybody else. It would take the farce and sighs out of five thirty.

Now, to the bouts; we have some good ones today (and lots of bad ones). Only fair to start with the Ozeki.


"O" Goeido (2-1) vs. M3 Osunaarashi (2-1)
It is not often you get to see a man do the hurdy gurdy during a match; I actually laughed out loud. After Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) smartly put two hands to the neck of Goeido and backed up to see what to do next, Goeido stood there staring at him and doing nothing. Giant Sand (Osunaarashi) was so revved to go he did a little dance of hand thrusts and foot stomps, like a guy on fast forward in a shadow boxing video. Perhaps embarrassed by this silliness, he then decided to try the move on Goeido's body rather than just thin air, and moved forward and applied this to his still-immobile target. As Practice Dummy (Goeido) still could not manage to respond, Big Sandy reached around to the belt and slung him out, uwate-dashi-nage. Very nice. Oh, Goeido.

O Kotoshogiku (2-1) vs. M2 Aminishiki (0-3)
Aminishiki stepped to the side and pulled Kotoshogiku down. Look, I fit that on one line.

O Kisenosato (3-0) vs. M1 Tochinoshin (0-3)
This was classic Kisenosato here: relentless and methodical, perhaps uncreative forward drive; started with hands to the face, then went to elbows and arms. However, Tochinoshin was also patient, and at the edge shifted to his right in this quick-moving match and got his hands on top of Kisenosato, pushing him down tsuki-otoshi as he himself went backwards and out. I'm not sure Tochinoshin deserved the win, as from my angle he looked pretty far across the straw by the time Kisenosato face planted, but them's the breaks, and Tochinoshin deserves a break after his hard fought losses the first three days.


Y Hakuho (2-1) vs. M2 Toyonoshima (1-2)
This was crap. Hakuho backed up while twiddling around with little stabs at Toyonoshima's face and uppers, then evaded to his right along the straw and pulled him down to the hataki-komi loss. I don't think Hakuho was ever in danger here--sometimes he seems to like to see how close to losing he can get and still win, that devilish thrill seeker--but there were far too many bouts like this today (you will see), and really, most our Yokozuna participate in that?

Y Harumafuji (3-0) vs. M3 Sadanoumi (3-0)
This was the last bout of the day; Sadanoumi's rise has been so slow and quiet that I was just wondering, "did I miss Sadanoumi's match today?" when this came on--I guess I still don't think of him as fighting Yokozuna. I mistyped his name when I first started writing: Sadanofuji came out of my fingers. I rewound this twice to watch what Sadanoumi did in it, because the first time I only noticed the Yokozuna, and the second time I forgot that my express purpose in rewinding was to watch Sadanoumi and again just simply paid no attention to him at all. On the third watch I finally kept my eyes on Sadanoumi and he did… well, he hung in there? The guy is small, has nothing particularly noticeable about his sumo, but has gotten attention on Sumotalk for moving forward and fighting with sound technique and spirit. That's enough for me, and I will continue to try to see him.

Harumafuji's most patented technique these days is to evade slightly at the tachi-ai, and he did that here ever so slightly, moving out to get an overhand left grip. "This one goes up to 11": he launched a belt throw so powerful both rikishi flew into the air off the momentum of it and crashed painfully down across the rim of the dohyo, a Rorschach blot of limbs and bodies. Great match, if brief, and a do-over was called, which was appropriate given the wild finish.

In the rematch, the same thing (but different) hapdpened: Harumafuji this time played straight up and dominated his opponent, driving him out straight and simple, except that he overcommitted and went flying out of the ring head-on as Sadanoumi went out side-on; both guys did the splits with one leg below the level of the dohyo and one leg above it in the air, like guys doing jumping jacks while being hit by a bomb. Again I had no idea who won, and it looked even in spirit if not in actual fact. As for actual fact, they gave it to Sadanoumi, no mono ii. I'm okay with that, too; if you hang this tough with a Grand Champion twice in a row, well, tie goes to the runner. This was a ton of fun.

Sekiwake vs. Komusubi

S Terunofuji (2-1) vs. K Ichinojo (2-1)
I will not deny I was very excited to see this on my ledger today. The crowd felt it, too--they fell into a hush for this one. The two wrestlers felt it--there was some nice stare down action, and a slow deliberateness to their prep work that showed they felt each other's gravity. And oh, did I love the match. The Future (Terunofuji) hit Ichinojo lightly in the face, then swiftly reached his right arm under and in and all the way to Ichinojo's belt--that's a long way, folks. My, did Terunofuji look lanky, big, and strong here. However, they also both had grips on the side away from the camera, and Ichinojo used that to try the first pull. It changed their orientation in the ring but not overall odds, and Fuji the Terrible (Terunofuji) responded by staring down at Ichinojo's ass and seeing that he had the opportunity to get in even deeper on the left. He took that grip--he could have had the crack strap but took the waist belt--and immediately wrenched hard on his foe, the heaviest guy in the division, mind you, and Ichinojo lurched as Terror Mountain (Terunofuji) intended, his grip broken off and The Future, fully in control, body facing the bales, both hands on his man, one at the belt, one at the neck, emphatically smashed him across the twisted straw, uwate-nage. This will make you cry for joy to see; makes me remember why I love sumo and makes up for a lot of the dumb matches I had to watch earlier today. Ah, ah! Yes. Yes, please.

S Myogiryu (1-2) vs. K Tochiohzan (0-3)
Noting here that much as I love Tochiohzan, compare the amount you perk up when you read the names in this K/S bout as compared to the previous one: not much. It is like comparing Vaduz to Berlin, a quail to Blakiston's Fish Owl, bamboo grass to a Ponderosa. I like all six of those things, but. You may also notice a difference in the nationality of the wrestlers that should make you sign with existential sadness; Mike and I have been hyping this basho's Komusubi/Sekiwake class, but the way they lined up today makes them seem very much like two classes of two rather than one class of four. As if to prove this point, it was a pretty good match and I think the better wrestler won, but it was just a bunch of up high grappling in which Tochiohzan ran Myogiryu out oshi-dashi, and compared to what we'd just seen, this ale was very pale.

Working Class

M1 Takarafuji (1-2) vs. M5 Kitataiki (1-2)
Masterful sumo by Takarafuji here. Kitataiki tried to get inside for a grip but Takarafuji stood him up and kept upward pressure from below on both of Kitataiki's arms, allowing him to power Kitataiki back to the tawara. Once there, when Kitataiki tried to step back forward, Takarafuji used that momentum against him, unleashing a powerful left handed sukui-nage throw that Kitataiki responded to with a beautiful attempt to maintain balance with one leg thrown high in the air--but he also decided to save his face and put a hand down. Looked kind of like a starfish. A dead starfish. Good match.

M7 Sokokurai (1-2) vs. M4 Tokushoryu (2-1)
Tokushoryu played this one very smart, bodying up close and tight to the smaller Sokokurai, who was not able to get any grip around his massive girth, while Tokushoryu was able to reach down for an overhand hold. After a little dancing, Tokushoryu pulled the uwate-nage throw for the win. It's Dark There's (Sokokurai) fall was so understated I'm not sure it was caused by the throw or perhaps by some twinge or pang, for It's Dark there retreated to his bow-in-defeat corner with skinks of blood spotted across his person.

