Simon Siddall @

Aki Basho Roundtable Report
Kotooshu, Kotooshu, Kotooshu.  That's all I've heard from the Japanese people I've encountered this week.  It is, of course, no surprise at all to hear that from the Japanese public, who are just as vulnerable to mass media manipulation as anyone else.  That's right - generate blanket coverage and get that 204cm frame and lush, lean, gorgeous, magnificent...ahem, fine sumo body dominating the screen and all the young women...uh...serious fans of sumo will go crazy with desire...er, sorry, will nod in appreciation of his sumo abilities.

Frankly, the media in Japan is just as profit-driven and shameless as it is in, say, the United States and Britain (just to pluck some examples out of the air).  I say screw the bastards.  It is a flat disgrace that they have almost ignored the remarkable achievement of Yokozuna Asashoryu.  But who cares?  It's just the media.  They don't give a damn about Kotooshu either.  They just see a hunk of attractive meat who will sell more copies of their worthless rags and get more aimless sheep viewing the vacuous advertisements of their sponsors.

So, sod them all.  At Sumotalk, we like to cut through the crap that surrounds the sport and tell it like it is.  This basho was no different in this regard.  While everyone was saying sugoi sugoi in appreciation of Kotooshu's unprecedented twelve straight wins at Sekiwake, we (all five contributers to one degree or another) were pointing out the fact that in the first week, Kotooshu's sumo was at best not in the slightest bit worthy of an Ozeki or an Ozeki candidate.  His sumo improved in the second week as perhaps some of the criticism began to sink in.  That would not be surprising because leading the barbs was Asashoryu himself.  There is no doubt whatsoever that next basho will be crucial for Kotooshu.  Not only will he need ten or eleven wins, he will need to show sumo worthy of an Ozeki, one of the many requirements for promotion.

For readers relatively new to sumo, here are those requirements: a successful Ozeki candidate is required to get at least 32 or 33 wins over three basho in sanyaku (the three ranks above Maegashira not including Yokozuna).  Kotooshu has 35 wins over three basho but one of those was spent at M5, where he did not fight all the top ranked lads, most notably Ozeki Tochiazuma.  They also prefer a rising trend over those basho, for example, 9-6, 11-4, 12-3, although this is not crucial.  And finally, the rikishi is required to show consistently good sumo, in other words, that worthy of an Ozeki.  For all those people who have written in to Sumotalk asking what's wrong with using the henka to get wins, the above promotion requirements go some way towards providing a good answer.  Evasive tachiai and moving backwards is not considered Ozeki sumo.  As Clancy pointed out in his day 15 comments, sumo is about nobility, not showing how efficiently you can jump out of the way.  Kotooshu will have to show us what he can do in Kyushu or he will be a Sekiwake for a bit longer than planned.  The thing is, he CAN bring it.  In the second week, he proved that he can generate good, forward sumo.  Let's have some more of that.

Now let's turn our attention to the true star of the show, Yokozuna Asashoryu.  Kenji has eloquently stated the facts in his post-basho comments.  You don't need me to repeat them.  I agree that we are looking at history in the making.  It is downright scandalous that Asashoryu's achievement has been nigh on ignored.  Make no mistake, Asashoryu will go on winning.  He is in a different class to all and any who would challenge him.  He is also growing into his role as the moral leader of sumo very nicely.  He emits a real sense of presence wherever he goes.  The Japanese sumo fans might not like him, but they are going to damn well respect him.  Ironically, I felt that Asashoryu was relatively weak this basho.  He looked awful in that loss to Aminishiki, and in his victory over Kotoshogiku.  It is a measure of his genius, however, that he was able to turn things round after that to win all the remaining bouts to force a play-off.  That's fourteen yusho at the age of twenty-four (now twenty-five).  It is amazing regardless what your opinion of the overall opposition is, which in my case, is pretty low.  That's a story for another day, however.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai (10-5) dragged us back to the past to give us a reminder of how strong he used to be.  Like a mutant squirrel, he put those tsuppari to good effect and walked through ten bouts to consign his kadoban status to oblivion, at least until January next year.  It appears that Chiyotaikai really dislikes fighting away from Tokyo because he has had make-koshi in every honbasho away from Kokugikan since (and including) Kyushu last November.  This does not bode well for the next basho, but his success or lack of it will depend on injuries and his mental state, not historical patterns.  Ozeki Tochiazuma (10-5) continued to drift as he somehow managed to lose to the laughably outmatched (this basho) Takamisakari.  Although Tochiazuma was beaten fair and square in three of his bouts, the losses to Kotomitsuki and Circus demonstrated once more his propensity to lose to opponents he shouldn't do.  This has damaged his career and he needs to work on his concentration, which has been clearly lacking over the fifteen days of any honbasho you care to mention of late.  Ozeki Kaio (0-4-11) should not have been up on the dohyo at all, but he gave it a shot.  Why bother?  If you're injured, then you're injured.  I understand the pressure these lads are under to avoid demotion but just have a look at what happened to former Yokozuna Takanohana when he decided to fight on with a serious injury.  It ended his career.  Let's hope Kaio recovers enough to give his many fans one last swansong.

