Haru Roundtable Report | Click here for pre-basho report
I wonder whether I'm the only sumo fan who is having trouble remembering much about Haru 2006. The events at the end of senshuraku are manifestly to blame for this. I have made some remarks in my blog on the allegations of thrown matches and will not touch on that here, but I freely admit to some reluctance in dwelling on normality in what was a pretty poor basho in terms of sumo quality, with two notable exceptions – I think you know the ones.
I'll start with the triumphant Yokozuna. That's yusho number 16 for Taiho's worst nightmare. If anyone is going to beat that record of 32 yusho, you have to say Asashoryu (13-2) is the man for the job. Quickly dispelling any doubts about the arm injury that ruined him in January, Asashoryu put on his usual display of grace and power that so endears him to his ever-growing legion of admirers. Although many romantic neutrals would like to have seen Hakuho take his first yusho, I believe the Yokozuna was just as deserving a winner of a tournament that only two men were ever going to win. At least the victor was decided in the best way - the kettei-sen is the closest we can get to a draw in sumo – because in my opinion, a draw would have been the fairest result.
Just promoted Ozeki Hakuho (13-2) showed brilliant, steady sumo from day one, totally dominating almost all of his opponents with deft ease, showing frightening power and technical awareness in the process. I know I'm not the only person who sees echoes of Takanohana every time he lines up at the shikiri-sen, and his eyes are getting scarier as well. As a number of us on this site have said for quite some time now, Hakuho becoming a Yokozuna is simply a matter of time. Just one more basho like this one in May will see a tsuna-tori bid in Nagoya. Who'd bet against it?
Regarding Ozeki Tochiazuma (12-3), I have just one word to say: Aminishiki. If Tochiazuma had beaten him as he should have done, he would have been part of a three-way kettei-sen and would probably have been promoted even if he had lost, on the strength of the jun-yusho. That's how close he was to promotion, regardless of how poor (in general over the tournament) his sumo was in comparison to the two Mongolians. If he had henka'd Aminishiki to get that win, do you think they would have denied him the promotion? I don't think they would have done. He would have had the 13-win jun-yusho the authorities had asked for, beating Asashoryu and Hakuho along the way, and that would have been that. Clancy mentioned on his blog the other day that Tochiazuma's style is that of an Ozeki, not a Yokozuna, and on the strength of this one basho, I'd agree, but he went 14-1 yusho in January and has, in fact, the best record of any rikishi this year, currently 26-4 with one yusho. Asashoryu is 24-6 with one yusho. Hakuho is 26-4 with two jun-yusho. These are Yokozuna numbers regardless of whether one approves of his style or not. As I discussed in my pre-basho report, the evidence does indeed point to Tochiazuma being a Yokozuna troubled with injuries, not an appealing prospect. Doesn't matter. He gets the numbers, he gets the promotion, and we worry about the other problems later. Being a biased Tochiazuma fan, I kinda liked (in a guilty way) the decision of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council (YDC) to keep his tsuna-tori bid alive until May simply because (as stated above) Tochiazuma has the best record of any rikishi this year and, controversies aside, he has not lost to any of the Yokozuna or Ozeki at all (except for Kaio this basho). However, from an unbiased view, it would be outrageous if they promoted him with a jun-yusho in May simply to fulfill their fervent desire for a Japanese Yokozuna. Chairman Ishibashi of the YDC said that thirteen wins will be enough, yusho or no. They must be bloody desperate if they're going to risk another Futahaguro, who was promoted with no yusho, and won bugger all afterwards as well, an all-round disaster that ultimately led to a stricter adherence to the consecutive yusho rule. In fact, going by their own rules, Tochiazuma should not be promoted even with a yusho, because he wouldn't have consecutive yusho, or even a jun-yusho followed by a yusho. If he wins in May and July, yes, promote him, or risk debasing the sport yet again.
