The 2003 Aki basho may not be remembered as a significant basho on the surface, but it had its fair share of stories once you take a good look at it. Asashoryu put a stamp on his dominance amid a firestorm of behavioral criticism from all corners of Japanese society, Kaio went from being on the verge of Yokozuna promotion to being kadoban, Wakanosato outgrew his “Barometer” moniker and gets closer Ozeki than ever, Takamisakari completes the sansho “hat trick” by collecting the Ginosho, Shukunsho, and this time the Kantosho all in one calendar year, and we had the surprise emergence of one Iwakiyama who at M5 lost his first three bouts only to come back and post an amazing 11-4 record, picking up a special prize and a lot of respect along the way.
There’s not much to be said about tournament winner Asashoryu (13-2) except for the fact that he is the best rikishi in sumo today. Asa was under a lot of scrutiny this basho and he responded the way I had hoped, which was to let his sumo do the talking. He’s mum to the press, as he should be, being as the press looks for any opportunity to jump all over him. His sumo had everyone talking about the first zensho yusho in seven years before successive losses to Wakanosato and Tochiazuma on days twelve and thirteen. But he came back to get the job done. The zensho will come in time, as sumo is now entrenched in the “Asashoryu jidai.” He is molding a defining style with his uncanny ability to secure morozashi to complement the incredible speed with which he attacks.
Although the Yusho was determined on day fourteen, Senshuraku did generate some excitement. No less than eight rikishi came into the final day with 7-7 records, including pre-basho favorite Kaio, of all people. Five would be successful in achieving the coveted majority wins, and Kaio was not one of them. He faced Yokozuna Asashoryu and put up a measly effort, as he succumbed to Asa’s makikae and morozashi, just as many before him had this basho. Yes, there is a physical aspect to Kaio’s struggles as he is hampered by a right biceps injury that negates those prodigious uwatenages from the right side, but Kaio’s faltering in the spotlight is just as mental in my opinion. He relies too much on exaggerated big moves like sweeping Kotenages as seen in his early loses to Takamisakari and Asasekiryu, then he out-thinks himself when times get tough. It’s too bad Kaio will face his hometown crowd in Kyushu on the verge of demotion rather than promotion.
Speaking of kadoban, the revolving door continues in the Ozeki ranks. As Kaio now enters the dangerous world of kadoban, Tochiazuma successfully escaped it for the third time in his career. He finished with a solid 10-5 mark, including a brilliant win over Asashoryu that brought back shades of his Yusho form from a couple of years ago. Let’s hope we keep seeing this kind of sumo from Tochiazuma in the months to come. He’s certainly capable of it.
Chiyotaikai (11-4) was on Asashoryu’s tail the whole basho and came up just a little short. The thing I liked about Chiyo this basho was that he did not employ the cheap pulling technique that has haunted him in his career. He remained true to his powerful tsuppari game the entire basho. He was a little too cautious against Hokutoriki and looked bad, yes, but overall he persevered as was seen in his thirteen-second oshi-zumo doozy against Miyabiyama. Chiyo has got to be the favorite to topple Asashoryu in Kyushu. After all, it will be his homecoming, too.
Topping the inactive list was Musashimaru for the sixth straight basho. It has been September of ‘02 since Maru last completed a tournament. That’s a full year for a wrist injury. No excuse. It’s compete or retire for Maru in November.
Musoyama withdrew on day six after posting one win, so he will be joining Kaio in kadoban land in November. The key here is can he remain injury-free to eke out eight wins again? Muso is Ozeki by the skin of his teeth these days.
Knocking on the Ozeki door will be Wakanosato, who finished at a strong 11-4 to garner the Shukunsho compliments of handing Asashoryu his first defeat of the basho. This year alone, Waka has posted eleven, nine, nine, ten, and now eleven wins. With twenty-one in his last two efforts, conventional wisdom says he’ll be promoted with twelve wins in November. Even if he doesn’t do it in November he can keep his chances alive by posting double-digit wins again. Waka is kind of like Kaio in that if he can avoid losing early to lesser competition, you’re looking at our next Ozeki.
The Kantosho was awarded to M1 Takamisakari (9-6) and M2 Kyokutenho (10-5) on day fourteen, a day before they promptly laid eggs on senshuraku to make that decision look suspect. Takami got twisted down by M9 Aminishiki (10-5) and Tenho was embarrassed by M6 Kotomitsuki (11-4) in a bout where he showed zero desire to win. I thought the Kyokai’s infamous “must win” stipulation would have been appropriate in the Tenho-Kotomitsuki finale. Tenho had perfect positioning to defeat Koto but did absolutely nothing. When Koto went to makikae, at which point it is standard sumo to attack, Tenho did nothing again. When Koto succeeded in makikae and thus gained better positioning himself, Koto immediately attacked and won. Yet, the fighting spirit prize goes to Kyokutenho. Apparently, Kotomitsuki no longer qualifies for fighting spirit because he has Yusho experience and he expected to perform at a higher level than your average guy. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then again, neither do the prize selections half the time.
The Ginosho goes to M5 Iwakiyama, who quietly put together an 11-4 mark, including a good effort against Asashoryu and a win over Tochiazuma. I thought maybe Kantosho for him, but the Kyokai said his textbook oshizumo and aggressiveness applies more to technical merit. Again, it’s a crapshoot for prizes but one thing is clear: Iwakiyama has arrived as a joi threat.
Achieving kachi-koshi on senshuraku were M1 Tochinonada, who will be sanyaku bound again, M8 Kyokushuzan, who again put in just enough to keep a respectable rank, M12 Shimotori, who is struggling to regain his prior form, M13 Wakatoba, who along with Kakizoe successfully debuted as a rookie, and M15 Otukasa, who avoided Juryo demotion.
Juryo was won by J5 Takekaze (13-2), who may have posted just enough wins to rejoin Makuuchi again. Let’s hope he can stay healthy this time. Also with good showings were old friends Takanowaka, 12-3 from J3, and Tamakasuga, 10-5 from J1. They’ll be joining the party again in Kyushu. Looks like we’ll have a shin-nyumaku in Toyozakura, who posted a strong 10-5 from J2 by winning his last seven. And Georgian Kokkai continues his rise through Juryo with a solid 9-6 from J4. Finally, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, native Sentoryu gave a paltry 4-11 effort from J11, almost guaranteeing his demotion back to Makushita. Sentoryu has expressed interest in staying on to become Oyakata after his active career, but he is eighteen basho short of the required stay as Sekitori to do that. At thirty-four, time (and hair for his top knot) is running out on good ’ole Henry.
Well folks, let’s give a congrats to Nate for taking our Fantasy Competition. I probably shouldn’t mention that my wife, Bonnie, came in second to whip me. Actually, both Bonnie and Mike’s wife, Kazue, spent time in first place this basho. If Mike’s anything like me, I struggle and analyze when picking my stable, then Bonnie picks hers in about three seconds and just crushes me. Maybe I’ll let her fill in for me in November, because I’ll never hear the end of this one.
Aki Basho Day Eleven Report
By Mike Wesemann
As has been the case over the last few days, the only real question that remains this basho is whether Asashoryu will capture a zensho yusho, which means he must go a perfect 15-0. While it’s easy to guarantee the yusho for Asashoryu at this point, guaranteeing a zensho yusho is a completely different story. The feat is so rare that it hasn’t been accomplished since 1996. In order to go 15-0, a rikishi must be head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the field, and Asashoryu clearly fits that description this basho.