M8 Takekaze (1-2) vs. M5 Tamawashi (1-2)
One of four matches today along this theme: bump, pull, done. Your bumper is Takekaze, your faller-downer is Tamawashi. Dumb hiki-otoshi crap.

M8 Takayasu (3-0) vs. M6 Aoiyama (3-0)
I thought, "this ought to be good; two thrusters of different style, speed against power." And that is what you got: a thrust battle. Was it also skill, not speed, against power? Takayasu won this one when Aoiyama fell down first, tsuki-otoshi, and I think it was because the bout was at Takayasu's pace: with the speed of the thrusts being thrown, Bluey (Aoiyama) was playing High ‘n' Easy's (Takayasu) game, and couldn't get as much behind his thrusts as he normally does.

M6 Gagamaru (0-3) vs. M9 Homarefuji (1-2)
Gagamaru looks tired and discouraged. Fortunately for him, Homarefuji isn't very good, and tried to take him on straight up. Whatever else he is, Gagamaru is very big, and keeping Homarefuji in front of him and thrusting hard, he had Homarefuji on the defensive. Much as no one likes evasive sumo, Homarefuji couldn't get inside or get any purchase, so he needed to evade more. When he didn't, you could see Gagamaru's confidence surge: "hey, this is working!" Gagamaru stuck with the brutality bludgeons for a satisfying oshi-dashi win.

M9 Endo (0-3) vs. M7 Sadanofuji (1-2)
I get a delicious thrill about reporting on Endo, because almost every day I have him he gets absolutely destroyed. Before the match I thought Sadanofuji, who isn't much, might be good for him to get going against. Nothing doing; Sadanofuji badly overpowered him with meaty paws to the neck and face for the dominant oshi-dashi win. Honestly, it seems bizarre to remember how hyped Endo was, because now he reminds me more of classic discouraged underweight guys like Toyozakura or Takanoyama rather than any rising star.

M12 Toyohibiki (3-0) vs. M10 Okinoumi (2-1)
Okinoumi is frustrating because he is inconsistent, but he is surely a better wrestler than one-trick-pony Toyohibiki, who is famed for a powerful charge but also inability to finish it off. Sure enough, Rich Kerosene Echo (Toyohibiki) got in Okinoumi's grill and pushed him quickly back to the straw, but Okinoumi calmly moved out to his left and let Toyohibiki chase him unsteadily and fall down to tsuki-otoshi defeat.

M10 Ikioi (3-0) vs. M11 Kaisei (3-0)
I can't say "I told you so" because I didn't, but I sure did think it in my head before the tournament oh yes I did I really did: lots of under-ranked guys this tournament who are really cleaning up. These are two of them. Nice bout here: Kaisei got a left outer off the tachi-ai and Ikioi looked to get a right inner underneath it, but couldn't quite reach far enough. Kaisei smartly pressed the advantage, and Ikioi smartly did what he could, trying to get out to the side while bodying Kaisei into the air by using Kaisei's momentum to bounce him off Ikioi's planted leg. However, Kaisei was able to turn ever so slightly back in toward Ikioi rather than getting dumped over the bales, and crushed Ikioi out underneath him for the yori-taoshi win. Fun.

M12 Arawashi (0-3) vs. M13 Chiyomaru (0-3)
One of the interesting quirks of writing online is that you torture yourself later over rash stuff you wrote earlier--despite you probably being the only one who remembers it. Let me remind you of one of those dumb things I said: a few basho ago I compared Arawashi to Harumafuji. Arawashi has of course proceeded to show himself to be ultra-lite, while I sweatily but hopelessly hope "maybe he'll show his Yokozuna stuff today!" Today… well, today he ridiculously let Chiyomaru give him a nice push in the neck, let Chiyomaru release him, and rolled neatly across the dohyo. The whole thing was like some avant garde dance revue move. Dumb hiki-otoshi match.

M13 Fujiazuma (0-3) vs. M11 Kyokushuho (2-1)
A virtual repeat of the bout above, only this time winner Kyokushuho moved back a little bit while doing his pull and almost stepped out as loser Fujiazuma fell. Dumb hataki-komi match.

M16 Takanoiwa (2-1) vs. M15 Kyokutenho (1-2)
Kyokutenho almost lost this one, despite being in a position he likes and doing a classic Kyokutenho momentum-change at the end. I think he was gifted his win yesterday, and that means he has one weak win in four days. Not good. Today, Kyokutenho had his long, long arm over Takanoiwa's shoulder at the beginning, then reached down and grabbed the belt. Unfortunately, there was a loose mawashi effect so it did him little good; Kyokutenho looked like a guy playing the harp trying to grab that thing. He also had a right inside… and couldn't do anything. After a long, long stalemate, Takanoiwa did what I thought he should have right away: force Kyok to the edge and make him prove he still has some strength. And lo! Kyokutenho whirled Takanoiwa about to turn the tables. Here, though, it almost went awry for Kyokutenho: Takanoiwa continued the spin, and honestly, I couldn't tell whose foot went out first. This wouldn't have happened to Kyokutenho in the old days. At any rate, he's happy to get anything right now, declared for the win yori-kiri.

M14 Yoshikaze (3-0) vs. M16 Amuuru (3-0)
I'm not really sure what happened here; Amuuru had his left inside but no grip, while Yoshikaze had his left inside but a grip. Yoshikaze is better, was in lower position, and had Amuuru going back. However, Amuuru was able, while turning along an edge-trodding path, to back out a little and use that moment to pull/knock Yoshikaze down from above kata-sukashi.

M15 Jokoryu (1-2) vs. M15 Kotoyuki (2-1)
This was a dismantling. Without that leg, Jokoryu has to hope to get lucky and sustain in less a low-energy bout; Kotoyuki gave him no chance with a flurry of huge roundhouses that ended this one in a hurry tsuki-dashi.

Premature Leaderboard
For all the scrambled up mess of the first four days, things could shape up well for the stretch: potential winners Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Terunofuji are all 3-1, while other prominent guys like Aoiyama, Kisenosato, and Osunaarashi are the same. Sadanoumi, Takayasu, Kaisei, and Amuuru, in that order, provide entertainment at 4-0.

Mike goes 21-0 tomorrow.

Day 3 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Continuing on from day 2, I really don't have any new takes to introduce, but I can't help but marvel at how fast Terunofuji is maturing in the ring. I'm still not sure if that day 1 debacle was intentional or not, but this guy is reminding me more and more of Hakuho when he was young in the division. Hakuho had a tougher banzuke to deal with back then when Ozeki were Ozeki, but to see Terunofuji dismantle some pretty damn good guys and make it look so easy, it signals more and more that he's the sport's next Yokozuna. Too bad there isn't a way for him to just hop over the Ozeki rank because to see him ranked alongside the likes of the current threesome would sorta feel like he's been sent to Purgatory. Don't be surprised a bit to see Fuji the Terrible pick up his first career yusho this year, and when that happens, I'm quite sure Hakuho won't stand in his way as he ascends to the next rank.

Before I get too stiff, I should cool down by starting from the bottom up as we break down the day 3 action. M15 Kotoyuki blasted M16 Amuuru off of the starting lines and back a step, but Amuuru was composed enough to grab Kotoyuki's extended left arm and pull him towards the straw where the Russian next grabbed the back of Kotoyuki's belt, kept him turned backwards, and easily escorted him out from behind. Amuuru musta been all business today because he didn't even sneak in for a few seconds of manlove as he moves to 3-0. Kotoyuki falls to 2-1, and we see this sometimes where a thruster's tachi-ai is so good it ends up hurting him in the end when separation is created.