Back to the man himself, his recent reliance on oshi-zumo and flawless tachi-ai puts him at a disadvantage to the top yotsu-zumo lads. Oshi-zumo rikishi are always more susceptible to unexpected pull downs, mid-bout henka and so on because they cannot use the body of their opponent to steady themselves with. Successful oshi-zumo rikishi need at least one of either enormous strength (Akebono), speed (Chiyotaikai in his prime) or great lower-body stability (Tochiazuma), but we have all seen (been entertained by) Akebono and Chiyotaikai flying unceremoniously onto or out of the dohyo when a wily opponent steps prudently out of the way. We don't often see the same scenes with Tochiazuma but he will basically need a bit of luck and a lot of concentration in May, with perhaps a helping hand from the sumo authorities. I don't think the promotion is impossible but it would be the biggest shock since Mike turned up unannounced at the all-Utah transvestite darts championship wearing only shin pads and a gum shield.
Looking at the other three Ozeki, Kotooshu deserves a new shiny feather in his cap for fighting bravely through a serious injury to nine wins. Many of the victories were straightforward, a tribute to his technical prowess, and a reminder of the mediocrity of the opposition this basho. I've already given my views on fighting with injuries – for me, the complete abolition of the kosho (public injury) system was not the answer to the problem of numerous rikishi with sick notes from their mummies. I'm not saying there is an easy solution to the problem but something needs to be done. How does it help sumo if one of its brightest young stars, Kotooshu, is seriously screwed up, maybe even permanently, after being forced to fight with an injury? How does it justify the entrance fee for Kotooshu fans to see their man struggling manfully to win with only one leg? Stupidity.
Ozeki Kaio got his eight wins but he really shouldn't have been forced to do it in the last weekend against the big boys. To me Kaio looked ponderous and basically old throughout and while I admit I am pleased we will still be seeing his face around for a little longer, I still think it might be better for him to go now while he has his dignity. He is simply no longer the superb rikishi he was and could easily be humiliated in coming basho. No one wants to see that. Do what Akebono did, Kaio (but don't do what he did after his retirement from sumo).
I don't see much point in piling yet more criticism on Ozeki Chiyotaikai (9-6), but I can certainly try. For me, Chiyo is like the human appendix. Redundant but STILL there...and it can really hurt. It was a standard kadoban escape basho for him: lots of ballet, very little decent sumo - well, you know the score by now. Expect him to pull out after three or four days in Tokyo at the first hint of an einjury'. And the same (piling on criticism) goes for Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (8-7), who is now predictable in his unpredictability. He looked dominant in the first week, but then capitulated as usual in the second half. Doesn't look like Kotomitsuki will ever make Ozeki now but he will always be remembered as a fine Sekiwake in my eyes. He has more talent on the go than Julian Casablancas but just doesn't seem to have the mental side of the game there for the two weeks.
In my basho preview I said that Shin-Komusubi Roho (4-11) could get a winning record if he trusted in his own sumo and didn't resort to pulling tactics. The big Russian clearly doesn't read my columns because he did exactly that. Against Tochiazuma, Tamanoshima, Aminishiki, Miyabiyama, he lost badly for this reason. He looked good only in two bouts (I refuse to include the win over Hokutoriki in here because my great-grandmother's pet poodle could have beaten Hokutoriki by yorikiri this basho); against Iwakiyama and Kotomitsuki, he employed his own sumo to good effect and came up smelling of roses. I suggest that Roho watch a few videos of Hakuho getting the mawashi grip he wants via a strong tachi-ai. And have you noticed that Roho really doesn't like being thrown? Against Asashoryu, Hakuho and Ama, he put his hands down to the dohyo like a big girl rather than risk getting an Ama-like scar on the face that launched a thousand chips. Roho has ability but until he learns a few lessons from his Mongolian superiors, he will never make Ozeki.
Wrapping up the sanyaku ranks we have Komusubi Miyabiyama, who had another fine basho. 10-5 at Komusubi is no mean feat, I assure you, and he seems to be growing in confidence with that tsuppari attack, appearing to have digested the following axiom: use of tsuppari equals possible win, pissing around on the belt equals almost certain loss. Maybe Miyabiyama, unlike Roho, does read Sumotalk. Cuff 'em, Sheriff.