Whatever your opinion on the content of his sumo, Shin-Sekiwake Kotooshu (13-2) deserves a great deal of credit for injecting life into this basho as he gave the Yokozuna a real scare.  We have talked a lot about Kotooshu's poor first week so we don't need to go into that any further.  One other point needs to be made.  Kotooshu's mental fragility in the big bouts, as demonstrated so dramatically against Wakanosato on the final day of the Nagoya Basho, was all too apparent again as he choked against Kisenosato on day 13.  He then appeared to give up against the Yokozuna in the kettei-sen (play-off).  Some have said he lost his balance at the edge, explaining why he capitulated so lamely, but it seemed to me that he had lost the bout in his mind before the tachiai had even taken place.  There are two big demons in Kotooshu's mind.  One of them is Asashoryu, the other is his fear of taking/dropping the yusho– take your pick.  Somehow he needs to address these, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  All this talk would be necessary for a Yokozuna candidate.  It is not so important yet for Kotooshu to be challenging Asashoryu.  An Ozeki simply needs to show good sumo and provide decent competition for the Yokozuna.  Let's get that out of the way first.  One thing I will say is that Kotooshu is becoming very difficult to beat, as a direct result of his awesome technical abilities.  For this, at least, praise is due.

It was a real shame that Sekiwake Wakanosato ( 4-3-8 ) was forced to pull out after doing the splits a la Tochinonada in his day 6 bout against Hakuho.  He was showing some good sumo and would, I am certain, have made an impact on the basho.  He will fall into Maegashira for Kyushu, probably down to the M5 or M6 mark, and should kick everyone's arse down there if he fully recovers.

Komusubi Kotomitsuki was his usual erratic self this time.  He said himself that his condition was poor so a 9-6 record and promotion to Sekiwake West for Kyushu is something of a bonus.  The potential with this rikishi has always been huge but he is going on 30 and it looks like he might have left it a little late.

Komusubi Futenoh (5-10) will be most disappointed with his performance.  I stand by what I have said about this young rikishi.  He is future Ozeki material (conditional on his back problems not returning, of course).  Aki was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for him.  He started with that memorable win over the Yokozuna, followed by a bread and butter win over Kakizoe.  He was then THROWN by Chiyotaikai on day 3 (emphasis on THROWN).  Dejima entertained us all by jumping out of the way on day 4, and then Futenoh was overwhelmed on day 5 by some superb sumo from Wakanosato.  Kotooshu then showed us how good he is at henka on day 6, and by this stage, Futenoh's confidence was shot to pieces.  He only rallied in the final stages of the basho against weak rikishi.  Futenoh will be back down in the Maegashira ranks in Kyushu .  Perhaps when the pressure of being new to sanyaku is off him, he will show us all what he can do.

Let's take a leisurely stroll through the Maegashira ranks.  How bad was M1 Miyabiyama (6-9)?  One of the worst performances I have ever had the misfortune to witness.  His 'sumo' was summed up nicely with that day 14 henka he pulled on Hokutoriki, who was 7-6 at the time, after Miyabiyama already had a make-koshi.  Nice.  Classy.  If you're not going to try to do proper sumo and treat your opponents with respect, then do us all a favour and retire.  M1 Hakuho (9-6) did well despite having an injured ankle.  The fact that he can pick up nine wins at this level when injured speaks volumes about his ability.  Future Yokozuna here.

