The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly
Welcome to a new feature on Sumotalk, our very own version of the sansho (three special awards), namely - in real sumo - the fighting spirit prize, the outstanding performance prize and the technique prize. However, to give it a Sumotalk-esque flavour, each basho our contributors will vote for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Good and Bad are pretty self-explanatory, while the Ugly Prize goes to the rikishi who employed the most negative, evasive and downright nasty sumo. As an aside, there were some on this site who felt this category should be re-named the Roho Prize, but, as all Sumotalk readers know, we are 'fair and balanced', just like Fox News is 'fair and balanced', so we stuck with Ugly. Synonyms, eh?
Without further ado beating around the bush with two cooks (yes, COOKS) in the hand spoiling the broth, let's move straight to the Good Prize. M3 Dejima gets an honourable mention with a fine 10-5 record at a difficult rank. That mauling of Tochiazuma on day 10 sticks out in my mind, when he demonstrated unusually good balance and timing for a straight oshi-zumo rikishi, not to mention a stunning pair of knockers. M2 Kotoshogiku also makes the board after a superb comeback from 1-5, winning the last nine days straight with some strong and attractive sumo. His failure to defeat any of the Ozeki and Yokozuna was a slight disappointment, but the Geeku, as he is known in these parts, can now safely be viewed as belonging at top Maegashira or lower sanyaku. However, there really can be no doubt about the winner of the Good Prize – Yokozuna Asashoryu showed once again that he is streets ahead of the competition with strong, dominating sumo. The only rikishi even close to him is a full-strength Hakuho. Don't be surprised to see him equal or surpass Kitanoumi's mark of 24 yusho in 2007. Asashoryu enjoys the additional advantage of an evenly-matched chasing pack invariably taking wins off each other as he waltzes supreme through. And for me, the ketaguri he employed to defeat Kisenosato does not take the sheen off his performance. Step forward Asashoryu and take a bow.
Now the Bad Prize, our tribute to a truly abysmal performance. Dishonourable mentions go to Kokkai, who looked on most days like a gigantic slab of butter trying to stay upright, and also to Iwakiyama for exactly the same reasons. But it was the brotherly combo of M11 Kitazakura and M8 Toyozakura who managed to streak ahead of the field, with Toyozakura just edging out his waddling brother after a performance almost totally lacking in strength and fighting spirit. Toyazakura managed on most days to look vulnerable even before the tachiai. With a 5-10 record (one win by fusen-sho), however, he will be staying in the top division, unlike his brother, who will probably be back in Juryo. Kitazakura, who gave us the best sumo of his career in January, looks to be finished. He is 35 on Friday, the same age as some of my friends.
The Ugly Prize. Now let me see. By around 40,000 parsecs, the winner of this award is Russian mercenary, Komusubi Roho, with a dishonourable mention going to his brother M14 Hakurozan. Roho entertained the masses with six or seven henka (I lost count) and almost incessantly negative sumo. But don't worry Roho fan(s) - with his 8-7 record, he will, of course, keep his Komusubi rank and the nice fat purse that goes with it...and that's all that matters, innit? Frankly, it appalls me that a rikishi with such power and talent could turn out such a contemptible performance. His brother managed to lose the first eight days straight, and then realize that he might be dropping down to Juryo – cue seven straight wins against mainly inferior (including four Juryo rikishi) opposition via pull downs and rapid retreats from the tachiai, pulling the back of the neck for all it was worth. Sadly, it looks as though Hakurozan will continue to dismay us with his brand of 'sumo' in Makuuchi in January.
George was the only contributor not to vote for Roho in the Ugly category, opting instead for the YDC, Makiko Uchidate in particular, whose shrill criticism of Asashoryu (15-0, zensho yusho!!!) and his pre-bout belt-slapping obviously did not go unnoticed in the Guida household. Right on, George! Although I am against women being allowed on the dohyo, I would be willing to make an exception in Uchidate's case – as long as I get to see her in a one-bout death match against Asashoryu. Maybe if she got a taste of the master first-hand, she would realize that her appreciation of sumo is badly lacking and that she should not be in the position she is.
So, to recap, here are the first winners of the Sumotalk sansho:
The Good: Asashoryu
The Bad: Toyozakura
The Ugly: Roho
Mike will be here soon with his year-end round-up. I'll be back in January. Happy New Year to you all.
Nagoya Pre-Basho Report
Nagoya 2006 begins on the same day as the World Cup final, meaning we won't have time even to crack our knuckles or brush our teeth before our sumo juices begin to flow once more. We have a quite a few big storylines coming in, so let's not waste any more time with chit-chat and go straight to the hotel.