M16 Takanoiwa struck hard and low into M15 Jokoryu coming away with the left inside grip and right outer, and with Jokoryu's gimpy right leg, Takanoiwa forced him back and out in mere seconds improving to 2-1. Jokoryu's lucky to have that one win at 1-2.

M13 Chiyomaru just went through the motions at the tachi-ai with two hands at M14 Kyokutenho's neck, and without his legs driving into the Chauffeur, Kyokutenho stood his ground briefly, wrestled both arms inside to gain moro-zashi, and then forced Chiyomaru back and across the lines with little argument. More than Kyokutenho's age, this bout was the result of Chiyomaru's half-assed tachi-ai as he falls to 0-3. Kyokutenho's relieved to pick up his first winna the basho.

M14 Yoshikaze was too quick for M12 Toyohibiki at the tachi-ai getting his left arm deep to the inside, so Toyohibiki could barely counter with a shallow left of his own. Yoshikaze pressed forward hard keeping Toyohibiki upright, and the instant MonsterDrink secured the right belt grip, he overpowered Toyohibiki back and out. I love sumo like this as Yoshikaze moves to 3-0 while Toyohibiki suffers his first defeat at 2-1.

At this point in the broadcast, the introduced a new rikishi from Canada fighting in mae-zumo named Homarenishiki. The dude had a decent tachi-ai, which is rare for whiteys, and if I didn't know any better, I'da thought it was Bernie McManus in the ring 50 kilos heavier. Let's see how fast Bernie-nishiki can rise up the ranks.

M11 Kaisei used a nice tsuppari attack to knock M13 Fujiazuma back to the edge, but Fuji timed a sweet duck to the inside coming away with the rather deep left inside position that forced Kaisei to mawari-komu around the ring as he countered with the left inside of his own. Fujiazuma couldn't quite finish Kaisei off, and so the Brasilian ultimately gained his footing, nudged Fujiazuma back to where he grabbed the right outer grip, and then he dumped Fujiazuma near the straw with a desperate belt throw. Kaisei had to sweat a few bullets here, but he'll take that 3-0 start while Fujiazuma is still winless.

M12 Arawashi henka'd to his left against M10 Okinoumi, but Okinoumi isn't exactly known for his balls to the wall charge, and so Okinoumi easily squared back up with his compromised gal, secured the left inside, and added insult to injury with the right outer grip at the front of the belt. The easy force-out from there was academic as Okinoumi improves to 2-1. Arawashi is completely lost at 0-3.

When I pulled up the broadcast on my DVR this morning, I noticed it was split into two segments for some reason. It just so happened that the first segment stopped right as M9 Endoh and M11 Kyokushuho were ready to clash. The second segment started well after the bout, and I didn't even bother looking it up. All I needed to see was this pic on the wires, and it was obvious that Kyokushuho smelled blood. The Mongolian improves to 2-1 while Endoh falls to 0-3.

It's so obvious that Endoh needs to withdraw, but his stable master is being incredibly stubborn about the matter. I read yesterday where he said that Endoh's problem was that he needs to do more keiko. The old timers to sumo are of the impression that the way you overcome your injuries is by doing more keiko, but forcing the guy to keep doing keiko and fight at this hon-basho is ludicrous. Oite-kaze thinks he's being a hardass, but I'd say he's more of a dumbass. The first time and last time you'll ever hear about this stable will regard Endoh, so why force your prize asset to breakdown further?

M10 Ikioi maintained his ikioi by charging hard and keeping his hands low and to the inside of M8 Takekaze. There was only one option at this point for Takekaze, and Ikioi knew it, so as the meager pull attempt came, Ikioi's footwork was ready as he easily shoved Takekaze back and across for the quick win. Ikioi's 3-0 if you need him while Takekaze is 1-2.

M7 Sokokurai opted to match M9 Homarefuji's tsuppari tit for tat from the tachi-ai, but he could do nothing to counter Homarefuji's busy arms, and the moment Homarefuji connected with a right paw to the throat, Sokokurai was knocked back and off balance enough to where Homarefuji pounced with the left inside and finished his opponent off with a perfect dose of sumo technique. Homarefuji picks up his first win as Sokokurai falls to the same 1-2 mark.

M6 Gagamaru and M7 Sadanofuji hooked up in the immediate hidari-yotsu position where Gagamaru reached around grabbing the right outer grip first. Sadanofuji is actually a beast from this same position when he has the right outer, and so Gagamaru's task was to finish his gal off before giving up the equalizing right outer. Despite his girth advantage, Gagamaru couldn't do it, and the instant Sadanofuji grabbed the right outer, he demonstrated in short order how the yori-kiri is executed. Great stuff from Sadanofuji who picks up his first win at 1-2 while Gagamaru falls to 0-3.

M8 Takayasu really laid the wood to M5 Tamawashi from the tachi-ai connecting with shoves to The Mawashi's upper torso and face driving him back near the edge. You could just see it in Takayasu's legs that he was a man on a mission, and with Tamawashi struggling to even connect on a single punch, Takayasu switched gears at the edge and pulled Tamawashi forward and down by the shoulder. These are the pull moves you like to see...set up by a great tachi-ai and solid footwork as Takayasu moves to 3-0. Tamawashi is a paltry 1-2.

M6 Aoiyama hissed his way forward a step at the tachi-ai against M4 Tokushoryu, but as Tokushoryu resisted, Aoiyama's shoves were directed up too high giving Tokushoryu that opening he was waiting for. Problem was that Tokushoryu committed too early on his forward charge without really connecting on a blow that would knock Aoyama off balance, and so as Tokushoryu advanced forward, Aoiyama evaded and pulled him down with ease. This is the pull maneuver I don't really care for, but credit Aoiyama for a good tachi-ai. He's a cool 3-0 while Tokushoryu suffers his first defeat at 2-1.

M3 Sadanoumi and M5 Kitataiki hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position from the tachi-ai where Sadanoumi enjoyed the right outer grip. Problem was that the outer grip was on one fold of the belt, and Kitataiki could sense it because he nudged his way forward shaking his hips nicely in an attempt to break off that grip. He wasn't quite able to do it, but he was still advancing forward, and so he kept pace only to fall into Sadanoumi's trap at the edge where the M2 slipped out to his left and threw Kitataiki across the straw with his left inside grip and right hand to the shoulder. While Sadanoumi is 3-0, he's had some unorthodox bouts along the way and then that freebie over Chiyootori, so this start is a bit inflated as much as I love the dude. Kitataiki is ailing as he falls to 1-2.

M3 Osunaarashi's two hands to the throat tachi-ai worked wonders today against Sekiwake Myogiryu knocking him back a clear step and throwing him upright. The Ejyptian nearly wasted the charge, though, by extending his hands too high allowing Myogiryu to duck back into the bout, but having failed to gain any advantage from the tachi-ai, mYogiBear couldn't stay square with his foe allowing Osunaarashi to just slip left and yank the Sekiwake down at the edge by his extended left arm. Once Osunaarashi learns to follow up that sweet tachi-ai with sound middle relief, he'll be a worthy sanyaku rikishi. I've really enjoyed watching him mature with that new tachi-ai as he moves to 2-1. Myogiryu falls to a shaky 1-2.