M2 Kakizoe (7-8) recovered well from a tough first week to win the final four days and ensure that his demotion next basho is not too painful.  I am an admirer of Kakizoe in general.  He is never going to make it right to the top but he is a thorn in the side of anyone on his day.  M2 Kokkai (5-10) was frankly horrific.  Tachiai is particularly vital for him and it just was not firing this time.  It looks like the top boys have worked him out.  Back to the drawing board for the big fella.

Like Kakizoe, M3 Dejima (7-8) won the final four days after a tough first week.  He looked a little out of his depth at this rank.  Late career Dejima appears to be happy around the M5 mark.  M3 Kyokutenho (10-5) put up some good sumo, including a memorable schooling of Kisenosato and other prestigious scalps in Chiyotaikai and Wakanosato.  He is likely to be Komusubi West in Kyushu .

M8 Tamanoshima (11-4) outclassed this rank as expected.  This explains why he did not receive any special prizes.  He'll be back at the top of Maegashira next basho, getting his arse tanned as usual.  M9 Tamaasuka surprised me with a poor 4-11 performance.  The youngster impressed in his debut in Nagoya but showed generally poor sumo this time around.  Expect a turnaround from this promising youngster in Kyushu at the bottom of the Makuuchi division.

M10 Asasekiryu ( 6-2-7 ) deserves a mention for coming back from eight days of injury to win four of his last five bouts.  Good lad.  M10 Roho will be disappointed that he could only muster eight wins at this low rank.  It does not bode well.

M11 Ama (9-6) gave his usual display of technical brilliance.  It would be nice to see Ama up at the top of the banzuke but more bulk is definitely required.  M12 Hakurozan proved once again how erratic he is with a lackluster 7-8.  Surely he and his brother are the most miserable rikishi in history.  See Clancy's day 5 comments for more details.

M13 Kotonowaka (8-7) turned back the clock to actually do some decent sumo.  He commented that his knee was a lot better, obviously the reason he was able to put some oomph into his bouts this time.  Let's be honest, though - all it takes is a recurrence and it will be curtains for the big man, and taking into account his size, age and the punishment he has put his body through over the years, it's only a matter of (a short) time.

M16 Kisenosato finally showed us all what he is capable of with a commanding performance of textbook sumo.  He has improved drastically since Nagoya but the potential was always there.  He will have a chance to prove himself against more deadly foes in Kyushu .  If he can keep that lovely tachiai and low stance together, and continue improving his balance at the edge, we will see great things.  Remember that this was the man who stopped Kotooshu from getting his yusho.  Even at this low rank, he proved himself capable of affecting the basho.  He will be ranked up at around M6 or M7 next time and may get the chance to fight an Ozeki, perhaps even the Yokozuna if there are injuries.  A just reward.

Finally, it was sad to see the great M17 Tochinonada fall to a make-koshi and probable (not definite) demotion to Juryo.  He was clearly hampered with his injury but still managed to put up seven wins.  If he recovers fully in the next two months, put your money on him walking to the Juryo yusho (if he is demoted, of course) next time.  He is most definitely not past it yet.

That's it from me.  An intriguing basho, high on excitement and definitely low on all-round sumo content.  However, there's plenty to talk about going into Kyushu .  Thanks for reading...see you in a few weeks.

Aki Pre-basho Report
Hail and well met for the finest basho of the sumo calendar. Why is it the finest? I don't know. All I am hoping for is an upturn in the level of sumo from the sanyaku ranks, which were frankly very disappointing last basho, and indeed have been mostly average at best all year.

Hang on a minute, though. A cursory glance at the Aki banzuke will tell you that we finally have some (emphasis on some) quality rikishi lined up for our entertainment and delight. I will be keeping a close eye on shin-Komusubi (meaning Komusubi for the first time) Futenoh after his impressive breakthrough performance in Nagoya. We also have Sekiwake Kotooshu hoping to put the wheels on an Ozeki-run bandwagon. Kotomitsuki and Wakanosato have proven themselves to be decent – if inconsistent – rikishi. Rounding out the top end of the banzuke we have a seemingly unstoppable Yokozuna. You will note that I have omitted the Ozeki here.