Today the Yokozuna was matched up against Sekiwake Miyabiyama who is no pushover, despite his 3-7 record. For the second day in a row, Asashoryu was driven back at the tachi-ai by his larger opponent, and he appeared to be in some trouble today as Miyabiyama used some fierce tsuppari to drive Asa back to ring’s edge, but the Yokozuna used the tawara to brace himself and grab the morozashi grip on Miyabi’s belt, virtually stopping the Sekiwake’s charge. Now with the upper hand, Asashoryu drove Miyabiyama clear across the other side of the ring before forcing him out into the first row. After watching the replay, it was evident that Asashoryu was not in as much trouble as it first appeared. Another solid victory for the Yokozuna at 11-0, who is definitely up to the task of winning out. Miyabiyama falls to 3-8 and is in danger of falling back to the Maegashira.
As for the question of whether or not Asashoryu can win out, here’s how I see it. His last four opponents will be: Wakanosato, Tochiazuma, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio. Kaio may withdraw before senshuraku, and if he does Asashoryu will probably get Tamanoshima instead. If there’s been one weakness in Asashoryu’s sumo this basho, it’s been his tachi-ai. He’s gotten into the habit of using the harite (slap to opponent’s face) from the get-go, and this has been allowing his larger opponents to drive him back. He may be using the tactic to avoid a tachi-ai henka, which I fully expect Tochiazuma or Chiyotaikai to use if Asashoryu’s still undefeated. In short, the only way Asashoryu will lose this basho is if someone blows him away at the tachi-ai to the point where he can’t recover. The only rikishi who is capable of this is Chiyotaikai. Asa also needs to be careful not to let Wakanosato grab an uwate unless the Yokozuna can secure the morozashi grip where he has both arms underneath the Barometer’s armpits. Kaio is so mentally screwed up right now, he shouldn’t pose a problem, and the only way Tochiazuma can win is if he resorts to Kyokushuzan-like tactics. It’s definitely not a given at this point, but barring a tachi-henka in the last four days, I say Asashoryu has a 90% chance of winning out.
Ozeki Kaio looked completely lost today as Sekiwake Wakanosato forced him out. From the tachi-ai, Kaio stood up with both arms raised, unclear of what he wanted to do. Wakanosato pushed the Ozeki and drove him back to ring’s edge where Kaio attempted a few uninspired pull downs before being easily pushed out by Wakanosato. It doesn’t look as if Kaio is injured right now—physically anyway. Mentally is a different story. Kaio has let something get in his head this basho; he’s been snapping in the press at his opponent’s tactics, which is something he’s never done before. It will be a miracle at this point for Kaio to win his eight, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him withdraw if he loses to Kotomitsuki tomorrow. He knows there’s no way he’ll beat Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu in this condition, so he may as well withdraw. Kaio stands at 6-5 and has Kotomitsuki, Tochiazuma, Chiyotaikai, and Asashoryu over the last four days. Yikes. Wakanosato improves to 7-4 and is right on track for his typical 9-6 record as the East Sekiwake.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai kept himself in the yusho hunt with a win over M4 Asasekiryu today. This was kind of a strange bout in that Asasekiryu went for the pull down straight from the tachi-ai, but he didn’t sidestep the Ozeki, which showed major stones. Asasekiryu actually held his ground as the two rikishi clashed, but the misguided pull down attempt left him too vulnerable to Chiyo’s tsuppari. The Ozeki answered right away with some sharp tsuppari that drove Asasekiryu to ring’s edge. Seki attempted to use tawara and hook up with Chiyotaikai, which he did to a degree, but Chiyo’s forward momentum was too much for Asasekiryu to handle. Chiyo moves to 9-2 with the win while Asasekiryu falls to 5-6.
Ozeki Tochiazuma made it official today: at least two more months of bad sumo as an Ozeki. He picked up his eighth win today with an easy victory over Tokitsuumi. Tokitsuumi looked indecisive at the tachi-ai, and Tochiazuma used the hesitation to drive his shoulder into his opponent and easily force him out of the ring in two seconds. It was a pretty good win for the Ozeki who now moves to 8-3, officially erasing his kadoban status. Tokitsuumi falls to 4-7.
Komusubi Toki won today in typical Toki fashion so I won’t bother describing it. The win gives the Komusubi a 6-5 record, which is an excellent record considering he’s done fighting the jo’i. His opponent, M2 Hokutoriki, falls to 4-7 and should drop down the ranks to a more comfortable fighting rank next basho. The other Komusubi, Tosanoumi, also prevailed in his match today against M1 Takamisakari much to the disappointment of the crowd. This was typical Takamisakari sumo, where he gets the migi-sashi and lets his opponent drive him to ring’s edge before turning the tables at the tawara. The problem today was that Takamisakari executed his countermove two steps in from the tawara, so while he did swing Tosanoumi around and back, the Komusubi was still in the ring, so Tosanoumi, who now had the momentum, used it to perfection to swing Takamisakari around and out. Tosanoumi claws his way back near the .500 mark at 5-6. Takamisakari drops to 7-4 and may have hurt his chances to win a special prize.
While were on the topic of special prizes. NO ONE deserves one this basho. I can’t wait to see who the Kyokai awards them to this time around. Feginowaka, a fan from Liechtenstein, emailed us last basho and said, “you can’t even predict the sansho prizes even if you know the final results of the tournament.” I completely agree with his statement.
Capturing that coveted eighth win in the Maegashira ranks today was M6 Kotomitsuki, who used his superior technique to defeat M1 Tochinonada’s superior size. Six others are stuck at 7-4.
Aki Basho Day Ten Report
By Kenji Heilman
Today was a huge test for Asashoryu and he passed with flying colors. His opponent, the upstart Kotomitsuki (7-3) vying to stay in the yusho race, came with a potent tachiai and drove the Yokozuna back with a strong tsuppari attack. His plan was to win the tachiai and not let Sho get inside with his left hand. It worked but it wasn’t enough to overcome Sho’s brilliance. The Yokozuna persevered, and after a lightening quick maki-kae to get inside with his left, he eventually drove Kotomitsuki out with a stern yotsu attack. Downright dominant sumo for 10 straight days.
Tochiazuma’s quest to remain Ozeki hit a road block today in the form of Wakanosato (6-4). Azuma didn’t want Waka on his belt but the Sekiwake patiently awaited his chance and eventually secured migi-yotsu to gain the upper hand. After that, he just overpowered the Ozeki for the yorikiri win. Azuma still looks okay at 7-3 but he’d better pick up number eight soon before he’s matched up against the big boys.
Kaio (6-4) has now dropped three in a row, this time to a first time challenger in Asasekiryu (5-5). It looked like a replay of Kaio’s first loss the other day to Takamisakari. After a tachiai that resulted in hidari-yotsu, positioning that both rikishi prefer, Kaio commenced to throw an exaggerated kotenage that he 1) backed up to attempt, and 2) lost his balance in doing so. In other words, he gave all his momentum to his opponent. I just have to shake my head at Kaio. Surely he can’t expect to make Yokozuna performing sumo like this.
Chiyotaikai (8-2) became the second rikishi to secure kach-koshi after Asashoryu with a ho-hum win over Takanonami (3-7). It took about two seconds. Nami offered a weak moro-te tachiai and actually thought he could hook his arms around Chiyo, who just blasted right through him. Nami is looking more washed up every day and I can’t believe I actually have him in my stable in Fantasy Sumo.