Sekiwake Terunofuji offered a decent face slap with the right hand against Komusubi Tochiohzan, but the Komusubi is the best in the bidness at securing moro-zashi, and such was the case today. Problem is...moro-zashi against Terunofuji is as worthless as a fax machine, and the Mongolian easily used his left hip to knock Tochiohzan back enough that he lost his inside position on the left side. Terunofuji instantly seized on the advantage inserting his right arm to the inside rendering the bout to migi-yotsu, and from there, the force-out was swift and decisive. Can't say enough about Fuji the Terrible who improves to 2-1 while Tochiohzan falls to 0-3. I've maintained that Tochiohzan is the best Japanese rikishi on the board now for awhile, and Terunofuji handled him like a chew toy.

Speaking of the Ozeki, Kotoshogiku and M1 Takarafuji hooked up into hidari-yotsu where the Ozeki immediately charged forward going for the yori-kiri kill. And why wouldn't he? He's been gifted his wins up to this point, and that was really his only option here...go through the motions and hope for charity. Takarafuji wasn't in a giving mood, however, and you can't blame him. After bowing to Kisenosato on day 1 and facing the wrath of Khan on day 2, he needs wins to keep pace. So, as the Ozeki pressed forward, Takarafuji slipped to his right and shoved his right arm into Kotoshogiku's left gut sending him down to the clay with ease. And when I say ease, Takarafuji's move was so nonchalant I could have sworn he was whistling Dixie when he all of a sudden remembered, "Oh yeah, I'm still fighting a bout of sumo here." Takarafuji picks up his first win while Kotoshogiku falls to 2-1. With Kotooshu in the booth offering color commentary, the others began speculating afterwards whether or not the Geeku's right shoulder was bothering him. Uh, no.

Moving right along, Ozeki Kisenosato executed a horrible tachi-ai keeping his arms wide and high, but Aminishiki failed to take advantage of it although his hands were positioned nicely into the Ozeki's upper torso. Aminishiki's charge was half-assed allowing Kisenosato to swipe him away effectively with the left arm, but as they looked to hook back up, moro-zashi was right there for the taking by Sneaky. He refrained, however, easily surviving Kisenosato's extended arms (I can't really classify them as thrusts) as he moved left grabbing the right outer grip with the left arm to the inside. He quickly repented of that advantageous position and really just stood there waiting for Kisenosato to use his own left to the inside to force Aminishiki back and across. At the edge, Aminishiki wasn't even thinking about that last gasp evasion standing straight up and just taking his medicine. The Isegahama-beya giveth in this one and taketh away against Kotoshogiku. With the win, Kisenosato moves to 3-0, but at some point, he's going to get his comeuppance. Aminishiki couldn't care less about his 0-3 start.

In the final Ozeki bout of the day, Sekiwake Ichinojo got the right arm to the inside easily on Goeido, and the Ozeki's reaction was to duck low and push his head into Ichinojo's right shoulder as he held on with his own right inside belt grip. The two stood this way for a few seconds before Ichinojo awkwardly backed up a step or two pulling the Ozeki down near the edge. Ichinojo's mechanics were awful in this one, and his feet were aligned largely throughout the bout.  You can still see it in the pic at right; he's feet are aligned even as he executes the pull.  I mean how often do you see a guy pull his opponent down in between his crotch as if to say, "Get a whiff of this, pal!" And yet, Goeido was unable to apply any pressure throughout the entire match. When Ichinojo backed up and went for his pull, Goeido had no response going down to the clay far too easily for an Ozeki. In my book, if an Ozeki's opponent's feet are aligned, you take advantage. If an Ozeki's opponent goes for a pull and nearly stumbles over his stumps in the process, an Ozeki takes advantage. I don't know if Ichinojo was creating openings for his opponent intentionally, but Goeido was just clueless in this one as he's pulled to his first loss at 2-1 while Ichinojo jumps to the same mark. NHK's man on the hana-michi caught up with Goeido for comment afterwards, and Goeido offered, "I wanted to use my left arm more." And?? Ichinojo stifles Goeido's use of his left arm by getting his own ham to the inside, and so you don't have plan B? I better move on since we have 12 more days' worth of Ozeki bouts with which to draw my ire.

In the Yokozuna ranks, Harumafuji led with the right arm to the inside against M2 Toyonoshima fishing for the outer grip with the left hand on the other side. He'd get it easily as Toyonoshima pressed his chest in tight, and with the Yokozuna enjoying the advantageous belt grips, he immediately began his force out charge. At the edge, Toyonoshima looked to attempt an utchari shifting right, but before he could set it up, Harumafuji just body slammed him down across the straw for the emphatic yori-taoshi win. Harumafuji is a cool 3-0 and leads the basho so far while Toyonoshima falls to 1-2.

The day ended with another excellent bout that involved two foreigners of course where Yokozuna Hakuho and M1 Tochinoshin hooked up in the migi-yotsu position. Shin denied the Yokozuna the left outer grip, however, while he maintained one of his own. We rarely see Hakuho in this position in a yotsu bout where his opponent has the outer grip and he has none, and fighting against a formidable opponent like Tochinoshin, Hakuho turned into a caged bear fighting with intensity that we rarely see anymore wrenching Tochinoshin upright and back before he was finally able to cut off that right outer grip. In the process of knocking Shin upright, Hakuho seized the moro-zashi there for the taking, and he finally cooled off just enough to escort Tochinoshin back and across like a gentleman instead of sending him into the crowd as he could have done. Hakuho moves to 2-1 with the win while Tochinoshin falls to 0-3.

I think Tochinoshin has been the perfect barometer these first few days about how a rikishi fights when he tries to win. Against Kotoshogiku, he just stood there and then performed that over exaggerated summersault in the end. Against the Yokozuna, however, he made the Mongolians earn it, and the best two bouts by far have been Tochinoshin vs. Harumafuji and then Tochinoshin vs. Hakuho. Once the first Sekiwake enters the ring on the day, I expect solid sumo from all parties, but I just don't see it when the Ozeki fight.

Anyway, the dog and pony show otherwise knows and Harvye 'N Mike continues tomorrow with my co-host back in the driver's seat.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I really enjoyed Harvye's read yesterday, especially his intro where he talked about all things good in life and with the banzuke, etc, but then he foreshadowed the day well in the conclusion to his intro where he said, "It was not a particularly good day of sumo to my taste." No, day 1 wasn't a good day of sumo. If you didn't have access to the bouts and you only checked out the results of the day on paper, you would have thought it was an exciting, phenomenal day, but if you actually watched the action play out on video, you were likely left with a bland taste in your mouth. Even the Japanese fans in the arena weren't really into it. I mean, you have Yokozuna Hakuho go down--literally--on day 1 for the first time in three years, you have Sadanoumi upset Terunofuji, and then you had the Ozeki trio go 3-0, and yet...the atmosphere in the arena seemed nonchalant throughout inasmuch as I could discern from the television.

It wasn't a good day of sumo to anyone's taste because, well, it just wasn't a good day of sumo. After watching the bouts in the morning, I went back at night to review the tape and noticed just how quickly each of the bouts were finishing. The longest bout on the day I believe was the Kitataiki - Tokushoryu matchup, and I'm not saying that a bout of sumo has to be long to be good, but I am suggesting both parties need to fight their hardest, and I just didn't see that on day 1.