I'll meander through the notable performances of Maegashira for you but I wouldn't hold your breath. In the jo'i, M2 Ama (8-7) gave us the best sumo, but that's nothing new. It's what we have come to expect, after all. I don't know why he got the technique prize this time. Surely the fighting spirit prize would have been more appropriate for his gutsy debut with the big boys. I just don't see how his technique was better this time than, say, in January when he didn't get the prize. These special awards seem pretty random to me half the time. Hakuho was clearly the outstanding rikishi in terms of technique and he was rightly awarded the Gino-sho (along with the Shukun-sho). Still, I know I'm not alone in liking Ama a great deal and it will be interesting to see how he fares as a shin-Komusubi in May. One thing is for certain: he should be proud of his achievement; a rikishi as small as him breaking into sanyaku says it all about his attitude, condition, ability and technique. Roho/Kokkai take note. M5 Kyokutenho (11-4) found it just a little too easy not needing to fight the top boys (apart from Asashoryu). He will always have the technical prowess to carry him through against the also-rans but we all know what's going to happen at Komusubi in May: 1-6 or 2-5 at best in the first week. It's the story of his career. The same can be said for M8 Asasekiryu (10-5).
M7 Kisenosato got his pecker out with a fine10-5 record but looked decidedly shaky at times. He has a lot to learn, this boy, but I just love to watch him when he's on top of his tachi-ai. He still seems to have trouble closing the deal, however. M9 Takekaze (9-6) showed some fine attacking sumo in the first week but faded quite a bit in the final stretch, a real shame because he's never won a special prize before and looked on course for one.
M11 Wakanosato (11-4) performed as expected and can expect to zoom right up the banzuke in May into the jo'i, exactly where he should be. I will be happy to see a good solid rikishi like him up there to keep the top lads honest instead of the embarrassingly awful Hokutoriki. Waka, however, is not too far from his sell-by date – he'll be thirty in July – but I think he still has a good basho or two at the top left in the tank. His ex-sanyaku partner in heinous crime, Tochinonada (8-7), however, really does look a pale image of the fighter he used to be, really manhandled in some bouts and visibly tired in the second week, only managing to win two out of eight. That injury has clearly undone him and I only see him now eking out a living in mid-Maegashira before slipping into obscurity. A shame.
M13 Kyokushuzan (11-4) was given a Kanto-sho for his efforts. Again, why? Perhaps in honour of him breaking the record for the number of consecutive basho in Maegashira. Surely, going from the evidence of his last fifteen bouts, they should have awarded him the Gino-sho, as he showed some pretty interesting sumo, in fact providing some of the rare highlights in Osaka. The bout against Tokitenku sticks out in my mind, as he held his opponent's hand (saucy) and tried a few times to force it down onto the clay (kinky). I found myself wondering what kimarite that would be and eventually rang up the Kyokai to ask. The guy on the phone said it would probably have been hikiotoshi, possibly tottari (!) or something like that but I think he was guessing (translation: bullshitting to get rid of me). If any readers know what the technique would in fact be, write in and let me know. I enjoyed Kyokushuzan's sumo on the whole this basho and he showed us just how difficult he can be to beat (like a speedy antelope) when he wants to be against Kisenosato, somehow managing to force a rematch from a seemingly impossible position. The youngster was totally gutted when he ultimately lost, understandably so. With this 11-4, Kyokushuzan is safe in the record books for quite some time to come.
Down at the bottom, M16 Yoshikaze showed some real fighting spirit to get his first ever kachi-koshi in the top division, and veteran M15 Tamakasuga put on a feisty display, picking up the notable scalps of Wakanosato and Kakizoe along the way. Not bad at all for a guy in his mid-nineties.
A quick, fatal stab at the villains. Obviously M2 Hokutoriki (1-14) was an utter joke, his only win coming courtesy of a nasty, evil, filthy henka against Iwakiyama (who really should know better, shouldn't he? Yeah, man, it's a part of sumo – accept it, you throwback!) Surely his koen-kai (supporter's organization) should be asking for their money back on that kesho-mawashi they coughed up cash for after one of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen. I won't slate M1 Kokkai (5-10) because he obviously had things on his mind following the death of his father. Let's hope he comes back fighting in May with a fresh outlook. Still, his big sumo problem was exposed ruthlessly by Kasugao on the final day as he got inside the reach of the big man and wrapped him up. Kokkai needs to find some way to effectively prevent that and soon because it's his heel of Achilles. To add to his problems still further, Kokkai picked up an injury in that day 15 bout. No details on that as yet to my knowledge, but it didn't look too clever.