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind as to the identity of the rikishi of the year so far. Ozeki Hakuho is quite simply a Yokozuna in all but title. Look at the numbers: 40 wins out of 45 (not including the two play-off bouts – one win, one loss). With two jun-yusho and a yusho, he now has a golden opportunity to be promoted to Yokozuna if he can pick up 13 wins.
"Hakuho's objective should be a 13 wins or more yusho-equivalent record." Thus spake YDC chairman Ishibashi, just before he went outside to tend his domesticated lemurs. I don't doubt, however, that a 12-win jun-yusho would be enough to promote him. After all, no one else is anywhere near him at this time, with Asashoryu possibly crocked for some time, Tochiazuma seemingly crocked for eternity, and the other Ozeki either crocked or just plain rubbish. Quite simply, there is no one to stand in the way of Hakuho's promotion now, apart, of course, from a fit Asashoryu. But that would be only one loss. Hakuho's style is such that he rarely slips up against lesser foes. Compare this to Tochiazuma's currently preferred brand of oshi-zumo, an erratic and occasionally suicidal style, with which he can lose to anyone at anytime. It's frankly hard work watching him. Back to Hakuho, there is no doubt in my mind that he will get the wins he requires, and if Asashoryu is not back to full strength, Hakuho will be promoted in style with a thirteen or fourteen-win yusho.
Little question for you: which Makuuchi rikishi has the second most wins this year behind Hakuho? Asa? Tochi? Another Ozeki? None of them, I'm afraid. Another question: which rikishi can lasso a fleeing cockerel from 30 yards before shooting its head off with his right hand tied behind his back? Sekiwake Miyabiyama is 32-13 in 2006. These are Ozeki numbers in themselves, but his 8-7 in January was at Maegashira 1, meaning he could not be considered for promotion because the 32 or 33 wins in three basho should all be in sanyaku. Still, not to worry – with 24 wins in the last two basho, he needs only nine to reach the magic 33. However, as ten wins is generally considered the target for an Ozeki, he will be expected to go for the round number. Consider also that Tochiazuma may be demoted if he fails to overcome his kadoban woes, and Hakuho is likely on his way up to Yokozuna, and then Kaio is surely going to retire by the end of this year. Yes, with those factors in mind, there will be no resistance to the promotion with regard to overcrowding. Will he be promoted? The answer depends on a big IF. And I mean a huge IF. IF he sticks to that dominating moro-te and tsuppari that has served him so well recently, he will walk back to his former rank. He didn't win that technique prize for the first time by accident and there is no way he will lose six bouts doing that level of sumo because none of the ones who can stop him (excluding Hakuho, of course) are anywhere near 100% at this time. There's no question of his mental strength – he has been Ozeki before, and so has overcome that particular obstacle. I for one hope we see a new sheriff in town. Ten or eleven wins.
The news on Yokozuna Asashoryu is this: there isn't any. Well, there have been a few snippets. He was beaten in his first bout at a one-day tournament earlier this month by Hakurozan, not a particularly good sign, but certainly not the end of the world. Further, there have been rumours flying around that his injury was not all that serious and that he actually considered re-entering the Natsu Basho for the second week but eventually didn't, deciding that a Yokozuna had to either challenge for the yusho or not bother at all. If this is true, he gains even more respect from me (if that is possible) because my sentiments echo his precisely in that regard. To me, Asashoryu is currently the underdog, not because Hakuho is better than him (he isn't), but because he will be relatively dohyo-rusty, and also no doubt shell-shocked at the phenomenal rise of his new rival. I for one welcome the rise of Hakuho because now we will see a real test of that dai-Yokozuna title. Let's face it: Asashoryu wasn't tested by anyone during his first fifteen or so yusho. For the neutral fan, the future bouts between these two titans will place them in danger of drowning in their own drool. And then we have Baruto and Kotooshu waiting in the wings as well. Ah, the future is pretty bright. Shame they're all foreigners. I suppose we just have to hope that Kisenosato has bigger balls than we've seen thus far. Back to Asashoryu, I see him staying with Hakuho to the end if his injury has healed completely, but the advantage will be with Hakuho all the way. Between twelve and fourteen wins for Asashoryu, and at least a jun-yusho.