Probably in the second most anticipated bout of the day, Takamisakari (7-3) overcame Kyokutenho (6-4) in a bout that may give the crowd fave the upper hand at another special prize. It was certainly the loudest the crowd was all day, even though the bout matched two Maegashira rikishi with six more match-ups yet to come. It was a fast paced yotsu-zumo in which Tenho attacked in migi-yotsu position. But alas, Takami did his thing again in the 11th hour and turned the tables at the tawara. To the roar of the crowd he used his powerful right inside grip to score a sukuinage win and keep himself on the leader board.
Speaking of leader board, it looks like this: Asashoryu leads the way at 10-0, Chiyotaikai is two back at 8-2 and five rikishi still have an outside shot (very outside) with 7-3 records. They are Tochiazuma, Takamisakari, Kotomitsuki, Tamanoshima and Aminishiki.
Aki Basho Day Nine Report
By Mike Wesemann
Nine days in and Asashoryu is on a roll. I agree with Kenji that now it’s only a matter of will Asashoryu finally get that 15-0 yusho. Today he used his awesome speed to defeat the second heaviest rikishi on the banzuke in M5 Iwakiyama. Asa grabbed the morozashi position from the tachi-ai, and while Iwakiyama used his mass to drive the Yokozuna back, Asashoryu was in no trouble whatsoever as he simply spun to the side and around back of Iwakiyama to push him down from behind with okuri-taoshi. That’s eight different techniques now in his nine wins. What can you say about this guy that hasn’t already be said? Love him or hate him, he will dominate the sport for the years to come. Tomorrow, Asa gets his final Maegashira rikishi as he’s matched up against Kotomitsuki. These two are rivals of sort with their overall head-to-head records at 6-5 with Asashoryu holding the slight edge. I really don’t see Asa having too much trouble tomorrow as he has been sparring with the jo’i while Kotomitsuki’s has been fighting lesser competition, but in all of Asa’s yusho he’s loss at least once to a Maegashira rikishi. Iwakiyama falls to a respectable 5-4.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai kept himself two losses behind the leader with a fairly dominating victory over Sekiwake Wakanosato. Chiyo didn’t manhandle the Barometer from the tachi-ai as he usually does in his victories, but his tsuppari were effective enough to keep Wakanosato from taking the bout to yotsu-zumo. It was a good win, but it wasn’t that overpowering win characteristic of Chiyo when he’s fighting well enough to yusho. The Ozeki does jump to 7-2 with the win while Wakanosato falls to 5-4.
Ozeki Tochiazuma easily defeated M3 Kotoryu in a shoving match that turned ugly when Kotoryu attempted a pull down move. Tochiazuma was right on top of things and easily drove the shorter Maegashira from the ring with a good shove. Tochiazuma improves to 7-2, and his kachi-koshi is a given at this point although a couple of his wins have been downright pathetic. I can’t jump on this guy’s bandwagon while he continues to wuss out against strong opponents. Kotoryu falls to 3-6 with the loss.
Ozeki Kaio continued his downward spiral with another loss to M2 Kyokutenho. Kaio lost the bout at the tachi-ai where his conservative nature allowed the quicker Mongolian to grab a firm right uwate before Kaio was even out of his stance. Kyokutenho forced the action from the start, and while Kaio was able to stop the Mongolian’s momentum, it left him in a terrible position at ring’s edge. After the two briefly rested in the hidari yotsu position, Kyokutenho easily forced the Ozeki out with another surge. Kyokutenho is on a bit of a roll as he moves to 6-3. Kaio loses for the second time in as many days and has taken himself out of the yusho picture not to mention any hope of Yokozuna promotion. If Kaio loses tomorrow, one of his injuries may conveniently flare up “forcing” him to withdraw. I will give Kaio credit, though, he did start the basho strong despite being dinged up. Kaio sits at 6-3.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama failed to get on track after Tochiazuma’s girly performance against him yesterday. Today he faced crowd favorite Takamisakari and was doomed from the tachi-ai when the M1 Sakari grabbed the right shitate. After resting from the tachi-ai in migi-yotsu, Sakari forced the action by attempting to gain the morozashi position. Miyabiyama responded nicely by reversing the move and forcing the bout into hidari-yotsu. Takamisakri is just too good, however, in the yotsu position, and he used his deceiving strength to force out Miyabiyama with a grip of just one fold of Miyabi’s belt. Takamisakari moves to 6-3 and should continue to fare well as he’s fought all of the jo’i. Miyabiyama falls to 3-6 and has his work cut out for him if he wants to maintain his rank.
In the battle of Komusubi, Toki prevailed as Tosanoumi showed up in his roller skates. This of course was a shoving match from the beginning, but Tosanoumi never could gain firm footing on the dohyo as Toki retreated (what else?) and pulled down Tosanoumi whose legs were conveniently flailing in circles like a cartoon character whose spinning his legs right before he takes off. Toki climbs over .500 to stand at 5-4 while Tosanoumi drops to 3-6.
In the Maegashira ranks, M6 Kotomitsuki showed that he rules the rank and file roost by pushing out M7 Tamanoshima. Kotomitsuki drove Tamanoshima back from the tachi-ai as this bout was not even close. Kotomitsuki at 7-2 now gets Asashoryu tomorrow for his efforts, while Tamanoshima falls to 6-3.
Aki Basho Day Eight Report
By Mike Wesemann
To the dismay of many a sumo traditionalist, Asashoryu is putting a stamp on his dominance and is pulling away from a field that is obviously no where near the level of the controversial Mongolian Yokozuna. And I absolutely, unmistakably, undeniably love it.
Today he made Takanonami (3-5) look like a has-been by standing the former Ozeki straight up at the tachiai with a stiff nodowa (thrust to throat). The oshi-zumo onslaught that followed put Nami on the defensive, which he followed up with an ill-advised pull. The resulting oshi-dashi took all of about 3 seconds. Asashoryu is 8-0 for the sixth time in his career and the third time as a Yokozuna. He has won the tournament the last three times he has done this, and this time should be no different. The only question that remains is, can he go 15-0? The next few days will be crucial, as he often loses on day 9, 10 or 11 during these streaks. Tomorrow he has a big bull in Iwakiyama, who could potentially pose some problems with his girth.
Kaio (6-2) laid a chocolate egg for the fourth consecutive time against Tochinonada (4-4). I guess he just can’t beat this guy. It looked promising initially as Kaio seemed to be in position to secure his right outer grip but Tochi swiftly moved to his left to send the Ozeki out of sorts, then thrust him right out before Kaio could regain his balance. Just like that, Kaio is two back of Asashoryu and has lost hope of any faint Yokozuna promotion considerations that remained.
Chiyotaikai (6-2) is “back on track”, a railroad track in which he runs over his opponents, that is. He shortened and sped up his thrusts to overwhelm Kotoryu (3-5) today. He also attacks with his noggin, which is effective. Let’s hope there’s no more lapses in concentration from Chiyo as he showed on days five and six. We need Kaio and Chiyo to stay at two in the loss column for as long as possible to keep this basho interesting.