M4 Futenoh (6-9) was a bit of a villain for me because I know he's capable of so much better. His confidence is on the floor at the moment. Perhaps a jaunt in gentler climes next basho will give him some momentum. M5 Tokitsuumi (2-13) was way out of his depth (but somehow, to his credit, managed to pick up a win over Ama). Not a villain, as such, but I will be glad to see him back where he is comfortable in May.
And there you have it. Apart from the majestic sumo of the two top Mongolians, the Haru Basho was pretty bloody disappointing. Congratulations to Hakuho on gaining his promotion. I know he will do his fans proud and go even further. Congratulations also to Asashoryu for coming through yet again. And commiserations to Tochiazuma for coming up short – yet again. But at least he's still got the desire. At least he's still got that.
See you in May.
Haru Basho Pre-basho Report
With one of the best banzuke I've seen for quite some time, the top half at least, and with talking points coming out of its pointy, Vulcan ears, Haru Basho has to be the juiciest proposition since Wednesday night in my local bar. Add to this the two weeks of utter, utter, utter tedium that went under the name of the Winter Olympic Games, and we end up with a sporting event that everyone is gagging for. Welcome back you lovable, rounded apes, you. And don't stay away so long next time.
Now as Clancy (AKA Lord Anus) will constantly have you believe, I'm a man who likes to get straight to the sizzling action, so let's have a gawk and a gander at Ozeki Tochiazuma, who has a third opportunity to reach Yokozuna. In his favour, he showed in the Hatsu Basho a steady torikuchi (way of fighting) which proved difficult for opponents to break down. Only Miyabiyama was able to defeat him, and only because he outlasted him in an exhausting tsuppari-fest, something El Sheriff has recently excelled at. Steadiness, consistency, call it what you will is one of the vital requirements for a Yokozuna, whose ultimate responsibility is to challenge for the yusho in each basho. Yes, we saw that from Tochiazuma last time out and it was very impressive. But one basho is no more and no less exactly that: one basho. Sadly, Tochiazuma is an injury prone little badger, and this has severely limited his promotion prospects. An eternally fit Tochiazuma would likely already have made Yokozuna. What we have in reality is a conundrum. He is not overweight, and he keeps himself in good condition and trains hard. I can only put his injury problems down to bad luck. For the romantics among us, that may be forgivable, but the Yokozuna Shingikai are concerned with many factors regarding promotion, not least his future consistency at the top rank. Now, none of this negative criticism will matter if he takes the yusho in Haru--he will have satisfied the requirements of two straight yusho--but if it comes to a play-off or a jun-yusho 13-2 or 14-1, we may see a little controversy. Would they promote him under such circumstances? Possibly. The need for a Japanese Yokozuna certainly preoccupies the big sumo cheeses. But let's deal with that kind of controversy if it comes to pass. As an aside, is it only me that thinks the Yokozuna promotion guidelines are daft? How can it be that Tochiazuma could get a twelve-win yusho and be promoted, but at the same time get thirteen wins and no yusho (assuming, for the sake of argument, that Asashoryu gets a zensho) and therefore no promotion? The performances of other rikishi are beyond the control of one rikishi, except on the day they face each other, if indeed they ever do. As with other aspects of the sport, this stinks of inconsistency. Whatever, I just thought I'd mention it. Let me know what you think in my spanking new email address (see front page right--next to the only handsome picture of the six) if you so desire.