Ozeki Tochiazuma has had a bit of a nightmare. After a triumphant start to 2006, he messed up his Yokozuna bid with that ludicrous loss to Aminishiki in March, missing out by just the one win, and then pulled out of the Natsu Basho with a knee injury after managing only two wins. And then someone allegedly stole his lunchbox the other day (it was later found...empty). Fate just seems to be conspiring against young Daisuke, and I fear he will never reach the top rank now. There are just too many excellent rikishi on his shoulder and they're overtaking rapidly. Tochiazuma commented at the end of May that he felt fifty percent ready for Nagoya, but how he will feel on the opening day is all that matters. A Tochiazuma who is only seventy percent fit would ordinarily stroll to the eight wins required for survival at the Ozeki rank, but he could be in trouble here. Hopefully Mike will have some keiko news for you in his report in the immediate run-up to the basho.
Ozeki Kotooshu has endured a miserable year, fighting nobly on with injury problems of his own. At this time, his condition is unknown, but I don't see how he can have recovered fully. I see another painful nine wins from him. It's a real tragedy that we don't have a full-strength Kotooshu standing in the way of Hakuho as he glides the obstacle-free stairway that leads to the Yokozuna rank, strumming a Led Zeppelin tune on his acoustic guitar.
As always, I'll lump the two veteran Ozeki in together. We all know what's going on here. Ozeki Chiyotaikai depends on his excellent record against the Maegashira jo'i in the first week to get his deluded fans excited before inevitably screwing up against real opposition in the second week. If Chiyotaikai has a bad start, woe betide him. Ozeki Kaio is on his last legs and we now only see rare glimpses of the great man's past glories. As Mike said, surely the plan is to retire in front of his home fans in Kyushu in November. I'd be very surprised to see Kaio on the banzuke come Hatsu 2007. It is hard now to predict the fortunes of the two veterans. Kaio will not get more than ten wins, indeed will be happy with eight. Chiyotaikai on the other hand will annoy most sumo fans to death with his usual routine, but I have little doubt he will twirl his way to a winning record.
At Sekiwake west stands the familiar form of Kotomitsuki. Ironically, the infamously unpredictable stable mate of Kotooshu has gone 8-7 in all of his last four basho. I don't see much changing this time around. Kotomitsuki was always talked about for Ozeki promotion, and was a mere whisker away on one occasion, but quite frankly the chances of him being promoted these days are about the same as Clancy and I sprouting antlers and going out together on the steppes for a battle over a prospective mate (because Clancy knows I'd win). Let's say 8-7 again, shall we?
Asasekiryu is at Komusubi east this time around, his highest ever position and first time in sanyaku. While he would normally find the going pretty tough, a common occurrence at this particular rank, he should nevertheless pick up a few wins courtesy of all the crocked rikishi around him. He took home some prestigious scalps in his impressive Natsu Basho and he's only 25. He has shown significant improvement so a winning record is possible, although I consider it unlikely. Also interesting will be how Kisenosato responds to being promoted into sanyaku for the first time. He carries a lot of expectation, simply because the only other Japanese wrestler at present who is not on his way down a slippery slope is Miyabiyama, while many of the foreigners are flying. I've made no secret of my admiration for the Kisser, and he certainly showed plenty of grit in Natsu to win the last four days and squeak a kachi-koshi, beating Kaio and Kotooshu along the way. Let's see how he does with the usual ominous first week schedule. I don't think Kisenosato will embarrass himself - he has now improved to the point where he will have at least a fighting chance against anyone. Expect a minimum of six wins, and a possible winning record.
Mike likes to comb through the Maegashira in intricate detail so I'll leave that to him. I'll just do my usual trick of picking out the possible heroes and villains to watch for. The first possible villain is obvious: at M1 Kyokushuzan wouldn't normally try at all, but I sense a shift in his focus these last couple of basho. I think he would like to get into sanyaku one last time, just to prove that he can do it as a veteran, and also to end that record streak of consecutive basho as a Maegashira. I have a feeling he might bother getting out of bed and giving it a real go. He is definitely capable of getting a winning record at this rank if he resorts to henka and other shenanigans – there is no other rikishi as proficient as Kyokushuzan with such techniques. Frankly, he will have to fight like that or it will be a case of ass-kick central. M2 Hakurozan is another one who could royally piss everyone off as he will be fighting out of his depth at this rank. I don't see him doing too much. Seven wins. Ditto for his brother (clone?), M3 Roho.
One possible hero will be top-ranked Maegashira, Kotoshogiku, one of the very few rikishi who didn't waste everyone's time in Natsu. I see him in the same boat as the two shin-Komusubi – plenty to prove at his highest ever rank. I know Clancy is a big fan of Kotoshogiku, and I must say I like him myself. We might get a few more hints of his potential for future Ozeki promotion. Like Kisenosato, he shouldn't embarrass himself, but I don't see him picking up more than eight against the top lads.