We will start at the top as usual. Yokozuna Asashoryu has been away in Mongolia between basho – wrestling with otters, no doubt – and is going for Taiho's record of six straight yusho and frankly, short of injury or illness, there is no one to stand in his way. Mike has mentioned the need for a rival for the Yokozuna. For the fans, that is obviously true, but Asashoryu would like to get a bit closer to twenty-five or more yusho before someone comes along to challenge him. He knows he still has a long way to go before he gets to that magic figure of 32 yusho and I am sure he likes things just as they are. I remember writing the pre-Hatsu report last January and saying that come Kyushu, Asashoryu would be looking at passing Wajima's fourteen yusho after winning every basho this year. If he can come close to repeating this performance next year, he will be hovering around twenty yusho by the end of next year. Ladies and gentlemen, the Yokozuna will turn 25 two days after the final day of the Aki Basho, and he looks in impeccable condition, and appears able to shrug off and avoid injuries at will. If he can keep it up, we are looking at history in the making. And in sumo, history really does mean history. Another yusho for Asashoryu – his tenth in eleven basho. Write it in your diary. He will want a zensho (15-0), of course, because he is still only halfway to Taiho's record of eight such yusho. For the record, Chiyonofuji and Kitanoumi both have seven zensho yusho.

I will go through the Ozeki ranks with one sweep. This is the sixth consecutive basho where we have had a kadoban Ozeki. Translation: they are all crap, oh, not allowed to say that? OK, underperforming.. According to reports, Kaio has pulled a hamstring and is unable to do any keiko. He is currently waiting to see how it goes before deciding whether or not to go kyujo. If he does compete, he will have done little or no keiko and will most likely suffer as a result. Yes, we have seen top rikishi fight before without doing much keiko, and they have sometimes performed satisfactorily (at least in terms of putting up the numbers). However, the veteran Ozeki is crocked in so many parts of his body it is a wonder he can get out of bed in the mornings. If he doesn't go kyujo, he will probably struggle to a kachi-koshi. He is still good enough to get the odd win here and there with one leg. The trick, of course, will be to get that right hand grip on the opponents' mawashi. He still has what it takes in the nage department. Tochiazuma got injured in Nagoya but still managed to fight his way to a creditable 9-6 record. One thing I have always liked about Tochiazuma is his ability to stay on his feet – you rarely see him lose with a throw. That low center of gravity and cautious tachiai has served him well over the years. However, I have noticed that he is looking a lot more precarious of late. I keep waiting for him to trip up. This could just be a consequence of his injuries - I hope so, being a long-time fan. Don't expect too much from him this time but he is always good for at least ten wins, and we all know what he is capable of when he gets the bit between his teeth. He is no match for Asashoryu these days, though, no matter what the head-to-head stats say. Ozeki Chiyotaikai is kadoban yet again. We all know he has had injuries (currently knee and ankle) and his sumo has been bloody horrendous for over a year – he would be the first to say so. Indeed, he has said so on more than one occasion. He really is just hanging on for dear life now. The top end of the banzuke looks too strong this time for Chiyo so I think we can kiss him goodbye. He will do well to get six or seven wins, meaning a demotion to Sekiwake. Lord Clancy may well have been correct in his prediction that the troubled Ozeki would retire by Christmas, but even if he is demoted, he will still have one more basho to pick up ten wins and boomerang back to Ozeki, meaning retirement may wait until early next year. One thing I will say to any readers who are relatively new to watching the sport – Chiyotaikai was not always rubbish. When he was on his game, he was rock hard, and great to watch, too. Never as powerful as Akebono, of course, but faster and more focused. Bye bye Sooty.

Sekiwake Kotooshu appears to be perfecting the art of keeping out of trouble at the tachiai and waiting for his opponent to commit himself before pouncing. It is an interesting variation on the tactics used by another jolly green giant, former Ozeki Takanonami, who used to wrap his arms over the shoulders of his opponents and swing them (rather tediously) out of the dohyo. Kotooshu is certainly very adept at nage waza and he keeps his opponents guessing as to whether he will use offensive or defensive sumo. This is a useful tactical edge. Opponents of, say, Iwakiyama, know before they fight that they're going to be facing a straightforward raging bull, but with Kotooshu they have no idea what is going to happen. I am sure his oyakata will say publicly that he would like to see his charge winning more often by yorikiri or other offensive techniques, but privately, I am sure he is happy to see the young Bulgarian putting up the numbers any which way. He is coming off a sweet 12-3 in Nagoya and he should get a kachi-koshi at the very least this time around. One thing that is demonstrably lacking is the mental side of his game. We know from senshuraku of last basho when he got his arse kicked good and proper that when the chips are down his stomach churns with nerves, and fatally so. This needs to be addressed and it will be interesting to see how he handles the increased spotlight this basho. Nevertheless, I predict nine or ten wins for Captain Beanpole.