Tochiazuma (6-2) probably infuriated Mike today in employing the old tachiai henka, or side-step, to defeat Miyabiyama (3-5). He definitely infuriated Miyabiyama, who glared up at Azuma after the split second loss and reportedly punched a few walls on his way to the ofuro. I’d have to agree; Azuma uses this technique a little too often for it to be acceptable. It’s simply not worthy of an Ozeki not to take on challengers straight-up so often. All three Ozeki now stand at 6-2.
I didn’t quite understand Takamisakari’s game plan today against Wakanosato. Both men prefer migi-yotsu, or right inside positioning, which they got from the tachiai. It would seem the table is then set for the best man to win, but Takami made three futile attempts to maki-kae, or shift to try to get left inside positioning as well. Textbook sumo is to attack when your opponent goes for a maki-kae, which is exactly what Waka did for an easy yori-kiri win. I wanted to see a migi-yotsu battle royal but it was not to be. Maybe Takami had no confidence in his preferred migi-yotsu if Waka had the same preferred position on him. At any rate, both men now stand at a respectable 5-3.
In the rank-and-file, Kakizoe suffered his second loss at the hands of Yotsukasa, who only has two losses of his own. This means, in addition to the three Ozeki at 6-2, we have Tamanoshima, Kotomitsuki, Kakizoe and Yotsukasa with two losses chasing Asashoryu. No longer do we have a one-loss rikishi. It doesn’t look promising for the field but, as you all know, with 7 days remaining anything can happen.
Aki Basho Day Seven Report
By Kenji Heilman
Day 7 brought few surprises as all of the Yokozuna and Ozeki won. That’s due in large part to the fact that Musoyama is out. After one week of competition, the yusho race is beginning to shape up with Yokozuna Asashoryu and Ozeki Kaio in the lead. The Maegashira scrubs who jumped out to fantastic starts are losing one by one and should pose no threat down the stretch.
Starting at the top, Yokozuna Asashoryu was nails again today as he easily dismantled M3 Kotoryu. Asa secured the morozashi grip on Kotoryu’s belt from the tachi-ai and used perfect de-ashi and speed to force the helpless Maegashira out. Another three-second win and an impressive one at that. Asa left his opponent no chance to get anything offensive going. Asa moves to (7-0) and is just one win away from his usual (8-0) starts when he takes the yusho. Kotoryu drops to (3-4). In Asashoryu’s seven bouts, he has used six different techniques to win, he’s shown excellent speed, and he’s picked up and thrown down a 150 kilogram rikishi. He combines technique, speed, and power. Fantastic.
Ozeki Tochiazuma continued his good basho with a win over the larger M1 Tochinonada. This was a shoving match throughout where the Ozeki did an excellent job of keeping his opponent’s body stood straight up. Tochinonada was flailing with just the strength of his arms; had he been able to use his lower body as leverage, this may have been a different outcome, but props go to Tochiazuma for jumping to (5-2). His sumo isn’t impressive enough to yusho, but he should have that kachi-kosho by day 11. Nada falls to (3-4).
Ozeki Kaio stayed within one loss of the leader by picking his spots wisely against Sekiwake Miyabiyama. Beginning at the tachi-ai, Kaio moved to his left a step brushing the Sekiwake with a forearm and throwing him off balance. Miyabi countered with some tsuppari, but Kaio exhibited a well timed block, which enabled him to get deep inside of his opponent. Kaio grabbed Miyabi’s belt and forced him to the edge of the ring where he threw him out with a little nudge of his hip. Good sumo for Kaio, who is still in this thing. Remember, he dominates Asashoryu in head-to-head bouts, so if he can stay within one loss, tsuna-tori is not out of the question. Miyabiyama drops to (3-4).
Ozeki Chiyotaikai got back on track with some picture perfect sumo against M3 Tokitsuumi. Chiyo blew his opponent off the shikiri-sen from the tachi-ai and had him pushed out of the ring in two seconds with about two solid thrusts. Tokitsuumi falls to (2-5) with the loss. Chiyo looked good today, but that two bout losing streak has all but taken him out of yusho contention.
Sekiwake Wakanosato was defeated by M2 Kyokutenho in the best fought match of the day. This was classic hidari-yotsu sumo from the get go. Wakanosato took the offensive first by working his way into the morozashi grip and forcing Kyokutenho to the edge, but Kyokutenho executed a perfect evasive step back and away from his opponent giving him an arm bar grip on Wakanosato. He used this grip to throw the Sekiwake down and move to (4-3). Wakanosato also sits at (4-3). This was a yotsu-zumo fan’s favorite bout of the day.
M1 Takamisakari stayed hot against Komusubi Toki. Sakari took two vicious rights to the jaw and a choke hold that would have gotten Asashoryu disqualified, but he stood his ground and was able to grab the Komusubi’s belt and force him out. Excellent defensive display today for the crowd favorite who moves to (5-2). Toki falls to a respectable (3-4).
Komusubi Tosanoumi was back to his old self of hitting his opponent hard at the tachi-ai and then pulling him down. M2 Hokutoriki was today’s victim falling to (2-5). Tosanoumi inches towards .500 standing at (3-4).
M11 Kakizoe remains the sole Maegashira with just one loss. He’s obviously seen Asanowaka’s act as he waited for the M14 Asanowaka to back up before he charged hard and pushed him out. Great basho for Kakizoe, and he should be a shoe-in for the Kantosho.
Aki Basho Day Six Report
By Mike Wesemann
When it rains it pours for Chiyotaikai, Asashoryu showed the world in no uncertain terms who’s the king of the hill, and the last unbeaten rank-and-filer finally went down today.
Asashoryu (6-0) took on Hokutoriki (2-4), who was coming off a huge win over Chiyotaikai. Sho gained moro-zashi from the tachi-ai but mysteriously took his time to attack. It was as if to say, “watch this everybody, with positioning like this get ready for something grand.” And grand it was. He put a leg behind Hoku in the kirikaeshi position, then picked him up to waist level before slamming him down. Hokutoriki actually bounced on the hard clay. Sho, don’t be so timid okay?
Chiyotaikai, after looking so good for four days is all of a sudden 4-2. Today he got a taste of his own bad medicine when Tosanoumi (2-4) resorted to the old side-step to win at the tachi-ai after a brief clash. Mike hates it when anyone does this, but we’ve disagreed before that I don’t mind it when it’s done by someone who rarely does it and pulls it out of the bag every so often to keep opponents honest. Tosanoumi was in desperate need of a win and mentioned he is not feeling in top form. My feeling is that you can show the sumo world that you have this in your arsenal once in a blue moon, but don’t use it enough for it to be considered a staple or a bad habit. I do agree that it’s too bad we could not see a knock down, drag ’um out push match that these two are capable of, though.
Apparently Musoyama conveniently fractured his elbow in yesterday’s loss to Kyokutenho, which paved the way for his withdrawal today. He finishes his work in Aki with a dismal 1-5 mark. Toki evens his record at 3-3 with the default win.
To the crowd’s delight, Takamisakari (4-2) may be on his way to another Shukunsho prize. Today he overcame Tochiazuma (4-2), looking like Takanonami while doing so. Azuma had the better tachi-ai but after an animated henka (side-step) by Sakari to secure a more favored position, he was able to get underneath Azuma’s arm for his coveted right shitate. You could almost feel Azuma thinking, “uh-oh” as the rikishi paused for a few seconds. Then Azuma attacked. In true Takanonami form (except Sakari does it with the underhand grip), Sakari turned the tables at the tawara and won by yori-kiri. Pure strength when he gets that migi-shitate.