To illustrate my point, I'll start out day 2 with the best bout seen over the course of the first two days, the Yokozuna Harumafuji - M1 Tochinoshin matchup where Harumafuji got his left arm at the front of Tochinoshin's belt and the right arm to the inside from the tachi-ai. Shin defended moro-zashi by forcing his right arm to the inside of the Yokozuna's left, but Harumafuji had the better position with Tochinoshin more upright. The Yokozuna still had to figure out how to bully the taller Private back, however, and so the two dug in valiantly as Shin grabbed the right outer grip over the top. Both rikishi applied pressure chest to chest looking for an opening. Eventually, Harumafuji lifted Shin off balance just a bit with a right belt throw while getting his right leg inside of the M1's left stump lifting him up spectacularly with the leg throw and dumping him hard to the dirt with the combination right inside belt throw.

I know that I take Harumafuji for granted at times because when you think about the size difference in these two and the way in which the much smaller Harumafuji was able to dictate the pace and finish the bout off, today's sumo from the Yokozuna really was a true masterpiece. But I also applaud Tochinoshin for his effort. That's all I ask for from these guys...effort and a semblance of strategy. When I don't see effort, and I don't see any defensive pressure, and I don't see an attempt to counter, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Today's final bout had all of those elements. Harumafuji dictated the pace from the beginning, but Tochinoshin countered his every ploy to the extent possible, and the two treated us to a sweet chess match.

Day 1 was a bad day of sumo because in all of the key bouts, one of the parties showed no effort. Well, I take that back. Tochinoshin's voluntary summersault at the end of his bout with Kotoshogiku took SOME effort, but you know what I mean. Even the Harumafuji - Tochiohzan bout where the Yokozuna won...he used a henka at the tachi-ai to grab the cheap outer belt ending the affair in mere seconds. All I ask day in and day out is effort from both parties in every single bout, and when it doesn't happen, I'll point it out. Why one party chooses not to output sufficient effort can be debated, but the response from the fans is a good gauge of how well fought the bouts actually are. In Harvye's case, he wasn't impressed. As for the Kokugikan crowd, there was little electricity.

With that said, let's build from the ground up starting with Juryo rikishi, Seiro, who henka'd out left for the cheap outer grip, but M16 Takanoiwa preservered with the firm right inside position, and as the two jockeyed around the ring from there, Takanoiwa grabbed Seiro's right leg and just lifted it straight up causing the Juryo rikishi to Hopalong Cassidy his arse back and out. Both dudes end the day at 1-1, and I always love to see the rikishi who henkas go down in flames.

M15 Jokoryu and M16 Amuuru hooked up in the quick hidari-yotsu bout, but Jokoryu's grip was far too shallow while the Russian was firmly established with his own left to the inside. As the taller Russian pressed forward, Jokoryu went for a dangerous retreat/pull move that knocked Amuuru off balance a bit, but he was able to survive, so with Jokoryu's positioning now compromised, Amuuru grabbed him by the back of the left arm and just escorted him out easy peasy Japanesey. Amuuru's 2-0 if you need him while Jokoryu falls to 1-1.

M14 Kyokutenho is really showing his age now. M15 Kotoyuki came in way too high at the tachi-ai gifting Kyokutenho the left inside and clear pathway to the right outer grip, but Tenho opted to try and pull his way out of the hold allowing Kotoyuki to easily push him back and across in two seconds. Kotoyuki was in a pickle here from the tachi-ai, but Kyokutenho let him off scott free and just gifted him the oshi-dashi win with the poor decision to pull. We'll see if Kyokutenho bothers to fight in Juryo, but he looks like a goner after this ugly 0-2 start. Kotoyuki moves to 2-0.

M13 Fujiazuma paused just a bit at the tachi-ai not quite in sync with M14 Yoshikaze, but he put both fists down and stood up only to have Yoshikaze lurch straight into his craw and shove Fujiazuma out so quickly, the crowd barely knew what hit them. Fujiazuma (0-2) wishes he could have this one back, and it illustrates the importance of being in sync with your opponent at the tachi-ai. Yoshikaze is a cool 2-0.

In a tsuppari affair, M13 Chiyomaru's hands were out just a bit wide signaling his looking for the cheap evasive/pull maneuver, so M12 Toyohibiki's thrusts were directed straight into Maru's gut...and what a big gut it is! Chiyomaru predictably tried to move laterally, but Toyohibiki was onto his every move and eventually sent him across the straw before Chiyomaru could counter with a tug at Ibiki's arm that was too little too late. Toyohibiki moves to 2-0 while Chiyomaru falls to 0-2.

M11 Kaisei and M12 Arawashi hooked up in the immediate migi-yotsu contest, but Kaisei quickly grabbed a left outer grip that was strong and defiant, and this was no longer a contest as the Brasilian just powered his gal back and across the straw without argument. This shows the difference in the banzuke between the jo'i guys and the rank and filers. Sure, Kaisei was floundering about among the jo'i the last few basho, but then he comes down here to the nether regions and just starts kicking ass and taking names. He's 2-0 if ya need him while Arawashi is 0-2.

M11 Kyokushuho looked for the quick frontal belt grip with the left arm, but M10 Okinoumi shoved him back and outta the grip, and before Kyokushuho could really get his own tsuppari attack going, Okinoumi persisted forward and feisty causing Kyokushuho to resort to a pull maneuver that really never formulated because Okinoumi took advantage of it that quickly gaining moro-zashi and driving Kyokushuho back to a creeping death. Both combatants finish the day at 1-1.

M10 Ikioi plowed forward nicely using a tsuppari attack to send M9 Homarefuji back and on the run, but Ikioi wasn't dictating the pace enough allowing Homarefuji to evade and execute a desperate pull that looked to send Ikioi down to the dirt first. A mono-ii was called where it looked as if Homarefuji's left knee could have grazed the clay prior to Ikioi's belly flop, but I thought the initial gunbai towards Homarefuji was the correct call. The win for Homarefuji wouldn't have been deserved, but Ikioi hit first. The men in black saw it differently, though, and called for a rematch.

In the do over, Homarefuji was sloppy yet again allowing Ikioi to pulvgrize him a bit with tsuppari before connecting with a right thrust to Homarefuji's side that spun him around and out to the arena floor below. Ikioi moves to 2-0 and has been fighting forward well while Homarefuji (0-2) seems to have lost the Makuuchi luster that he never really had to begin with.

If you follow the Japanese headlines, you know that the biggest story coming into the basho was the fact that Endoh is finally able to tie his hair up into the official oi-cho (the style where they fan the knot out into the shape of a leaf from a ginkgo tree). In an effort to bring more chicks to the venue, they actually set up this series of panels outside of the Kokugikan that show Endoh in all three stages of his different hair styles: long and slicked back, the simple top-knot, and now the official oi-cho. In each panel, Endoh is seen holding the body of a girl wearing a pink kimono in what's known as the "hime-sama dakko" pose, and then the girl's face is cut out so fans can go stick their mug in there and take a senseless picture. I'm quite sure that more drunk Japanese dudes have taken pictures with these Endoh panels than actual hot chicks, but it's a good example of how the marketing of sumo is focused on pretty much everything except the action in the ring. And for good reason.