The other Sekiwake Wakanosato is coming into Aki off a decent 11-4 last time out. Like Kotooshu, he has the chance to get an Ozeki run going for Kyushu if he can scrape together ten or eleven wins this time. He has the advantage of not really being under all that much pressure because he has been around for a while, indeed has been at Sekiwake on and off since the invention of the talking toaster, so he is by no means the new kid on the block as is Kotooshu. I think he will quietly rack up the wins in Kokugikan and should easily manage nine, possibly ten.

Shin-Komusubi Futenoh has not yet been embraced by the Japanese fans as a whole, and the same goes for the press. One might speculate that he just doesn't beat his chest enough before bouts. What he does do, however, is bring solidity and power to the dohyo with a grace I have rarely seen (and yes, I know Asashoryu also possesses these qualities in abundance). He really was a revelation last basho and I desperately hope that his magnificent display in Nagoya was not a flash in the pan. He reminds me somewhat of one of my all-time favourites, former Sekiwake and seven-time Shukun-sho winner, Akinoshima, and that is high praise indeed from my own personal point of view. As the new Komusubi, it is highly likely that he will meet Yokozuna Asashoryu on the first day, and will also have a very tough first week. This is often a real killer for the morale of Komusubi, who often find themselves 2-5 after a first week diet of top class rikishi. One can almost imagine the conversation between Futenoh and another rikishi in Dewanoumi Beya on the day the banzuke was released:

Rikishi (jealously): Hey, Futenoh-zeki, you'll probably be fighting the Yokozuna on the first day

Futenoh: Arse

Rikishi: And you'll be meeting all the Ozeki and other decent rikishi in the first week

Futenoh: Arse

Rikishi: Are you going to write anything on your blog about it?

Futenoh: Arse

I will be supporting him avidly this time, and although it could all easily go wrong for him, I will stick my neck out and say that he will get his eight wins. However, I really do think he is a fine rikishi now that he seems to have completely recovered from his back problems of yore, and then there is the fact that he is solid in defense and able/patient in attack. With this in mind, I reckon he can get nine or ten if he stays calm and focused. As a note of caution, however, don't forget Kotooshu's first basho in sanyaku – a horrible 4-11. It can all easily go wrong at this rank. However, this is a different situation - Kotooshu was little more than a flimsy, teasing little waif at that time, and was hyped to buggery to boot (not least by me). Anyway, Futenoh said recently that he will try to be more aggressive this basho, and he also went up in my estimation by saying he will never do a henka. This means he is a real man, not a mincing ponce who chickens out of a real fight – are you listening Hakurozan? But don't get me started on the henka again!

Other Komusubi Kotomitsuki is a conundrum as usual. I predict anything between 4 and 12 wins. He really is a total nightmare. He would be well-advised to stop thinking and just do his own sumo. He can be absolutely brilliant, and is certainly capable of beating anyone – yes, anyone – on his day. If I am pushed to make a prediction, I will go for seven or eight wins.

I have bored you to death for far too long with sanyaku so I will just make a brief tour through the rank-and-file lads to watch out for. M1 Hakuho went kyujo last basho – a great disappointment as he was looking almost invincible. He has been doing some keiko and there have been conflicting reports about his readiness. He will definitely be competing, however, and the fact that he has managed to do some keiko means that he must at least be able to hobble around. Hakuho and Kotooshu are really similar these days, in my opinion, in that they are both getting excellent at keeping out of trouble at tachiai and waiting for the right moment to make their moves. It is defensive sumo – yes – but it is crowd-pleasing stuff because as often as not the bouts end with last ditch nage. Everyone likes a nice throw. If he doesn't pull out, he should be a safe bet for kachi-koshi. It is hard to say at this time.