Kaio (5-1) avoided consecutive losses with a nice win over Tokitsuumi (2-4). He too got his favored position, migi-uwate in Kaio’s case, and forced Toki’s right arm skyward on the other side. There was no choice for Tokitsuumi now except try the desperation kubi-nage (neck throw), and it was pretty ugly as usual. He got turned around and Kaio politely guided him out.
Wakanosato stands at 4-2 after a ho-hum win over the excruciatingly uninspired Takanonami (2-4, can you tell I took him in FS?) while Miyabiyama (3-3) got a taste of Kyokutenho’s uwate-nage (3-3) in the Sekiwake ranks.
In the rank-and-file, Kakizoe (5-1) rebounded after his first defeat yesterday to topple Tamanoshima (5-1), which put a blemish on everyone’s record except for Asashoryu. Aminishiki kept pace at 5-1 along with Ozeki Kaio. Looks like this is turning out to be a two-horse race, folks. And the Mongolian looks awfully strong.
Aki Basho Day Five Report
By Mike Wesemann
Day five brought us the first real shake-up of the leader board with both Kaio and Chiyotaikai falling in bouts that they should have won. For the first four days, it seemed as if I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, and today I got my wish. In May I declared Asashoryu the winner on day three after both Chiyotaikai and Kaio had suffered losses to fall one behind the Yokozuna. While today’s results offer a similar circumstance, it’s still too early to make a call, but Asashoryu has yet to be overtaken by anyone and lose the yusho once he has held sole possession of the lead.
Asashoryu was nails again today against M1 Tochinonada. Tochinonada actually beat the Yokozuna earlier this year, and with his size, he is definitely no pushover. The Yokozuna made it look easy again today by just focusing on his offensive plan, grabbing a firm grip on his opponent’s belt (a shita-te in this case), and throwing Tochinonada down with ease. Asa’s on a roll, and he’s now in the lead at 5-0. Tochinonada falls to 2-3.
In the penultimate bout, Ozeki Kaio suffered a costly loss to M1 Takamisakari. Kaio gave up the uwate to his opponent from the tachi-ai, and it would end up costing him. Despite his opponent’s grip on his belt, Kaio worked his way inside and attempted a powerful kotenage throw — an arm bar throw where he wraps his arm over the top and under his opponent’s armpit. Sakari survived the attack, and took the opportunity to push the now off-balance Ozeki out of the ring. Kaio falls to 4-1 while Sakari climbs above .500 at 3-2. Kaio was absolutely pissed after the loss, and lashed out at Takamisakari in the press accusing him of taking it easy during pre-basho keiko. Kaio’s claim is that when a rikishi doesn’t go all out in the practice ring, he shows his opponent disrespect, and it increases the opponent’s chance of suffering an injury as happened to Kaio’s arm. Kaio rarely shows any emotion, so to criticize Takamisakari in the press is surprising. Maybe this will light a fire under the Ozeki’s butt the rest of the way. I like to see this pissed-off attitude when he loses; maybe it’s the mental push he needs to reach Yokozuna.
Prior to Kaio’s loss, Chiyotaikai laid a rotten egg against M2 Hokutoriki. Instead of just blowing the smaller Hokutoriki off the line, Chiyo came out tentatively and was actually beaten at his own game as Hokutoriki thrust the Ozeki out for his first loss. Chiyo said afterwards that he expected a tachi-ai henka or some other trick from his opponent, and that caused his poor performance. Nice excuse. Don’t worry about your opponent — especially when it’s Hokutoriki — and just come out and kick his ass. Isn’t it also ironic that Chiyotaikai is worried about his opponent side-stepping him? I guess what comes around goes around. Chiyo joins Kaio at 4-1 while Hokutoriki moves to 2-3, both wins over Ozeki.
Ozeki Musoyama continued his downward slide by being pushed around at the belt by the skinnier Kyokutenho. In my opinion, Musoyama is so lackadaisical in trying to garner a good offensive position, he ends up giving his opponent the upper-hand offensively. That was definitely the case today as he looked undecided after the tachi-ai and was easily forced out by the Mongolian. Musoyama falls to 1-4 while Kyokutenho improves to just 2-3.
Ozeki Tochiazuma played it perfect against Komusubi Toki. It was business as usual for Toki: three or four tsuppari from the tachi-ai and then back up and try and pull down your opponent. Tochiazuma wasn’t fooled for a minute and easily got inside of Mr. Lambchops pushing him out of the dohyo to pick up his fourth win. Toki falls to 2-3. I had written Tochiazuma off this basho after a bad loss to Hokutoriki on day 2, but he’s come back strong with three straight wins.
The two Sekiwake both pulled out good wins over tough opponents by sticking to their strengths. In the first Sekiwake bout, Miyabiyama patiently waited for an opening in his bout with M4 Asasekiryu. Seki grabbed a stubborn left uwate from the tachi-ai and tried to work his way inside against the much larger Miyabiyama. Miyabi didn’t panic, however, and eventually wore his pint-size opponent down with his strength and brilliantly cut off Seki’s grip before easily pushing him out. Miyabiyama moves to 3-2 while Asasekiryu falls to 2-3, but I’m really enjoying Seki’s sumo right now. He needs to keep his head up; I don’t think the sanyaku is out of the picture for him. The other Sekiwake, Wakanosato, also exhibited good patience against Komusubi Tosanoumi. After some pushing at the tachi-ai, Tosanoumi grabbed an advantageous left uwate, but Wakanosato didn’t panic. He hooked up with his opponent in yotsu-zumo and eventually used his strength to throw Tosanoumi over with a scoop throw to move to 3-2. Tosanoumi falls to just 1-4. Tosanoumi needs to keep the action in the ring moving at all times to have a chance.
In the Maegashira ranks, M7 Tamanoshima kept his record perfect with a throw down of the struggling M10 Dejima. The first bout actually went to a mono-ii as both rikishi seemed to hit the dirt at the same time, but on the second go, Tamanoshima dominated the tachi-ai, grabbed a firm uwate, and threw Dejima over easily. It’s funny how Dejima’s leg always seems to hurt more after a loss. He falls to just 2-3.
In one other notable Maegashira bout, M11 Kakizoe suffered his first loss to M9 Aminishiki. The two seemed to butt heads at the tachi-ai where Aminishiki just grabbed Kakizoe’s shoulder and pulled him down. Chalk that one up to Ami’s experience in the division. Both stand at 4-1.
Aki Basho Day Four Report
By Kenji Heilman
Everyone in the top two ranks won today for the first time this basho. We are on a crash course to quite a finish, it seems, with Asashoryu, Kaio and Chiyotaikai all looking splendid in the early going.
Asashoryu (4-0) looked in trouble for a split second today for the first time, but compensated quickly with his lightening speed for the win. Tokitsuumi (1-3) put up a good fight. Asa, respecting Tokitsuumi’s inside belt technique, came out pushing today. Tokitsuumi almost got his left front grip that he wanted, but when he didn’t he did a good job killing Asa’s tsuppari by pushing up on his right elbow from underneath. This gave Tokitsuumi some leverage to attack, but at the ring’s edge Asa turned the tables in a millisecond with a kotenage to stay undefeated.
On the bout prior Sho’s protoge “Seki” challenged Tochiazuma for the first time. Seki said he wanted to win so he could give “chikara-mizu” (water for strength) to Sho (all winners do this for the next rikishi up from the same side), but it wasn’t to be. Tochiazuma (2-2) kept Seki (2-2) in front of him and stayed on the offensive the whole way in route to evening his record in a solid oshi-zumo match. Seki is showing he belongs this basho, though. He is looking pretty solid.