M9 Endoh fought the good fight in a tsuppari affair against M8 Takayasu, but his effort was all from the waist up. Takayasu on the other hand was able to drive hard with his own legs, and it provided the obvious difference in this four second affair where Takayasu scored the easy oshi-dashi win against the injured Endoh. I'm not sure how long they're going to let Endoh go out there and get pulverized, but it does say something to his toughness as he falls to 0-2 while Takayasu is a proud 2-0.

M7 Sokokurai managed a left arm to the inside at the tachi-ai against M8 Takekaze, and even though Kaze showed a decent charge driving Sokokurai back near the edge, the Mongolian was able to stand his ground and shore up that left inside position. From here, Takekaze was lost and worthless as he threatened some sort of kubi-nage with both arms up high while Sokokurai's response was, "I've got the better position here dumbass. Take this!" as he threw Takekaze down easily with that left arm to the inside. Both dudes finish the day 1-1.

It's been awhile since I've heard the M6 Aoiyama hissing tsuppari, but against these yayhoos in the middle of the ranks, it's as if Aoyama's just stealing candy from a baby. M7 Sadanofuji's arms were out wide at the tachi-ai, and so the Bulgarian just hissed his way forward and pulverized the Sadamight back and out in mere seconds. Aoiyama moves to 2-0 while Sadanofuji falls to 0-2.

M5 Kitataiki henka'd out right grabbing the cheap kote-nage grip, and while he wasn't able to fell M6 Gagamaru straight way, he worked the quick and dirty move into moro-zashi and scored the ill-gotten force-out win from there. I guess I see Kitataiki working. After getting dinged up against Tokushoryu yesterday, he didn't want to delve straight into Gagamaru (who would?), but I still don't like the henka under any circumstances. Kitataiki picks up the win moving to 1-1 while Gagamaru is winless.

M5 Tamawashi greeted M4 Tokushoryu with a right choke hold at the tachi-ai, but Tokushoryu's legs were driving harder than the Mongolian's, and about two seconds in, Tokushoryu connected with a powerful right neck thrust of his own that caught Tamawashi off guard and sent him back near the edge. As the two looked to reload, Tokushoryu was in tight setting up the left inside position and right outer grip, but before he could make it official, Tamawashi stepped beyond the straw as he looked to re-establish some solid footing. This was actually really good sumo from Tokushoryu who moves to 2-0 while Tamawashi (1-1), the superior rikishi, was caught off guard by that right hook. Good stuff here.

At this point of the broadcast, they announced Chiyootori's withdrawal meaning that M3 Sadanoumi picked up the fusensho win moving to 2-0 in the process.

In a compelling bout, M3 Osunaarashi wisely came with the two hands to the throat tachi-ai, and the result caused Sekiwake Terunofuji to stare briefly up at the rafters, but Fuji the Terrible ain't no rank and filer, and so he was able to survive the initial charge and firmly get the right arm to the inside followed up by a left outer grip. The Ejyptian used his length to grab a left outer of his own, but pure sumo took over here as Terunofuji just forced Osunaarashi back and out for the overpowering yori-kiri win. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1. As for his bout yesterday against Sadanoumi, for some reason Terunofuji decided to attack from his outside position with the left arm that was up high around Sadanoumi's left instead of his solid right inside position on the other side. Whether that tactic was intentional or a colossal mistake. I'll never know, but I'm quite sure that Terunofuji is the sport's next Yokozuna.

M2 Toyonoshima looked for the right inside at the tachi-ai thrusting his round gut into Sekiwake Myogiryu along the way knocking the Sekiwake upright, and even though Myogiryu was able to maki-kae with the left and secure moro-zashi, Toyonoshima was moving forward and had Myogiryu pushed completely upright using his belly to do it. With Myogiryu near the edge and up high, he was able to thrust his right arm into Myogiryu's left side and send him over with force to the dirt. Due to Myogiryu's moro-zashi, he was able to counter with the left scoop throw making this too close for comfort, but the mono-ii correctly confirmed the win in favor of Toyonoshima. I don't know that I've ever seen a guy use his gut quite like this, but if you've got it, why not flaunt it? Both rikishi stand at 1-1.

Ozeki Kisenosato and Sekiwake Ichinojo clashed hard at the tachi-ai were Itchy turned a right kachi-age into a pull attempt with the same arm that was half-assed. With neither rikishi gaining the advantage at this point, both offered a few shoves before Ichinojo instinctively got both arms to the inside in a brief moro-zashi, but there was no pressure applied to the inside positions by Ichinojo allowing Kisenosato to maki-kae with his left and turn the bout to hidari-yotsu. The continued lack of pressure from Ichinojo gave Kisenosato the right outer grip while the youngster monkeyed around with his own right up high threatening nothing really, and so from here, the Ozeki scored the easy force out win. There was no effort nor pressure applied from the Mongolith today, and as far as I'm concerned, he was no different today than a tsuke-bito in the hana-michi letting his superior just go through the motions. Kisenosato moves to 2-0 thanks to the lethargy of his opponent (you decide for yourself if it was intentional) while Ichinojo falls to 1-1.

Ozeki Goeido's tachi-ai was awkward with his feet aligned allowing M2 Aminishiki to put his right hand at the Ozeki's throat, but he never thrust forward with his legs applying pressure before quickly pulling it back. Now with separation between the two rikishi, Aminishiki ducked his head and methodically moved forward allowing Goeido to move out left and pull Aminishiki out of the ring with a methodical hataki-komi. I'm just not seeing the opponents of the Ozeki put forth any effort these first two days, but perhaps I'm the one missing something here as Goeido moves to 2-0 while Aminishiki falls to 0-2.

Komusubi Tochiohzan and Ozeki Kotoshogiku displayed an awkward tachi-ai where both rikishi aligned their feet and never really came forward hard. Tochiohzan's left arm was to the inside, but he kept his right arm way outside allowing the Ozeki to get the left inside and right outer grip, and instead of digging in for the struggle, Tochiohzan just backed his way up and allowed Kotoshogiku to force him back and out. No effort from the Komusubi today, which caused me to declare, "She's faking it!" And hey, if you can fake it in the bedroom, why not atop the dohyo? Tochiohzan graciously falls to 0-2 while Kotoshogiku moves to 2-0.

Finally, Yokozuna Hakuho was quick out of the gate getting both arms to the inside of M1 Takarafuji where he lifted up into his foe with the left arm and forced him out in front of the chief judge's seat in a matter of seconds. Takarafuji was surely wondering 'what happened to Hakuho's bout with vertigo yesterday?' as he falls to 0-2 while the Yokozuna rights the ship at 1-1. The best headline I saw post day 1 was Kitanoumi Rijicho's saying, "That loss isn't even a 'handy' to him," referring to the term in Japanese used to describe a handicap in one's golf game. In other words, that loss doesn't even put a dent in Hakuho's armor. It's still fully up to the Yokozuna whether or not he chooses to yusho this basho, and at least the Commissioner and myself know that fact. We're still a long way away from senshuraku, however, so let's settle in and let the drama play out.