M4 is the heavy metal rank this basho with Ama and Baruto weighing in for our viewing pleasure, and a pleasure it will surely be. Ama will clean up against his Maegashira foes and really should get a winning record, attracting plenty more fans along the way. I just love watching Ama, and I saw an excellent picture (right) the other day that brought him to mind (if you look closely, you should see a cat at the bottom of the tree). Baruto, as we all know full well, is a future Ozeki, perhaps even more, but until he learns to fight in a less upright stance, he will find that the top rankers can't be beaten by brute force alone. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of fodder for the more gullible fans to proclaim Baruto as the new Messiah – I guarantee he'll win at least two or three in some spectacular fashion. At M4, I expect Baruto to cruise to a winning record, and I would not be surprised to see him rack up ten wins. There is no denying his potential.
M5 Futenoh should also manage at least eight wins, probably more. His confidence, definitely a problem in the past, seems to be growing, and here at M5 he will avoid most of the big names. Lower down the banzuke, I see M8 Tokitenku doing some damage; his technical prowess is just too polished for most of the camels in the rank-and-file. I'll also be watching M9 Yoshikaze with interest – he put on a fine show in Natsu and will want to build on that. Plenty of fighting spirit there. If M10 Tamanoshima is not injured, he will have plenty of joy this basho as he is fighting far below his natural level. Veteran M15 Tochinohana should also find the opposition pretty unsophisticated for his talents.
And finally we have one newcomer in M16 Daimanazuru. It has taken him 85 tournaments to reach the top division, so congratulations to him on that. However, I don't see him lasting long in this division because he looks extremely average. His 8-7 at Juryo 1 last basho didn't exactly set the sumo world on fire and he made hard work of some of those bouts against poor opposition. All I'll say is this: don't put your mortgage on a winning record.
All in all I'm a little worried about the Natsu Basho. Yes, we have some compelling storylines coming in, but we also have the possible physical problems of Asashoryu, Kaio, Tochiazuma and Kotooshu to worry about– that's forty percent of the top rankers. What we need is someone to step up to the plate and take the basho by storm, make Hakuho and Miyabiyama work for their promotions. On the bright side, in my experience when a basho looks bleak going in it often turns out exciting. After the blandness of Natsu, a bit of a ruckus wouldn't be unwelcome. On the plus side, we should finally be seeing Asashoryu versus Baruto...that one is going to raise the roof.
Yusho: Hakuho 13-2
Kanto-sho: Kisenosato (heart over head)
2006 Natsu Basho
Post-basho Report | Click here for pre-basho report
In an effort to be positive about the Natsu Basho, I will try to focus on the few high points, which means, sadly, that this report is not going to be making into the hefty wordage section of the Guinness Book of Records. Yes, it proved to be exciting in the final three days, but to most of us, a play-off between ANY two rikishi on senshuraku is always going to be pretty dramatic. In general, though, much of the sumo this basho was poor, and the excitement of the final few days served to mask that fact. While Sekiwake Miyabiyama has my utmost respect for giving Hakuho a decent run for his money, you have to admit that a 14-1 record for El Sheriff doesn't say much about the level of the competition, no matter how well he fought. Ah, listen to me...I'm getting negative already. Move on, people--nothing to see here.