Three cheers for Musoyama! Hip, hip, Hooray! He picked up his first win today against Hokutoriki (1-3), and he made it look easy. Hoku came out with his usual thrusts, but Muso (1-3) killed it immediately by locking onto Hoku’s belt with his left hand. The bout was over at the tachiai after that, as Hoku was ushered right out. Hopefully this gives Muso the confidence boost he needs to propel himself back to respectability (is that a word?).
Chiyotaikai (3-0) has amassed his four wins in fourteen seconds total (two seconds, two seconds, eight seconds and two seconds). However, today’s two second show was a yotsu-zumo! Kyokutenho (1-3) won the tachiai by securing hidari-yotsu but Chiyo responded well with a quick move to the right as Tenho went to attack with his left. The result was a hiki (pull) win, but this was more a case of good maneuvering than the bad decision making that has plagued Chiyo in the past. He gets an A+ on his report card so far.
Kaio (4-0) must be solid as steel to be able to continually “receive” tachiais as he does. Today he absorbed the tachiai of the king of smash mouth tachiai, Tosanoumi (1-3), in ho-hum fashion, moved deftly to his left, attacked in his favored hidari yotsu position and promptly disposed of the Komusubi. He was aided by Tosa’s ill-advised pull, but still. Kaio is looking very good in the early going. Kaio and “good in the early going” usually don’t go together. That means look out, folks. We may be in for a barnburner.
The Sekiwakes are taking turns winning and losing. Today, it was Wakanosato’s turn to look good as he took care of Kotoryu to even his record while it was Miyabiyama’s turn to lay an egg as he succumbed to Toki’s tsuppari. All rikishi in this paragraph are 2-2.
In the hira-maku, only two more rikishi join Asashoryu, Kaio and Chiyotaikai with unblemished records. They are none other than shin-nyumaku Kakizoe and the resurgent Tamanoshima.
Aki Basho Day Three Report
By Mike Wesemann
The big three, Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio, are showing that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the field. This basho will come down to a round robin among these three rikishi for the yusho. It is no coincidence that these three rikishi have won the last five basho, and you can bet it will be six in a row when the Aki basho is finished.
Starting at the top, Asashoryu was completely dominant over crowd favorite Takamisakari. The bout was well-hyped as NHK repeatedly showed last basho’s classic between these two where Takamisakari toppled the Yokozuna to a thunderous ovation and storm cloud of zabuton from the crowd. It was not meant to be today, however, as the Yokozuna completely disregarded Sakari’s attack by obtaining the morozashi position and wrenching the M1 out of the ring in three seconds. Excellent speed today and perfect de-ashi made this a blow out. Sakari did grab the quick left outer grip from the tachi-ai, but Asashoryu was in a different gear today. The Yokozuna moves to 3-0, whereas Sakari falls to 1-2.
Ozeki Kaio made easy work of M2 Hokutoriki despite an awful tachi-ai. Kaio seemed to come up out of his stance in slow motion, and it would have cost him today if his opponent had been larger. Hokutoriki came out with the usual tsuppari, but the thrusts were bouncing off of Kaio with little effect. The Ozeki waited until his opponent was a bit off balance and then just pulled him down. Not pretty sumo, but when was the last time Kaio started a basho 3-0? Hokutoriki falls to 1-2.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was impressive again as he shoved M1 Tochinonada out of the ring. This was a compelling bout coming in because Tochinonada is so large that Chiyo has trouble bullying him around, but Chiyo stuck with the game plan today and kept thrusting and moving forward until he had Nada pushed out of the ring. Tochinonada stopped Chiyo’s momentum several times, which created several chances for Chiyo to go into his pull down mode, but he abstained and impressively handed Tochinonada his first loss. Chiyo needs to stick to his guns the full fifteen days as he did today, and there’s no doubt he’ll be in contention for the yusho on senshuraku.
Ozeki Tochiazuma picked up his second win thanks to a dive… er… uh… by pulling down Tosanoumi. Tosanoumi came with his usual grunt from the tachi-ai and looked to be attempting to drive the Ozeki out, but a slight flick on Tosa’s shoulder sent the Komusubi sprawling to the dirt. Maybe the bout wasn’t fixed, but I have no idea how Tosanoumi falls like that with the minimal contact received from Tochiazuma. In any case, a win is a win and Tochiazuma jumps up to 2-1. Tosanoumi slips up to fall to 1-2.
Ozeki Musoyama looked just plain awful today. It seems as if the Ozeki cannot make up his mind what to do once the bout begins. Today he seemed to have M3 Kotoryu on the move, but his de-ashi were non-existent and he seemed to let up on his attack of Kotoryu. Kotoryu took the opening and side stepped out of Musoyama’s way pulling his shoulder to help him fly into the first row. Time to get out the phantom injury handbook for Musoyama because it’s looking ugly. Musoyama drops to 0-3 while Kotoryu jumps to 2-1.
Komusubi Toki picked up his first win today by squashing Sekiwake Wakanosato’s melon. From the tachi-ai Toki grabbed Wakanosato’s head in both hands literally covering the Sekiwake’s head from view. Toki simply backed up a step and pulled Wakanosato down by the head. Ouch! Both rikishi now stand at 1-2.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama was patient today in his attack of the sometimes annoying M4 Takanonami. Miyabi came out with some strong tsuppari never letting Takanonami latch the meat hooks to his belt. Takanonami withstood the blows at first and it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Miyabiyama panic and take the fight to the belt, but he stood his ground and continued to flail away until he had the ex-Ozeki off balance and pushed out of the ring. Miyabiyama moves to 2-1; Nami falls to 1-2.
In a battle of the unbeaten in the Maegashira ranks, M7 Tamanoshima prevailed over M4 Asasekiryu by refusing to let the Mongolian grab his belt or pull him down. Tamanoshima used his much larger size to keep Seki at bay with some effective pushes until he got Seki off balance before finishing him off. Tamanoshima stands at 3-0 while Seki drops to 2-1.
Also continuing to dominate among the rank and file is M6 Kotomitsuki who bullied M8 Jumonji for his first third consecutive win. This was a classic chikara-zumo bout but Kotomitsuki’s right outer grip was too much for Jumonji to overcome. Kotomitsuki threw Jumonji down hard at ring’s edge and looks to be completely healthy. Jumonji falls to 1-2.
A mild surprise from the Maegashira ranks comes from M11 Tamarikido who withstood M10 Dejima’s bowling ball tachi-ai to capture his third straight win. The rikishi met hard at the tachi-ai, but Tamarikido got the best of the clash as Dejima was turned around after impact. Tamarikido took advantage and easily shoved Dejima out from behind. Dejima falls to a surprising 1-2.
And finally, make it a point to watch the early Maegashira bouts to see M11 Kakizoe. This guy is as fast as anyone in the dohyo including Asashoryu. Today Kakizoe jumped all over M15 Ushiomaru forcing him out with seeming ease. Kakizoe is quite small, and I don’t know how he does it, but this guy is like lightening in a bottle. He rockets to 3-0 while Ushiomaru struggles at 1-2.
Aki Basho Day Two Report
By Kenji Heilman
Day two brought us a couple of surprises, but for the most part the favorites continued to assert themselves convincingly over the field.
