Day One Comments
by Mike Wesemann
The Kyushu basho didn’t exactly get off to a roaring start, but solid performances by the two Yokozuna and two of the Ozeki saved the day in the end. Beginning at the top, Yokozuna Asashoryu was nails in the final bout of the day as he executed the morozashi grip to perfection after giving up the uwate to Iwakiyama at the tachi-ai. The new Komusubi grabbed the uwate and drove the Yokozuna back a few steps, but just when it looked as if Asashoryu was in danger, he turned the tables securing his patented morozashi grip, which he used to drive the larger Iwakiyama back to the center of the ring. After a few unsuccessful attempts to force Iwakiyama back, the Yokozuna arched his back, lifting the 180-kilo Iwakiyama off of his feet and most importantly off balance. When Iwakiyama’s feet touched the dirt again he was in no position to attack, and Asa easily forced him out for the win. It was well-executed sumo from the Yokozuna, although giving up the uwate to a larger opponent in order to secure morozashi is playing a bit with fire. As for Iwakiyama’s performance, I was impressed. He could have come out intimidated today in the face of Asashoryu and a new promotion to the sanyaku, but he took the initiative from the beginning and exerted a solid effort. Iwakiyama should have a good basho.
In the penultimate bout, I was waiting for those fingernails to scratch across the blackboard as Musashimaru approached the shikiri-sen, but much to my surprise, Maru looked impressive. He was aided by a horrible tachi-ai from the other Komusubi, Takamisakari, but today was vintage Musashimaru. At the tachi-ai today, Maru stuck to his guns by not necessarily going on the offensive, but taking what his opponent gave him from the start. Takamisakari looked indecisive at the tachi-ai and capped off the poor charge by hitting Maru on the left side of his body. This enabled Maru to grab the uwate with his RIGHT hand and lean his girth on the Komusubi, easily forcing him out. It was an easy victory for Maru and one that didn’t require him to use the left hand whatsoever. The jury is still out on that left wrist, but so far so good. Takamisakari looked shaken today after the bout. This whole Akebono K-1 affair may have completely taken Sakari out of this basho mentally.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was solid today as he pushed down the mammoth M1 Tochinonada. Chiyo didn’t exactly blow his opponent off of the starting lines, but he kept his feet moving forward and his tsuppari focused on his opponent’s upper body the whole bout. Tochinonada never could get inside to grab Chiyo’s belt and was forced to retreat from the barrage of thrusts. In the past, this was the kind of bout where Chiyotaikai would get frustrated and resort to a pull-down method, but he hasn’t succumbed to that bad habit for several basho now. Chiyo was rewarded with a solid win and a good start in Kyushu.
Ozeki Tochiazuma also looked excellent today in dismantling M1 Kotomitsuki. I would have bet anything that Kotomitsuki would have controlled the tempo of today’s bout, but not so. Tochiazuma used strength and speed from the tachi-ai to refuse his opponent a grip on his belt and to eventually throw Kotomitsuki off balance. Tochiazuma charged hard from the beginning and pushed Kotomitsuki near the shoulder area with his left hand. As Kotomitsuki tried to evade the push, Tochiazuma worked his way in to where he had a grip on the back of Kotomitsuki’s belt, which he used to push his opponent into the first row. Standing O for Tochiazuma’s performance today.
Ozeki Kaio was victim to a ferocious attack from M2 Toki. Usually it’s the morote at the tachi-ai and retreat for Toki, but today he actually chased Kaio around the ring, delivering solid thrusts to Kaio’s upper-body and head. Kaio had no shot whatsoever to get inside of Toki and was eventually pulled down. Kaio looked to be in agony as he lay on the dohyo; I’m beginning to wonder if the Ozeki will last the full fifteen days. I wouldn’t call this a bad effort from Kaio, rather it was spectacular sumo from Toki. Why doesn’t he perform like this all the time and charge instead of retreat? I saw flashes of Akebono in today’s match from Toki. Very impressive.
Ozeki Musoyama showed an excellent tachi-ai in his bout against Tosanoumi, but he followed up the good start with a lousy attack. After being pushed back a few steps, Tosanoumi used his quickness to step around Musoyama and grab the back of his belt, allowing him to easily force the Ozeki out. I’m not sure how much Musoyama’s elbow is bothering him, but he hardly put up a fight after Tosanoumi grabbed his belt. Musoyama is going to struggle mightily this basho.
In one of the most anticipated bouts of the day, Sekiwake Wakanosato looked completely unfazed as he overpowered the smaller Aminishiki and forced him out. From the tachi-ai, Waka got his left hand on the inside of his opponent and used it to drive Ami back to ring’s edge. Aminishiki used his quickness to try and evade the attack, but Wakanosato’s de-ashi were perfect as he stayed on top of his opponent the whole way before easily forcing him out. Wakanosato should win this match up nine times out of ten, but he’s known for losing these early bouts to the Maegashira rikishi. That was not the case today as Wakanosato showed no signs of nervousness in downing his day one opponent. It’s one down and eleven to go. Waka’s off to a great start.