So what are Tochiazuma's chances? It is always difficult to predict promotion to either of the top two ranks because so many factors, physical and mental, come into play. The only analysis I can provide for you is statistical, so if you don't like stats, go and play with your stuffed toys now because here they come: comparing the records of the last five Yokozuna in the six basho before their successful second yusho which led to promotion, in other words, in Tochiazuma's case, the last six basho. Takanohana had the best record, 72-18, with three yusho along the way. Asashoryu went 66-24 with one yusho and two jun-yusho. Akebono was 57-18-15 (15 absences), the same number of losses as Takanohana, but he sat out one basho injured and sulky (possibly). He had two yusho and one jun-yusho in that run. I'm reluctant to include Wakanohana and Musashimaru because special circumstances (in my opinion) came into play--Waka didn't have much in the way of decent opposition when he was promoted because many of the top rikishi of the time were injured, or at least carrying injuries, and Musashimaru was always Yokozuna material when he was stuck at Ozeki but finally picked up when he (allegedly) packed in the ale. It soon became clear that the old demon sake had been allegedly holding him back...allegedly. For the sake of completeness, however, here are their records before promotion: Wakanohana went 54-21-15 with only the one yusho. Musashimaru had a decent 65-25 record with one yusho and one jun-yusho. How about the man of the moment? In the last six basho, Tochiazuma has gone 57-22-11 (11 absences, 22 losses). This record is pretty similar to that of Wakanohana above. It isn't very convincing stuff. The record for the six basho before the previous six is far grimmer: 35-23-32. Read 'em: 32 absences, more than 35% of the bouts in that stretch. Obviously, these injuries are not the fault of Tochiazuma, but in the cold, cruel world at the top of sumo, the odds point to Tochiazuma being a weak Yokozuna troubled by injuries, and that's assuming he makes it at all. Does he make it? A distinct possibility. He has the ability and the desire, not to mention the character and long experience near the top of the banzuke. He has a head-to-head record of 9-10 with the Yokozuna, the best of Asashoryu's serious rivals by some distance (apart from Kaio who is 9-12). Add to this the fact that Asashoryu may still be injured and that Hakuho will be under similar pressure regarding his Ozeki promotion, then I think Tochiazuma is 50-50 for the promotion. When all is said and done, luck may be the deciding factor, as it was last basho in that ridiculously close bout with Hakuho.
One thing I would say is this: it is very easy at this time, especially for new fans of sumo, to believe that all Yokozuna should be as dominant as Asashoryu has been. This is simply not the case. If Tochiazuma takes the yusho, he deserves to be promoted, and he'll still have only one less yusho than former Yokozuna Wakanohana 3, the same as Asahifuji and Takanosato, and more than Mienoumi and Wakanohana 2 among others. Even better, Futahaguro was Yokozuna and infamously never won any yusho at all, before or after his promotion (although he did win the Juryo yusho once!). So let's just keep things in perspective, something all readers know Sumotalk is world-famous for! Whatever happens, I have been a huge fan of Tochiazuma since he first appeared on the scene and I wish him the best of luck and will cross all of my appendages for fifteen days beginning March 12th.
My analysis of Sekiwake Hakuho will (thankfully for you) be much shorter. We have here a supremely talented rikishi who is obviously on the up. His momentum has stuttered since he burst onto the scene a couple of years ago displaying phenomenal sumo. This halt was due at first to a lack of sanyaku experience and then to injury problems. Happily, he has slain those particular dragons and will surely rise unimpeded from now on. The powers that be reportedly require twelve wins from Hakuho for promotion. With a 9-6 and a 13-2 already in the bag, that would mean 34 wins in three basho, all in sanyaku, which is bloody harsh. In a reasonable world, eleven wins would secure Ozeki promotion for the young Mongolian pin-up, but I say he gets his twelve wins anyway. One little point to remember is that Kotomitsuki went 13-2 (yusho), 9-6, 12-3 between Aki 2001 and Hatsu 2002 and they didn't promote him to Ozeki, despite him getting 34 wins, so the promotion guidelines are far from clear or consistent. The one difference there: Kotomitsuki was outside sanyaku (at Maegashira 2) when he took the yusho. Back to Hakuho, the only thing I see stopping him is injury. Although he didn't perform well under pressure in his first Ozeki bid last year, he has come a long way since then and I don't see the strain getting to him too much this time around because he is as cool as a cucumber with ice in its veins and a slightly murderous glint in its eyes.