Very Near Future Yokozuna Hakuho was imperious, never looking in any real danger at all. In fact, his only loss to Miyabiyama on day 5 was simply over-eagerness. He kicked the Sheriff's arse good and proper with that awe-inspiring left-hand grip he has down to a tee. In terms of basho excitement, it was good news because if Hakuho had won that bout as he should have done, the yusho would have been his on day 14, but personally I would like to have seen Hakuho announce himself in style with a zensho-yusho. I have a feeling we'll be seeing one of those from him anyway soon, with Asashoryu and Tochiazuma injured. Hakuho knows only too well that the power vacuum caused by his compatriot's absence is a perfect opportunity for him to go straight to the top of the tree. With two jun-yusho, a yusho, and a 40-5 win-loss record for the year, Hakuho is the main man of 2006, and will surely close the deal in Nagoya.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama has impressed this year with strong, steady sumo. The withdrawals of Asashoryu and Tochiazuma provided him with the perfect chance to go on a bit of a jaunt. I particularly enjoyed his massacre of Baruto because it made a mockery of all those fans who thought the big Estonian was invincible, when in fact he most certainly is not, as you would know if you'd listened to Mike Wesemann this basho. More on Baruto later. I remember writing back in March 2005 on this site that Miyabiyama could be promoted back to Ozeki one day if he stuck to his strong point: tsuppari, and could almost hear the jeers and derision at the time, but I'm now feeling pretty smug because he has a golden chance in Nagoya to do just that. With 24 wins in the last two basho, along with a 14-1 jun-yusho, all in sanyaku, he will probably need only ten in July. That is most certainly attainable for him IF HE STICKS TO HIS TSUPPARI. Bear in mind that Hakuho may well be going up, and Tochiazuma could (oh my God) be going down as he will be kadoban, meaning there may well only be three Ozeki come September--three is better for Miyabiyama because they'd be less inclined to promote him with five Ozeki already on the banzuke. Still, I don't see how they could deny him even in that scenario, as with ten wins he would satisfy the current criteria and then some. Credit is due to Miyabiyama for making this basho seem competitive on the surface, but that's all it ever was--there was always only one winner, and that should be obvious to everyone.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai came galloping out of the gates as he always seems to of late, but it was the same old story as he collapsed against more potent foes when it counted. I apologize to all you Chiyotaikai fans for jinxing him in my day 11 report by saying 'if you're in it, you can win it.' It looks like he'll be around a bit longer. No comment. Ozeki Kaio showed a few flashes of his old glory in that eight-day winning streak from day 3 onwards but faded badly in the stretch, looking tired and weak. As Mike has said, Kaio could very well be aiming to finish his glorious career in Kyushu before his home fans. He surely can't go on much longer with his injury problems. Ozeki Kotooshu will be very relieved to have scraped that winning record--he deserves a lot of respect for the way he has fought with that leg injury. I hate to see this and am sick of writing about this ludicrous rule that forces rikishi to compete with injuries. Fingers crossed for a healthy Kotooshu in Nagoya. Sumo needs him.
As should now be obvious from the uncharacteristic terseness of my comments so far, Mike's report covered just about everything so I'm not going to repeat all that. I'll just add a few bits and bobs about the few other rikishi that impressed me this time out. M1 Kisenosato did very well to recover from a five-day losing run to win the last four and get the kachi-koshi that will elevate him to Komusubi in Nagoya. No one will be happier than me to see him in sanyaku, and the banzuke will be announced before his twentieth birthday (July 3rd) so he can say that he made sanyaku while still a teenager. As I've said before, he's a slow developer, but I saw progress again this basho, as he didn't allow his head to drop, which he has done in the past when things went against him. Like Futenoh, Kisenosato has had confidence problems, mostly due to his age, I suppose. He can only get better, and I see him making Ozeki one day...but not in the near future.
M3 Kotoshogiku put in some fine performances and with his 9-6 record will probably be top Maegashira in Nagoya, his highest rank. I like this lad...Clancy certainly sees potential in him--Ozeki by the end of 2008, he says. At 22, why not? But he has yet to prove himself a consistent performer among the top rikishi. One thing in his favour is the fact that he'll never have to face Kotooshu or Kotomitsuki, being in the same stable. Yes, it's unfair.
Only two other rikishi impressed me this basho. No, not Kyokushuzan, I'm afraid. M11 Baruto used his size and strength to bulldoze through the lower Maegashira, and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he will be a major force at the very top of sumo in the years to come. I'll say no more because I agree with Mike completely on this boy...still very raw and fighting too upright from the tachiai...but he'll sort it out, and when he does, he'll be scaring the crap out of everyone. Can't wait.
And M14 Yoshikaze showed some great sumo and fighting spirit. I'm converted--particularly enjoyed the day 15 bout against Homasho and also his day 14 slug-fest with Kitazakura. Exciting, straight-up sumo from a real warrior. And he succeeded in making me do something that I thought was impossible--hate Hokutoriki even more. That day 12 henka was a disgrace. But who cares about Jokutoriki anyway? Yoshikaze should have had ten wins but nine will be enough to elevate him to a career-high rank in mid-Maegashira. Good lad. And only 24 years old.
So there you have it--a report shortened greatly by the dearth of positive things to say. While some interesting talking points came out of the Natsu Basho, the killing blows came too early and too hard. There was something missing, more specifically, someone, and it just wasn't quite right without him.