And rounding out the sanyaku ranks, Sekiwake Kyokutenho was defeated by M3 Tamanoshima who showed excellent patience in the bout. Tamanoshima grabbed an early right uwate from the tachi-ai and never let it go. After a stalemate from the tachi-ai, Tamanoshima forced the action as he pushed Kyokutenho towards ring’s edge with his belt grip. Kyokutenho, who owned a solid inside grip, attempted to use that grip to throw Tamanoshima out, but as is usually the case in yotsu-zumo, the uwate prevailed. This was an outstanding bout for Tamanoshima, who bested one of the best yotsu-zumo candidates at his own game. Great start for Tamanoshima who looks for his first-ever promotion to the sanyaku.
In the Maegashira ranks, M4 Miyabiyama showed great balance in outlasting M4 Asasekiryu; M5 Kyokushuzan looked very good in taking the initiative and manhandling M5 Takanonami; M12 Kotonowaka got his basho off to a good start by overcoming an uwate from former Sekiwake Takanowaka; and newcomer M14 Toyozakura remains undefeated in the Maegashira ranks by pushing M14 Dejima down to the dirt after a typical Dejima tachi-ai where he charges with his head too low.
Kyushu Pre-basho Report
by Kenji Heilman
Time for sumo on the southern island again—Mike’s and my favorite basho of the year. I see that I have been one-upped on the pre-basho report. Hey Mike, can you be a little more comprehensive there, buddy? I guess my only recourse is that I have a few more days of news to go by, so here is a very brief preview of the Kyushu festivities.
Musashimaru should retire because it is obvious he has no desire to keep himself in half the shape that any respectable Yokozuna should. His breathing is labored after only a few bouts of practice. Excuse me, but isn’t it your WRIST that’s been on the mend for a year now? Don’t your legs work? Can’t we do the basics like suriashi, or maybe ride the bike for some cardio? He obviously doesn’t care to, and shame on Musashigawa Oyakata for not riding his ass about staying in better shape. Maru’s only problem should be with the wrist, if even that after a full year of rehab, for crying out loud. There is no excuse for his lack of fitness. This guy is retired by March, tops.
Asashoryu has a questionable ribcage, Musoyama has a bad back, now Kaio’s ass is hurting him and Takamisakari has a bum shoulder. Meanwhile, Tochiazuma looks as if he’s training for a hilly 5K footrace and Wakanosato is dealing with the serious pressures of Ozeki promotion. That leaves Chiyotaikai as the sole reasonable pick in my book to sweep up in front of his hometown fans. I like what I’ve seen from Chiyo lately; he’s not backing down. He’s persevering with his oshi attack without the lapses of hiki fever. Don’t prove me wrong now, ‘cause I’ve got to go with you this basho.
In the Sanyaku I like Kyokutenho to make some noise in his second go-around at Sekiwake, if only because he’s lost in the shuffle with all the hype surrounding Wakanosato. I also like Iwakiyama’s chances to do well as a shin-Komusubi. This guy is a mountain and can could wreak some havoc if he’s on his game. I’m slightly gun-shy though, because he’s shown some inconsistency in his rise through the ranks.
As for the Maegashira, Kotomitsuki is a wildcard because of the bomb he carries in his elbows, but you can’t help but like his gutsy performance in September. If the elbows don’t flare up, I like his chances.
Tochinonada and Tosanoumi are good for eight or more, but I’m not so sure about Toki and Aminishiki. You’d think I’d be coming around on Toki after he has continued to defy us by winning over the last year, but I’m still not convinced. I just don’t care for that predictable game of his. I love Ami’s agility and technique, but unfortunately his opponents love his lack of size and will take advantage.
I’m with Mike on M4, which slots Miyabiyama and Asasekiryu. This is the most interesting rank, I think. Anything can happen. Miyabi needs to redeem himself in a big way and he’s certainly capable. Remember, his record was bad in September but his sumo content wasn’t that bad. As Mike says, Seki may have come of age, folks. If so, look for an exciting basho of upsets from the young Mongolian.
I’m yawning as I look over the rest of the banzuke. M11 catches my eye with Wakatoba and Takekaze. Wakatoba gave a great interview after senshuraku in September when he captured his kachikoshi. How refreshing—a rikishi who seems personable and adds enthusiasm instead of the usual mundane responses that make a sumo interviewer’s job hell in most cases. He won a fan with that one. Takekaze, if he can stay healthy, should do well enough to generate some buzz this time.
Talk about a crossroads. I guess M14 Dejima is at a big one. It’s time to suck it up for this big guy or he can gallop off into the sunset with his stablemate Yokozuna from Hawaii.
Yusho: Chiyotaikai, 14-1
Shukunsho: Kotomitsuki, 10-5
Kantosho: Iwakiyama, 9-6
Ginosho: Asasekiryu, 8-7