In this day and age it is difficult to predict yusho for anyone other than Yokozuna Asashoryu but we may be looking at another barren tournament for him, depending, of course, on the severity of his arm injury. He started keiko in February, very early for him, so we can see that he has been shaken by that defeat in Hatsu. Being the fighter he is he will want to come back aggressively to reassert his dominance. However, things are not going to go all his way from now on. There are plenty of strong opponents going up against him this basho, and not just among the Ozeki ranks. Along with Kotooshu, Tochiazuma and Kaio, we have Hakuho, Roho, Kokkai, Ama and Futenoh all hawking their attractive wares. Although none of these rikishi are (yet) in the same class as the Dai-Yokozuna, they are all capable of upsetting him, particularly if he is injured. He will see off most of the above, but it takes just two of them to throw a spanner in the works. How quickly things can change. One basho ago, I was predicting another good year for Asashoryu (although not another seven-yusho streak). He looked invincible. Now he looks vulnerable. If his arm is better, Asashoryu is favourite for the yusho. However, the injury looked pretty bad to me so I'll predict eleven or twelve wins. Make sure you read Mike's report next week for more details on the Yokozuna's condition.
Ozeki Kotooshu will be sighing with bliss as he looks forward to a basho out of the spotlight for the first time in, ooh...ages. With the pressure off, I guarantee that Kotooshu will be a force this basho, and he should be pushing all the way for the yusho. In fact, with the pressure on Hakuho and Tochiazuma, and Asashoryu possibly injured, his yusho hopes have never been brighter. His main problem is that every opponent now realises that they have to avoid allowing him that left-hand outside grip that mows down all before him. As I mentioned in my review of the last basho, Kotooshu lost last time only when he didn't get that grip. Expect quite a few opponents to come out very fast against him at the tachiai, probably playing games with matta and possibly henka to avoid the grip. Kotooshu may need to get a few scrappy wins along the way, and this will be a key factor in his future success. I am going to take a gamble and predict a Kotooshu yusho, but it's going to be a close race whatever happens, and a kettei-sen (yusho play-off) is pretty likely this time.
We've said in the past everything that needs to be said regarding Ozeki Kaio and his kadoban chum, Chiyotaikai. Kaio has reportedly been on a diet and has lost quite a few kilos (tell me how, Kaio). This can only be good news and I expect him to pick up the eight wins necessary to beat the drop, although he is still suffering from chronic lower back pain. Chiyotaikai is very hard to predict but he always seems to pull a rabbit out of the hat when he needs to. However, with the strength in numbers at the top of the current banzuke, it is hard to see Chiyotaikai getting eight wins unless he is in top condition. One thing is pretty clear: retirement is not too far away for these two lads.
Sekiwake Kotomitsuki: infuriatingly erratic but extremely talented. He is always good for eight or nine wins. It's anybody's guess. On a more interesting note, Roho, whose doorbell does not play the tune to Kimigayo, makes his sanyaku debut at Komusubi east after an impressive outing in January. Roho has so much potential that it makes me sick to watch him messing around with stupid pull-down attempts when he just doesn't need to. I beg you, Roho, if you are reading this...please have faith in your own sumo because it can be brilliant when you let it flow. Injuries are the reason we have had to wait so long for Roho to reach this rank but he looks fit and raring to go. Assuming he doesn't mess around with evasive tactics, Roho is definitely capable of a kachi-koshi at this rank. Eight or nine wins. Komusubi counterpart Miyabiyama is showing some of the best sumo of his career, interspersed with total bilge. Two bouts in particular have impressed me recently: his defeat of Tochiazuma last basho and a stupendous mauling of Hakuho in Kyushu. If you haven't seen it, watch it again; Hakuho could hardly stand by the end of it. If Miyabiyama keeps up this kind of sumo, he will scrape eight wins along with Roho.
With such a strong sanyaku, the upper Maegashira are going to get a severe ass-kicking. M1 Tamanoshima is coming off a gritty performance in January that had all the grannies crying as he battled against a serious injury and a foolish oyakata to almost complete an amazing comeback. Tama-chan is a much-improved rikishi but unless he is in tip-top condition, he is going to suffer this time. Other M1 Kokkai needs to add a little variety and speed to those brutal arm thrusts or he will suffer as his smaller opponents find ways to get the belt. Rikishi like Ama know only too well that the match will be over in their favour as long as they get inside the big man's reach. Sadly for Kokkai, his father passed away just the other day so he will no doubt have that on his mind. Whatever happens, it will be an emotional basho for him.