M2 Kokkai will be trying that turbo-charged tachiai against all the top lads again this time. Due to injuries, Kokkai met all the remaining Ozeki and the Yokozuna last basho despite being down at M6. The tachiai paid him some serious dividends, most notably in his controversial win over Asashoryu. Rikishi have been bouncing off him, even the biggest and the best. If he can keep it up, expect another eight or nine wins. If not, we will see a collapse.

Keep an eye on M10 Roho and M17 Tochinonada. If they have recovered from their injuries, they are going to walk through their bouts at these ludicrously low ranks, to which they have been demoted because of injuries last time. Indeed, expect to see challenges for the yusho lasting into the second week from these two. This is conditional on them being fully (or almost fully) back to their peaks.

Other rikishi from whom we might see decent sumo include M9 Tamaasuka, who impressed in his debut in Nagoya. He has work to do on various aspects of his sumo but he will quickly adapt to this division and show us what he is capable of. M12 Hakurozan has not yet impressed me with his sumo content, and I have been concerned especially with his lack of fighting spirit on the dohyo. However, the quality is in there somewhere and he won some bouts very easily last time. He should put up eight or nine wins.  Also keep an eye on M6 Kotoshogiku, who showed some delightful sumo in Nagoya.  

By the way, at the recent YDC soken, both Kokkai and Hakurozan did a runner when the Yokozuna got up on the dohyo, and this did not please Kitanoumi Rijicho one bit. They were probably worried that they would get injured. Understandable, I suppose. The Yokozuna is not well-known for holding back in practice. Incidentally, the YDC's only female member, Makiko Uchidate memorably described the recent soken as like 'being in a hospital waiting room.' Remind me not to go to her local hospital next time I am sick. She also said it was the worst soken she had ever seen.

M11 Ama should do all right at this rank. He looked listless and tired in Nagoya so let's hope he's had a fruitful and inspiring break. His solid sumo and dazzling array of techniques is always a pleasure to watch. M16 Kisenosato needs to start getting his arse in gear because a make-koshi at this rank will most likely mean demotion to Juryo. He is obviously a bit of a slow developer, but, as most readers will know, there are many ways to bait a badger - possibly – so let's give him time. I confidently predict at least eight or nine wins for the young hopeful.

M14 Jumonji really should make mincemeat of everyone at this rank. At least I hope he does because I predicted at the beginning of the year that he would make M6 (he managed to get to M7 east – aaarghhh!). And I will be wholeheartedly supporting the plucky Korean M16 Kasugao on his return to the big time. I am sure I am not alone in remembering his courageous display in the Haru Basho when he got badly injured against Kaiho on the first day but fought on to the end of the basho nonetheless, finishing with a 1-14 record. Go Kasugao.

Possible villains are as follows: expect M1 Miyabiyama to shame his rank with some lumbering and pitiful sumo. However, he is a big strong lad and is more than capable of blundering to a kachi-koshi in the manner of a giant careening mutant donkey. He needs to lose weight. M4 Kyokushuzan is still too high to be making an effort and will almost certainly get a losing record. Expect five wins at the most from him. M5 Takamisakari is going to suffer this basho but he will no doubt give his all as he always does. I agree with Mike about Circus being good at the edge but the quality of the competition is just a bit out of his reach, I reckon.

Not villains as such because I am a big fan of both of them but M8 Tosanoumi and M13 Kotonowaka look pretty much past it, especially the latter. Tosa might still have a few surprises in the tank, however, so I would not be surprised to see him scrape eight wins but Koto is looking like retirement material. Bon voyage.

The other injured rikishi I have not mentioned are M7 Kaiho and M10 Asasekiryu. Kaiho will definitely not enter the Aki Basho but Asasekiryu will probably make an appearance. I would keep an eye on the injury news this week as there is plenty of uncertainty.

And that, my furry friends, is that. I will be reporting on four days this basho, mostly in the second week. See you then, and keep your fingers crossed for some red hot action in Kokugikan. I will be there myself on the eighth, thirteenth and fifteenth days. Can't wait!

Predictions:

Yusho: Asashoryu (15-0)

Shukun-sho: None

Gino-sho: Kotooshu

Kanto-sho: Kotoshogiku

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