Turning attention to the World Cup, both Mike and I (and possible some of the other Sumotalk contributors if they can be bothered) will be making a few comments during the tournament in Germany in our blogs so tune in for that and marvel at our ineptitude. I am personally looking forward to it and will, of course, be supporting Togo, Costa Rica, Angola, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Hopefully, we will be seeing scenes like this (warning: don't click on this if you are likely to be offended by a pair of bare breasts). The World Cup final actually coincides with the first day of the Nagoya Basho so there's plenty to keep us occupied in between.
And one final thing: I would just like to congratulate Finland for their winning entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. OK, so the song was shite (can anyone name one decent song EVER in the history of that competition?) but with those costumes (pictured at right), I'd give them a Grammy as well. And an Oscar. And the Nobel Prize for physics. Majestic.
Natsu Basho Pre-basho Report
With Hakuho safely promoted to Ozeki, surely a stopgap rank for him, media attention will swivel firmly onto the sturdy, ox-like frame of Ozeki Tochiazuma as he makes another attempt to reach the peak of Mount Banzuke. Ordinarily, new Ozeki get plenty of scrutiny themselves but it is pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that Hakuho will take things well into his stride with his usual aplomb and fit right in. Let's face it, he's in a different class to the fading Chiyotaikai and Kaio, and I wager those hoary veterans will get more press than the young Mongolian as they endeavour once again to hang on to the (well-paid) rank of Ozeki.
I agree with Sir Michael Wesemann when he says that there is precious little difference between this basho and last with regard to Tochiazuma. In terms of numbers, he is the best rikishi of them all this year at 26-4 and one yusho, but there is no getting away from the fact that his sumo has been less than inspiring. He just seemed to be muddling through last basho, somehow picking up twelve wins, and therefore dropping three, one, lest we forget, to Aminishiki, a middling rikishi who should not be getting anywhere near a Yokozuna hopeful. Whatever you think of the quality of his sumo, however, all that really matters to the sumo authorities is the numbers--anything they can use to justify the promotion of a Japanese Ozeki to the very top. He's a steady wrestler who rarely does evasive sumo these days...so there's no problem in that department. He just needs to keep in the yusho race and pick up 12 or 13 wins and a jun-yusho at the very least. It will probably be enough, so desperate are they for a Japanese Yokozuna, but such a scenario will invite accusations of excessive leniency (and bias) leading to the debasing of the top rank, something we saw with former Yokozuna Futahaguro, who was promoted in 1986 without ever winning a tournament, and who never won anything subsequently. It is important to remember, however, that the current rules for promotion are not set in stone - the severity of the promotion requirements varies over time. Another point--I am not so sure that a Japanese Yokozuna will result in such a massive surge in popularity for the sumo. Popularity is increasing anyway in line with the burgeoning quality of the top rikishi, mostly foreign, it has to be said. We are now seeing some rivalry to Asashoryu, and that is important. It is a fact that attendances have been rising steadily this year. Indeed, all seats are sold out for the final day even as I write this report. As far as I am aware, that has not happened so long before the start of a tournament since the days of Takanohana (could be wrong here so put me right if you do know). Back to Tochiazuma, if you want a detailed analysis of how I think he will do, just go to the site archives and read my (and Mike's) Haru pre-basho report--nothing has changed at all in my mind. He is 50-50 for the promotion, certainly capable of it, and I think the first week will be absolutely vital for him. He NEEDS to be 8-0 or 7-1 on nakabi. No lapses in concentration this time. One more point, there appears to be a misapprehension among many fans that a Yokozuna should dominate sumo as Asashoryu has done, but that is simply utter rubbish. A Yokozuna's first duty is to challenge regularly for the yusho. End of story. Now, Tochiazuma may not even be capable of that as age catches up with him and the younger talents begin to overtake, but to say he shouldn't be promoted because he isn't the new Asashoryu is just plain tosh and poppycock. Get a grip! According to keiko reports, he appears to be in good condition and has been practicing plenty with the usual suspects (Tochinonada and Iwakiyama). He knows as well as everyone else that the young guns are rising and they're only going to get better. This could well be his last chance. Being a long-time fan, I will once again be defying the onset of gangrene and crossing my appendages.
Yokozuna Asashoryu also appears to be in good condition and so, with that arm injury well and truly behind him, is the clear favourite to take yusho number seventeen. With serious rivals in the form of Hakuho and Tochiazuma, a zensho yusho looks tricky, but I don't see him dropping more than two bouts, and thirteen wins is usually enough to win it. We've said it all about Asashoryu. He is quite simply the top dog, in a class of his own, so expect him to win it with thirteen or fourteen. He is reportedly following a routine of one day of keiko followed by a rest day. This sounds like more than usual so he should be ready for Sunday.