I'm very excited about seeing Ama up there at M2 for the first time. On recent performances, he certainly deserves to be at that rank. This will be a tough basho for him as he will be taking on the top rikishi every day, some of whom will see their bout with him as a must-win scenario. Although I will not be surprised if Ama gets eight wins, I expect him to play more in the role of spoiler and pick up six wins along the way, hopefully with a couple of major scalps. Other M2 Hokutoriki is going to wish he hadn't got such a high win-loss record in January as he gets his posterior kicked on a daily basis. Four or five wins if he's very lucky. More likely three.
The M3 rank should also take a bit of a battering. Both Aminishiki and Iwakiyama are capable of upsets on their day but both lack the consistency to keep it going against the big boys over the full stretch. Both will fall to make-koshi but they are always dangerous. If Iwakiyama gets his tachiai right, he can beat anyone, including Predator and Predator's mutant pet cockatoo. Aminishiki is a technical wizard when he wants to be so the wily veterans opposing him will be careful to keep him off their mawashi.
M4 Futenoh has been very quiet of late and so he needs to use this basho as a stage to prove once again how good he can be. If he performs as I know he can, he should get nine or ten wins, but I've been a little concerned about his seeming lack of confidence so don't be surprised to see him fall to a losing record. Former Ozeki Dejima is Futenoh's rank counterpart and he also will have a hard time keeping his head above water, particularly with those dodgy legs. Five or six wins. You have to say that Dejima has a great pair of breasts, though, and should receive extra points for artistic impression.
Looking further down the field, I see M6 Kakizoe having a bit of a laugh at this rank. A winning record seems likely for him, the king of the fighting spirit and straightforward, hard sumo. M7 Kasugao faces his first big test and it's about time we saw him fighting at this level. The only Korean on show is one of the best throwers in the business. Although he is unlikely to take on Kaio this basho, I would love to see a bout between them just to see who comes out on top in the throwing stakes. I really like this lad and I expect him to put up a good fight, although a winning record this high up might be asking a bit much.
M11 Wakanosato should have plenty of fun beating all-comers so low down on the banzuke. Eleven wins for the man who shouldabin Ozeki. Indeed, he could be considered a dark horse for the yusho given his long experience at the very top. Other M11 Takamisakari is reportedly even more fired up than usual as he believes he is a little too close to Juryo for comfort. I expect him to get his eight wins this time, perhaps even more.
The two M12s should do well as they are both ranked way below their ability. King of the Undead Hakurozan could do some serious damage if he shows a little life, not difficult after his awful showing in January, while Tochinonada, being a sanyaku veteran, and fresh from a dominating performance on the way to the Juryo yusho in January, should also find the going pretty easy. Both will manage ten wins with ease.
As I promised last time, I will not predict doom for M14 Kitazakura. One thing we do know is that there will be plenty of dohyo-slapping, fist-pumping buffoonery on offer, but I'll forgive him all that if he shows even a fraction of the fighting spirit and, dare I say it, decent sumo he showed in Hatsu in the first two-thirds of the tournament. M16 Yoshikaze had a bit of a nightmare last time out but I see him turning things round with a kachi-koshi this time. He was clearly unaccustomed to the different speed of tachiai in Makuuchi but he should be more used to that by now. Eight wins for him.
The bottom rungs of Maegashira are pretty damn uninspiring, made up mainly of professional elevator rikishi. Don't expect too much excitement from the nether regions this time, as I have said so many times in the past to various women. Apart from Hokutoriki, Wakanosato, and Tochinonada, everyone appears pretty much to be in the right place on the banzuke, and this maketh of me a glad man at peace with the world a la Gaia. I confidently state that the Haru Basho will be a classic and if you don't tune in every day, you're insane, but just remember to stay more than one metre away from the screen because it's bad for your eyes. Or so those liars told me.
See you in a couple of weeks.
Yusho: Asashoryu if his arm has fully recovered. Otherwise, Kotooshu 13-2 via kettei-sen with Tochiazuma and Hakuho!!! Hold the presses! Kotooshu has injured his knee ligaments, according to one report. It is not known how serious it is yet but if it is, Tochiazuma will take the yusho. See Mike's report for more details.
Hakuho will be promoted. Tochiazuma might be. And that's the best prediction I've ever made.