You’ve got to tip your cap to Asashoryu (2-0). You can sum up his sumo in three words: Speed, speed and speed. The recipient of the whirlwind today was Kyokutenho (0-2), who looked like prey desperately trying to shake loose of a predator’s grasp. Asa secured morozashi from the get-go and jostled Tenho around a bit before dumping him with a sukuinage (scoop throw). Next up, Takamisakari baby. I wonder if the crowd fave will cry on a hon-basho bout?
Chiyotaikai (2-0) has chalked up two wins now with about four thrusts. Today he blasted Toki (0-2) out in about two seconds. Chiyo is looking as strong as ever in the early going. With power like this, why would one ever consider a pull-down? Let’s hope he doesn’t for the next thirteen days, and we maybe in for something special.
Musoyama (0-2) faced arch-rival Tosanoumi (1-1) for the thirty-third time with their record against one another locked at 16 wins a piece. I disagree with Mike that Muso “looked weak” against Tochinonada yesterday; I thought he looked solid and aggressive but just lacked the finishing power he struggled with so often. Likewise today. After a classic tachiai that is a model for every aspiring sekitori, Musoyama pushed his nemesis to the edge, but…… The rest of the story is oh so familiar. Tosa got both arms inside after some jockeying and succeeded in turning the tables, forcing the Ozeki out and sending him to a consecutive loss start.
In the surprise of the day, Hokutoriki (1-1) defeated Tochiazuma (1-1) for the second consecutive time. After a couple of matta, Tochiazuma looked uninspired in trying to upend Hoku’s tsuppari. It was as if he was just putting up with it knowing he can win, but he wouldn’t do anything about it TO WIN. Give credit to Hokutoriki for keeping the pressure on. It looks like a rocky road to eight wins for our kadoban Ozeki unless someone lights a fire under him.
Kaio (2-0) patiently received Kotoryu’s (1-1) tachiai, then calmly pushed him out in hidari-yotsu position. Didn’t even need a grip of any kind. Kaio’s methodical way is the antithesis to Asashoryu’s firestorm, but equally as convincing. Can you imagine if Kaio got aggressive?
Miyabiyama (1-1) got back on track by blasting Tokitsuumi (0-2) back at the tachiai and then following through with a powerful tsuppari attack. Tokitsuumi, who started 6-0 last basho, is suffering a different fate this time around.
In another mild surprise, Asasekiryu (2-0) defeated Wakanosato (1-1) for the second consecutive time as well, this time with a well-timed pull. Seki says he’s trying to come out pushing this basho before securing his preferred belt grip. It’s working, but did you notice yesterday he clearly pulled Tokitusuumi’s mage en route to winning and the judges were mysteriously silent? Hmmm. I wonder if that would have happened if that had been Asashoryu doing the exact same thing. Something tells me, resoundingly, NO.
As for the rest of the field, off to strong 2-0 starts are Kotomitsuki, Tamanoshima, Tamarikido and the much hyped shin-nyumaku Kakizoe.
Aki Basho Day One Report
By Mike Wesemann
Day one was an excellent display of power sumo from most of the sanyaku. I don’t think a basho can get off to a better start than we did today. I start at the top where Yokozuna Asashoryu faced who else on day one but Tosanoumi. Is there some rule I haven’t heard of that stipulates Asashoryu must fight Tosanoumi every basho on day one? Asa displayed why he is the best right now using excellent speed and cat-quick decision making during his bout to easily trip up Tosanoumi. Asa grabbed a fierce left-handed grip on Tosa’s belt from the tachi-ai and used it to force the Komusubi up against the ring’s edge. When Tosanoumi braced himself on the tawara, Asashoryu used his opponent’s forward momentum against him and pulled him back across the ring sweeping Tosanoumi’s leg out from under him in the process. Asashoryu was never in trouble and made a tough opponent look easy. Great start.
Ozeki Kaio was extremely impressive against the new Komusubi Toki. You’ll remember last basho that Kaio looked lost against the Elvis wannabe, which cost the Ozeki the bout, but this time around, Kaio came right at the giant Toki and shoved him out with a sharp two-handed thrust. From the tachi-ai Toki exhibited the usual morote two hands to the throat position, but Kaio easily fought that off and hit Toki once in the chest sending him back and out of the ring. Toki looked somewhat tentative today unlike last basho when his confidence was riding sky high. He better come out with more fight or he will secure his make-koshi by day ten.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai absolutely dominated M1 Takamisakari with as fast a tachi-ai as I’ve ever seen from the Ozeki. The bout was preceded by an unbelievable thirteen kensho (those banners that get marched around the ring) for a day one bout between an Ozeki and Maegashira rikishi. That just goes to show the popularity of the cross-eyed Takamisakari. Sakari tried his usual defensive approach where he takes a few punches and tries to latch on to his opponent’s belt, but Chiyo would have none of that. He pounded Sakari with about three strong thrusts in a row sending the Maegashira flying back out of the ring. Very impressive victory, but I have one question for the Japanese press: where is all the uproar regarding Chiyotaikai’s demeanor after the bout. A stunned Sakari was holding Chiyotaikai’s sagari (those ropes that hang down from the mawashi) in his hand after the bout when Chiyotaikai walked over with a deep scowl on his face and ripped the sagari out of Takamisakari’s hands continuing to give his opponent the dirtiest of looks. Now I know Chiyotaikai is not a Yokozuna, but his pompous display of disrespect for his opponent would have created a firestorm if Asashoryu had done it. I’m all for dirty looks and kick-ass attitude as Chiyotaikai displayed today, but the obvious double standard in regards to foreign rikishi employed by Japan’s press makes me sick.
Aki Basho Pre-basho Report
By Mike Wesemann
For the past five basho, I’ve been hoping for a repeat of last year’s Aki basho. That was the last tournament where two Yokozuna competed all fifteen days, and in my opinion, it was the most exciting basho so far this decade. No one can forget the excitement Takanohana brought to the dohyo in his last competitive basho as an active rikishi. Unfortunately, my expectations for this year’s Aki basho are low. Musashimaru’s condition is unchanged since that debacle in Nagoya, and Kaio has already managed to suffer a muscle tear — by going down the stairs of all things — to weaken his chances of a repeat yusho. At least we have some new faces in the Makuuchi division, and a newcomer to the sanyaku to get excited about.
Asashoryu has been receiving the most ink of anyone since the Nagoya basho, and since he holds the prestigious East Yokozuna slot, I’ll begin with him. Where to start? There’s his feud with fellow countryman Kyokushuzan; there’s the ponytail incident; and there’s the official chastisement from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council regarding Asa’s behavior (ooh, I’ll bet he was shaking in his boots over that one). It’s unbelievable to me that such petty things are garnering so many headlines, but with Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants all but eliminated from Japanese pro baseball’s Central League pennant race, nobody has anything better to do.
I’m going to forget all of that and focus on Asashoryu’s sumo, which will be dominant again this September, and which will earn him his fourth yusho overall. The biggest factor Asashoryu has going for him is that he’s home in Tokyo. Add to that the fact that his new wife and baby daughter have finally received their visas to legally reside with him in Japan and Asashoryu will be sound on the home front. As far as injuries, it seems that Asa always has a little pain here or there, but he’s been practicing without any taping. There’s nothing better than taking half a tournament off and a little recovery time in your home country to cure that which ails you.