Back again tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Tokyo in May--the weather is just about perfect. Everything has already bloomed, and the green in the parks has reached the shocking, lustrous green it will continue to wax through all summer long. Some days are too hot, some days it rains, but mostly you get pleasant sun, and Cool Biz rules have sunk in at the office, so it is short sleeves, no ties, and you don't need a jacket for your lunch break ramen run. On the weekends you can climb a mountain (small one like Tsukuba is in easy reach) in the morning without getting too sweaty before catching the basho in the late afternoon, then find one of these open-to-the-street restaurant-bars to raconteur the evening away with friends, family while the late-summer dusk eases in.

Tokyo doesn't get credit for what it is: one of the world's great cities, a New York-esque center of talent, concentration of the best Japan has to offer, where artists, performers, cooks, money makers, athletes, and waves of hopeful migrants from the north gather to see if they, too, can be the best. And many are: like New York, Tokyo is one of those places talent and hard work can bring you all the way to the top of your chosen profession--there's a reason Bob left Hibbing.

So let us give thanks before this tournament starts that the best have gathered up together at the top of the banzuke for May. Hakuho is here to dominate as he wishes, alone and formidable, a legend alive, leaning into the twilight of his career while he still burns supernova, light hours removed from the closest others. Harumafuji remains palely brilliant, the moon to Hakuho's Sol. And this time, a gang of angry little fires, the next best four wrestlers are gathered just below in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks: Terunofuji, Ichinojo, Tochiohzan, Myogiryu. Let's let the Ozeki be the air between these heavenly bodies, and enjoy this early summer concentration of talent--in the center of the sumo universe: Tokyo. We've earned it.

It was not a particularly good day of sumo to my taste, but the weather outside was glorious, and I went on a picnic with my wife and played catch on the grass with my son for hours.

We start in the Kuiper Belt.

Tokitenku (J1) v. Amuru (M16)
The slow motion tachi-ai here looked like a mistake, and it was a moment before I realized the Natsu basho had actually started. Same for Tokitenku? He stayed up high, tried a lazy pull, and gave away an easy left handed belt grip to Amuuru, who kept his head down and cautiously but firmly--no mistakes, now--drove Tokitenku out yori-kiri. If this is all Tokitenku has left, he belongs in Juryo.

Takanoiwa (M16) vs. Kotoyuki (M15)
Much as I dislike his show-offy arrogance, Kotoyuki is a big boy and self-congratulatory confidence can serve athletes well--this tournament may see him jump it up a level. Today's match was a case in point; I thought Takanoiwa, who stayed underneath in this slapper-flapper, was in better position, and Kotoyuki's whaps to the face of Takanoiwa seemed poorly placed and ineffectual: go for the body and use your strength! But, while I waited for Kotoyuki to lose, he won by oshi-dashi instead: his strength and size were too much for his opponent. Expect more of this.

Jokoryu (M15) vs. Kyokutenho (M14)
Two guys on their last legs? Jokoryu almost literally, as his bedroll rivals Aminishiki's now, and Kyokutenho because you can't defy Mother Time forever. Today, it was Jokoryu who looked like he's got a future; although Kyokutenho got a left inner grip and they were bodied up good together in a way that made it look to me like Kyok might be able to use his height, instead, Jokoryu, who enjoyed a right outer, collapsed Kyokutenho with a soto-gake trip. This one started strong and crumpled to nothing--I fear crumpled glory gone gray may at last be where Kyokutenho's career will go this basho as well. Keep proving me wrong, man!

Yoshikaze (M14) vs. Chiyomaru (M13)
Yoshikaze loves to drop to this level then light himself on fire (in the best possible way). Oftentimes there are guys who are just too good for the level they sink to, and it is very obvious when you watch. I expect Yoshikaze to be one of those guys this tourney: he isn't that far removed from his sanyaku appearance, and he has great fighting spirit. So, to start proving it, he needed to beat Chiyomaru, who is nothing but a big butterball and richly deserves this rank, soundly. Viola, Yoshikaze stayed low, ignored some beefy paws to the face, and won by a quick hiki-otoshi pull while, oddly, still going forward. Not pretty, but does show how much better than Chiyomaru Yoshikaze is when he can win even doing this.

Fujiazuma (M13) vs. Toyohibki (M12)
Nothing but slow motion upper body thrusts from these two bruisers as they tried to establish momentum. Rich Kerosene Echo Burp (Toyohibiki) ain't much, but he'd better be able to beat Fujiazuma when he challenges him in his own game, and he did with a fairly easy oshi-dashi win. If all you're gonna do is spend it, a quarter's always bigger'n a dime.

Arawashi (M12) vs. Kyokushuho (M11)
Nice work here by Kyokushuho, who kept Arawashi in front of him with a solid, body-focused tachi-ai, immediately hooked his smaller foe underneath on the belt like a UP'er fishing a grouper, lifted him upwards, and walked him back and out yorikiri.

Kaisei (M11) vs. Okinoumi (M10)
Here are two under-ranked guys, but I never have confidence in either of them anywhere on the banzuke. Okinoumi is one of the most lackadaisical rikishi on the banzuke--I can almost see his red-faced oyakata screaming at him in the evenings, "focus, goddamn it, focus!"--and Kaisei has this strange Jekyll and Hyde thing where he looks awful for long stretches, a slidy goo ball, and then looks dominant, huge, and scary for stretches. Today it was the latter for Kaisei--he was a wrecking ball on a forward swing, and Okinoumi a building made of tin, looking, as so often, like he didn't care. Kaisei destroyed him for a very easy yori-kiri win.

Ikioi (M10) vs. Endo (M9)
Endo, poor Endo, your motherland cries for you! You were roundhoused backward by bigger, genkier Ikioi, and then you fell down tsuki-otoshi.

Homarefuji (M9) vs. Takayasu (M8)
Takayasu, oh Takayasu, your fans sigh for you. Why don't you try the belt? It is only Homarefuji. Must you slap, pull, and win easily by hataki-komi at this rank? This is not why I came.

Takekaze (M8) vs. Sadanofuji (M7)
Little birdy Takekaze did a wee hop forward at the tachi-ai--straight into the long, strong arm of Sadanofuji, who proceeded to hold Takekaze by the face for most of the rest of the match. The size imbalance looked ridiculous, like a dad holding a tantruming kid at arm's length and chuckling. But lo! Actually, Sadanofuji was just being cautious--he knows there is a reason Takekaze spends most of his tournaments in the jo'i. And sure enough, when Sadanofuji couldn't pull the trigger, patient little birdy Takekaze sprang up and in, got his eensy liddle arm higher than it looked like it could go into Sadanofuji's armpit, clamped down on the shoulder, and pulled Sadanofuji down tsuki-otoshi. Hey, this is nobody's favorite technique, but I have a sneaking respect for Takekaze and this is why. Experience.

Sokokurai (M7) vs. Aoiyama (M6)
Admittedly, I was starting to get a little fed up at this point: I needed a shank of bloody, undercooked lamb instead of all of these chicken nuggets. On paper this one promised a messy mismatch, rikishi on a spit: if Blue Mountain (Aoiyama) is on his game, It's Dark There (Sokokurai) has no hope in this one, and I hoped for wanton slaughter. Indeed, Baby Bluey (Aoiyama) brought out the meat hammers and thrust It's Dark There out immediately, tsuki-dashi. Whew.