Shin-Ozeki Hakuho is fast emerging as the main threat to Asashoryu's dominance. The baby-faced assassin is far more popular among the Japanese fans than his compatriot and I think his inevitable ascension to the top rank will be warmly welcomed. One slight question mark is the return of that old left ankle injury, which had reportedly been troubling him slightly in training, although he has said that the pain appears to be going away. Nevertheless, he has been doing keiko with Ama, Kaio and Takamisakari along with others, and seems to be more than holding his own (snigger). The most recent reports indicate that he is in fine form. However, that fragile ankle leaves him wide open (gurgle) to more serious injury as it suffers the usual wear and tear of fifteen days of grappling (fnarr fnarr) with sweaty men intent on his destruction. Let's hope he can stay healthy. If he does, expect Hakuho to vie with Tochiazuma for second place: twelve wins.
Ozeki Kotooshu sits in the top west spot after a remarkable 9-6 with one leg in Haru. That performance underlined just how important those ludicrously long arms are for him as they allow him to reach around his opponent and grab the belt from almost any position. A healthy Kotooshu is a yusho contender, no doubt there, but his knee looked far from back to glowing health at the recent YDC (Yokozuna Deliberation Council) soken. It is a real shame he won't be at full strength because Kotooshu is definitely one of the biggest draws in sumo. As I must have said about eight million times, it is simply stupid that rikishi are forced to fight with injuries out of fear of demotion. This idiocy could threaten promising careers. Bring back the kosho (public injury) system in some kind of shape or form. Write to your MP (military police) about it. Here's a suggestion, a flawed one, no doubt, but why not give any rikishi ranked Ozeki or above (perhaps even lower--whatever) who sustains an injury the option of taking one basho off with no fear of losing their rank, and then going back to the current system. All this will do is give the top lads more time to recover from their injuries, three or four months as opposed to the current two. As most injuries would be completely healed in that time, while two months is often not enough, it would seem a logical course of action. Obviously, serial malingerers like Chiyotaikai and Kaio will also need to be watched carefully, to be certain they're not just pretending they are injured to keep their rank that little bit longer. Obviously an impartial medical committee would have to be formed and they would have the final say in whether a rikishi can take advantage of the above system, as opposed to the oyakata. Just a suggestion. I look forward to your thoughts on this--send in an email and we might stick it up on the email page. Back to Captain Bulgaria, assuming Kotooshu doesn't pull out, he should still manage a winning record, but it is unlikely he will be a force this time.
A brief word on veteran duo Kaio and Chiyotaikai: it's getting painful to watch these two and frankly they have very little to offer apart from misty-eyed remembrances. Kaio can still turn it on occasionally, particularly when he is allowed the belt grip he wants, but Chiyotaikai is a pirouetting buffoon who just makes my teeth itch in irritation. Like Kaio, he can still put on the occasional show but we all know his game: go for the pull-down and keep out of trouble. I am always wrong when I predict how Chiyotaikai will do so I will go for reverse logic this time--I have a feeling he'll dance his way to a winning record, so this means he will get only six or seven wins. Depending on the state of his back, Kaio may also struggle to get eight, but if he starts badly, don't be surprised to see him pull out after three or four days, knowing as he does that he will be able to survive next time with eight wins. How long will this continue? Until they make it harder to stay at Ozeki, basically.
At Sekiwake we have the recently impressive Miyabiyama in the west slot, and the infuriatingly erratic Kotomitsuki at east. I'm not going to waste time talking about Kotomitsuki because we all know the score with him. He could get three wins or challenge for the yusho. I'll plump for eight or nine. Miyabiyama has finally worked out that tsuppari is the key to his success, not to mention keeping his balance, which always used to be a problem as he put on the blubber, but has improved no end of late. He ain't gonna be a threat to the main contenders (with the possible exception of Tochiazuma, who seems to have a serious psychological block against him) but we should see him pick up eight or nine wins if he keeps up the good work, with a couple of Ozeki upsets along the way.
Komusubi Kyokutenho comes in off a strong 11-4 in March and has the technical prowess and general know-how to avoid complete embarrassment at this rank. His first week schedule will consist, as it always does for Komusubi, of all the top lads, but he will find it far easier in the second week with some lackluster rikishi among the jo'i and really should pick up six or seven. His counterpart, the hugely popular (and rightly so) Ama is also going to suffer in that first week as he comes into conflict with much bigger fish but I don't doubt at all that he will defeat an Ozeki or two. I'm going to stick my neck out and predict an 8-7 record for Ama. The key will be to somehow survive that first-week barrage of top class opponents and secure two or three wins going into the middle weekend. Then he will clean up in the second week. His ambition and technical genius will see him through plenty of scrapes and more than make up for his relative lack of size (oo-er).