Finally, who is going to challenge Asashoryu this tournament? Musashimaru will be useless; Kaio is dinged up already; Musoyama is Musoyama; and Tochiazuma isn’t even fighting at a sanyaku level. Add to that the fact that several rikishi who have given the smaller Yokozuna trouble — like Kotonowaka, Kyokushuzan, and Dejima — have dropped too far down the banzuke to meet him. Fellow stablemate Toki occupies the East Komusubi rank, so that’s one less sanyaku opponent for Asashoryu and one more Maegashira scrub. The only rikishi who will challenge Asashoryu is Chiyotaikai, but no way does Chiyo prevail over the Yokozuna in Tokyo. This basho is Asashoryu’s to lose.
As for the West Yokozuna, Musashimaru, what can you say? The pre-basho reports this tournament are identical to the pre-basho reports in Nagoya, so what makes anyone think Maru’s performance in the dohyo will be any different? It won’t be, which means Musashimaru should sit this basho out, and either go to a real hospital to get is wrist fixed or retire. The sport can’t afford another embarrassment as it experienced in Nagoya with a fat, out of shape Yokozuna being manhandled by Maegashira rikishi.
Onto the Ozeki where Kaio has done it yet again. Why is it that every time Kaio wins a tournament, he manages to step on every crack, spill the salt, walk under every ladder, and have every black cat in the country walk in front of his path before the next tournament? It’s unbelievable. This time around, Kaio suffered a slight muscle tear to his left calf muscle while walking down stairs. The Ozeki says the injury won’t keep him out of the tournament, but it will mess him up mentally and take away his biggest weapon, which is the migi-uwate-nage — a move that requires a rikishi to plant on his left foot and throw with the right. Kaio just can’t seem to catch a break. If he ends his career without receiving promotion to Yokozuna, he will be one of the best rikishi ever never to have obtained the rank. Personally, I’d love to see Kaio win this tournament, but with this new injury and his past performances with Yokozuna promotion on the line, I’ll be surprised if Kaio makes it through the entire fifteen days.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai should capture his usual eleven or twelve wins this tournament and fall just short of the yusho. With a lot of the field down, Chiyo should rise to the top as he usually does. I really see the yusho coming down to Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu (and maybe a threat from Dejima) as has been the case most of this year. Not much to say about Chiyo this time around, but expect a solid performance.
Ozeki Musoyama still remains a mystery, but his performance in Nagoya was encouraging. Musoyama has all the physical gifts and abilities required for a successful rikishi. What he lacks is any mental drive to carry him over the top. This guy should win at least ten in September, but how can you tell what he’s going to do? I do expect Musoyama to have another good tournament simply because the field is down right now.
Ozeki Tochiazuma needs to lose at least eight this tournament, so he can be demoted back down to reality. He has somehow managed to keep his Ozeki rank for the past six or seven tournaments simply because it’s so hard to get demoted from the rank. Tochiazuma hasn’t displayed any brilliance of late, and I don’t expect anything to change this basho. Something has got to happen with this guy to light the fire under his behind again. I think the only answer is demotion from Ozeki. Tochiazuma has completely lost that cornered-animal fighting instinct that propelled him to his first yusho almost two years ago and the Ozeki ranks.
Our two Sekiwake are solid as ever with Wakanosato occupying the East slot and the mammoth Miyabiyama sitting in the West. Both of these rikishi were in the yusho hunt in Nagoya, and if there’s going to be a dark horse that emerges from out of nowhere to capture the yusho, it will be one of these two.
We have a newcomer to the Komusubi ranks in none other than Toki. Toki has really matured the last few basho, and I believe he’s become somewhat of an intimidator. His opponents know exactly what he’s going to bring, but they haven’t been able to stop it as of late. I don’t think eight wins is out of the picture for Toki. His confidence is sky high, and he forces you to beat him by getting inside of his wrecking ball thrusts.
His compatriot, Tosanoumi, made a bit of a surprise jump over Takamisakari to capture the West Komusubi slot. Tosanoumi is as solid as ever. He was in the yusho hunt in Nagoya, and he’s definitely worthy of his sanyaku rank. Though unlikely to ever yusho, he has to be appreciated for his bringing the lunch pail to the ring everyday.
The upper Maegashira is loaded again with former sanyaku rikishi highlighted by M1 Takamisakari, M1 Tochinonada, and M2 Kyokutenho. Look for much of the same with these guys: the revolving door between upper Maegashira and the sanyaku. Despite their drop in pay for two months, they do have the advantage of scoring a kinboshi early on. They must be licking their chops at the thought of Musashimaru deciding to compete this tournament.
I believe Hokutoriki is overranked at M2. He’s too small, and his sumo is too unpolished for him to pose a serious threat to the sanyaku. M3 Kotoryu doesn’t belong this high either, and he should demonstrate why in September with a nice losing streak. M3 Tokitsuumi comes off a solid performance in Nagoya that boosts him right back up to the jo’i. Eight wins is not out of the question, but I doubt he has what it takes to jump to the sanyaku just yet.
M4 Asasekiryu is very compelling this high up on the banzuke. This guy began his Makuuchi career in March with as little flash as possible, but an outstanding run at the end of Nagoya has boosted him to his highest rank ever. Asasekiryu has proven he can beat the sanyaku as seen by his impressive wins over Wakanosato and Miyabiyama — our two Sekiwake for September — but can he do it on a consistent basis? I would be surprised to see him win eight this tournament just because he will fight the best of the best everyday. Fighting Asanowaka and Gojoro is much different than fighting the Ozeki, so we’ll see how Asasekiryu physically holds up with the heavyweights.
M4 Takanonami may have just kept himself high enough in the ranks that he’ll get most of the jo’i this tournament, which means he’ll have to earn his eight wins. M5 Iwakiyama is big enough to fight this high, but he’s been underwhelming as of late. Can he make a solid push for the sanyaku? I don’t think so yet. He’ll have to join his buddy M7 Tamanoshima a little bit longer. M5 Kasuganishiki should be an interesting rikishi to watch this tournament. Is he a diamond in the rough? Stupid losses have kept him from being ranked this high before, but his excellent sumo body should keep him ranked among the high Maegashira. M6 Kotomitsuki is keen to make another push at the sanyaku, but a fabulous tournament from the bottom of the division is much different than a good tournament from the upper Maegashira. If healthy, Kotomitsuki should win his eight, but I don’t expect to see him in the sanyaku for the rest of the year.
Other Maegashira to keep your eye on: M10 Dejima is vastly underranked. If he’s completely healthy, he should win twelve from this rank. M12 Kotonowaka is in the same boat as Dejima — underranked but coming off an injury. And, M12 Shimotori is back from his two basho stint in Juryo.
Finally, we have two new faces to the division in M11 Kakizoe and M13 Wakatoba. Kakizoe comes from the Musashigawa-beya, which now boasts seven Makuuchi rikishi. You can bet the intense keiko he receives at his stable will keep him in the division for awhile. Kakizoe came out of college two years ago, but suffered a serious knee injury that has hindered his quick rise up the ranks. He’s a bit undersized, but his sumo is very well-rounded. His greatest asset may be his good speed. Wakatoba has been in the sport for ten years now and has finally made it to the top division. Anyone who takes that long to get to Makuuchi will probably not be gracing the sanyaku ranks anytime soon, but the guy has paid his dues. He can’t be any worse than Asanowaka can he? Wakatoba favors yotsu-zumo.