Gagamaru (M6) vs. Tamawashi (M5)
A few years ago, I expected Gagamaru to turn out like Aoiyama--too huge to lose. But he proved docile, vulnerable, and bewildered, to the point where last time's standout Makuuchi return performance was a surprise: this was not the lame duck disappointment I had come to remember him as. And with a guy like that, there is usually very little chance he can continue the hot streak when his rank shoots up. His opponent Snack Break (Tamawashi) is boring as all get out, but is also a seasoned pro who, like a couple guys I've mentioned earlier such as the two Kazes, has enough skills to spend a lot of time in the jo'i. There wasn't a lot to see here--a lot of up-high arm-push wrangling--but ultimately Gagamaru tired first and had nowhere to go. Also, Tamawashi kept ducking in low, which Gagamaru didn't try, and Tamawashi head-butted Gagamaru toward the end, silled the dill pickle. Solid but unspectacular oshi-dashi win, emblematic of his career in general, for Office Worker (Tamawashi).

Kitataiki (M5) vs. Tokushoryu (M4)
Two seriously over-ranked guys, one of whom you can expect here from time to time (Kitataiki is a wrester's wrestler) and one of whom has always looked more like an M16 to me (flabby and colorless Tokushoryu). However, size still matters in sumo, and Tokushoryu has plenty of it. Kitataiki got underneath from the tachi-ai, brought his feet with him, had Tokushoryu at the straw, and looked to have a quick win in him. But Kitataiki let Toku dance to the side and shake loose of his grip, and when they reconnected Toku was able to get an on-and-off right outer grip. More important, he was able to squeeze down from above with both arms, something like a kime position, and eventually just leaned on Kitataiki and collapsed him for a yorikiri win. Time to stop underestimating him perhaps? A Bushuyama of sorts?

Chiyootori (M4) vs. Osunaarashi (M3)
I was excited for this one, as both of these guys performed great last basho in coming back from injuries, and could threaten for sanyaku. However, it fizzled, probably through no fault of their own: Chiyootori looked to simply slip and fall, ruled hataki-komi, after the first neck-grab by Big Sandy (Osunaarashi). However, there are two pieces of news here: it was Chiyootori's bandaged left knee that went out from under him--he may be in trouble. And for Giant Sand (Osunaarashi), that neck-stab is what he was winning with last time. Stay tuned.

Aminishiki (M2) vs. Myogiryu (S)
Myogiryu knows Aminishiki is Shneaky, and that turned this one into a yawner: Myogiryu tried a series of thrusts as well as pulls, but he also kept back far enough that some of these never connected with Aminishiki's body: Myogiryu's goal was to keep Ami in front of him and not fall prey to dastardism, rather than go out and git sum. Luckily for him, Aminishiki looked about as lively as a dugong, and Myogiryu's cautious approach worked like a charm for the oshi-dashi win.

Terunofuji (S) vs. Sadanoumi (M3)
Most basho there are two major players: the clear best (Hakuho for years now) and some other guy who has buzz because you can FEEL he is on and looks legit--without question Terunofuji. If you're human, usually you're rooting for that second guy, and I certainly was here. Lots to like in the steady, straightforward sumo of Sadanoumi as well, but zero buzz, as he and his little self have flown under the radar all the way up to the jo'i.

Terunofuji may have been too cautious here. His weak tachi-ai gave the more aggressive Sadanoumi the first belt grip. Fuji the Terrible almost immediately countered with his own, then twisted Sadanoumi, feet floating, around to get his back to the bales--but wheeled around just a tad too far, as Sada was able to use his right inner grip to complete a 360 degree turn and put Teru back-to-straw instead--and added a left outer grip as well. Sadanoumi then boldly went for it, throwing his entire body into the air while being lifted again, both feet off the ground, against Terunofuji's chest. He was lucky it worked out: Terror Mountain stepped out into empty space just as an out of control Sadanoumi sprayed sand with his over-the-straw foot, yori-kiri win. Terunofuji had Sadanoumi 100% in the air twice in this one, but couldn't win. I will credit Sadanoumi for aggression and poise.

Toyonoshima (M2) vs. Goeido ("O")
Toyonoshima appeared to be reduced to the need to merely resist, jerking flipsy-dipsy, held-back arms up and down, as Goeido worked on a nice inside/outside upper body hug and got a yori-kiri win out of it. Nothing wrong with Goeido's sumo here, and if he fought like this more consistently--win or lose--I'd consider taking the quote marks off the "O." (Or is that a zero?)

Tochinoshin (M1) vs. Kotoshogiku (O)
While this was slightly longer, it was a nearly identical match. Tochinoshin resisted futilely as Kotoshogiku worked with a right inside grip. Eventually, we saw Kotoshogiku's patented gaburi when he had The Private (Tochinoshin) at the bales. When it didn't work, he used the inside grip to throw Tochinoshin, combined with a leveraging left hand on the back of the neck, to a nice roll across the dirt, shitate-nage. If this was real I'll take it any day. I hate that the basho-to-basho, match-to-match quality of the O-zero-kis for years and years forces me to wonder.

Kisenosato (O) vs. Takarafuji (M1)
I am sticking by Kisenosato, who I have always liked and still believe earns this rank (Mike will explain the opposite to you tomorrow). Today against Takarafuji Kisenosato showed solid, steady forward movement, calmly keeping himself bodied up. Couldn't see the other side, but looked like Takarafuji had the first grip, an inside left. Didn't matter. Kisenosato eventually had grips with both hands off and on; Takarafuji stained, struggled, and wiggled his hips to try to get loose, but was oshi-dashi fodder for the Ozeki.

(It should not be that all three Ozeki win and all three of those wins somehow feel like upsets.)

Tochiohzan (K) vs. Harumafuji (Y)
La di da, ahem! Harumafuji here! Tochiohzan is pretty good so I, though I am big and strong, will move out slightly to my left after initial tachi-ai contact--don't worry, casual fans won't even really notice!--allowing me to sling my opponent around and down for what will look like a ridiculously easy uwate-nage win. Here we go… and hey, in fact, it was ridiculously easy! What, you have a problem with that? I'm a Yokozuna, dummy! When I combine my skills with a solid plan of attack and a bit of misdirection, how can I lose? Would you like me to lose on purpose, or make myself bad on purpose? Do that yourself instead, loser. This is what winning can look like. You think I got here by playing the sheep? You think wolves give a rip?

Hakuho (Y) vs. Ichinojo (K) (Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun)
This was my most anticipated bout of the day, but unfortunately to my eye it delivered drama only in outcome, not in process. One feels a little flat when the best guy faces the biggest guy on day one instead of day fourteen--there isn't enough build up time. Get the Mongolith (Ichinojo) and Fuji the Terrible (Terunofuji) to Ozeki already.

It also drains the drama when the match is a two second pull and hand-touch-down affair. (With that, you should have already guessed the winner.) Hakuho went aggressively for the right inner grip, but didn't get it, while Ichinojo paid attention instead to Hakuho's left side, doing a dipsy doodle of a quick wrench-up-and-throw using his left arm--unusual speed for the Iron Blob of Gravity Grease and his usual "thawing molasses" sumo--unbalancing Hakuho, who put his hand down on the clay. I dunno. Did I not like it because Hakuho lost (I like Hakuho!), or because I didn't like it? The upshot is this: start your engines, gentleman. A dozen guys, from Amuru to Zakekaze, have a one-match lead on the frontrunner.

Ah, Tokyo in May. I'm going to open the window wide, sleep deep, and dream that Mike will play catch with us tomorrow.























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