As we move down into Maegashira, we see at the top of the pile Kisenosato. This lad looks a slow developer, and there's nothing wrong with that. Slow or not, he has improved in leaps and bounds from the callow youth we saw promoted to the top division amid unusual hype not so long ago. I would like to see him give us a few more glimpses of that undeniable talent but I won't be worried if he falls to a losing record. Like Futenoh, however, he appears to let defeat get to him a lot more than other rikishi, and his head visibly drops when the going gets tough (and the tough get going, get out of my dreams, get into my car etc.). What I want to see from him this time is more of a ballsy attitude and no lame-ass sumo a la Hokutoriki. Just go for it. We'll definitely be seeing balls from Kisenosato's counterpart, M1 Kakizoe, who is always a pleasure to watch, but will likely suffer a make-koshi at this rank. Six or seven wins for him. I don't care--he's still great.
It will be interesting to see how M2 Wakanosato does in his return to the top. Will he be a parrot or a hummingbird? He's looked a bit cumbersome since his return from injury but still has the experience, skill and bulk to stick it up the top boys. Kachi-koshi is certainly possible. M4 Tokitenku is someone I've learned to respect. A real awkward customer, you can be certain that more than a few of the top guys will not enjoy taking him on. Plenty of tricks in the bag, to be sure, but I don't see him picking up more than six in the jo'i. I see him as the new Kyokushuzan, more than any of the other Mongolians. He can be so slippery when he wants to be.
M5 Roho is back in the comfort zone and should pick up at least nine or ten at this rank. I'm sick of saying it but he just needs to trust his own sumo. When he does that, he's in the top ten. When he doesn't, he's embarrassing to watch. I think we can expect a little more from M7 Futenoh this time as well, after a thoroughly miserable and confidence-sapping 6-9 in March. We all know what he's capable of but he's proved himself poor at closing the deal more often than not. Kachi-koshi nonetheless.
Big Russian M8 Hakurozan is more than capable of kicking bottom at this rank. Sadly, I've learned to expect disappointment from him. Expect a few cheap pull-down wins. M9 Iwakiyama is another one who should do well down among the chaff but I'm a little concerned that his rank counterpart Tochinonada is past his sell-by date after looking very listless at times in March against rikishi he should be beating with his eyes closed. Time will tell.
At M11 we have our newcomers in Homasho and Baruto. I have little to add to Mike's analysis. Both should do well in this division as there is no doubt about their respective talents. However, I question the wisdom of Baruto's decision to avoid all de-geiko in the run up to the basho. As a new boy, he really should be giving himself a taste of the top rikishi - yes, I know that sounds revolting--and seeking out the very best. That's what Hakuho used to do and it not only gave everyone an aggressive sign of his ambition, but also allowed him to bring his skills up to speed. What this means is that Baruto will only have Juryo 4 Satoyama for sekitori-level keiko. Not good enough. It is difficult to predict how this human tornado will do in his first division. Will he waltz through as he did in Juryo? The numbers are certainly alarming and he's definitely future sanyaku material. We can expect a winning record, perhaps even ten wins. I for one wouldn't even be surprised to see him keep up with the leaders for the first few days. It's a case of let's wait and see but I expect great things from the Estonian in the future.
Going even further down towards the real dregs - as Mike said, there is indeed bugger all to get excited about. Takamisakari, Hokutoriki and Tokitsuumi should all have some joy, as would Jumonji ordinarily, but he was alarmingly crap last time out and may well be over the hill. The first few bouts of Makuuchi are not going to be pretty.
All in all, Natsu could be a corker. Tochiazuma's problem is not so much getting past Asashoryu, but beating Hakuho to the jun-yusho. This is still a tall order but he's proved he can do it. If he gets off to a good start, the media interest will become a feeding frenzy, just what sumo needs to further fuel its recent rise in popularity. So if you do believe in God, Satan or aliens or whatever, get praying for a 7-0 start from the great Japanese hope.
Remember to keep an eye on our news page for regular updates on injuries and keiko. I'll be back on day 3.
Yusho: Asashoryu (13-2)
Kantosho: Kisenosato (he can do it - heart over head!)
Ginosho: Not awarded. Ama if he gets a winning record.
Shukunsho: No chance.