Nagoya Basho Day Seven Comments
By Kenji Heilman

The leader board is becoming clearer as we approach the halfway point, but the judging of the bouts remains cloudy. Asashoryu (5-2) out-dueled Takanonami (3-4) today in a nage-no-uchiai (throwing contest). It was Asashoryu’s shitatenage (inside belt grip throw) vs. Takanonami’s kotenage (beltless overhand hook throw). Asa used a good tachiai to straighten up Takanonami, then quickly gained inside position. But as you know, Nami is no slouch in such a conventionally compromised position. After some brief posturing, the throwing began at the edge of the ring. The Yokozuna prevailed. In the end, Asa just wants it more than his opponents. You can see it in his eyes and his actions.

Musoyama (6-1) was put in a bind by Tamanoshima (3-4) when the latter got inside on him and raised Muso’s left hand high, but Tama didn’t seize the opportunity, and thus it led to his undoing. Musoyama quickly did a maki-kae (went from outside to inside position) to gain a more favorable stance from which to attack. He did, and dumped Tama to the dohyo with a nicely executed shitatenage.

Tochiazuma (5-2) succeeded in not allowing the struggling Aminishiki (2-5) to secure his belt. He kept Ami in front of him and whacked his right shoulder at just the right time to help Ami fall forward for a tsukiotoshi win.

The next two bouts were eerily similar and, although the gyoji made the right call on both, the judges were mysteriously silent in both cases. Kaio (5-2) attacked Toki (4-3) for the bout’s entirety but in the eleventh hour, Mr. Lambchop employed his signature well-timed pull at ring’s edge to bring Kaio crashing down. The ball of Toki’s left foot was oh so close to touching outside when Kaio’s hand hit dirt that I was flabbergasted when no hands went up for at least a “kakunin” (confirmation) conference. Kaio was too, as he looked around at the judges on his way back to bow. In the bout previous, Chiyotaikai (5-2) came out blazing with furious pushing (so blazing, in fact, that he did not touch his left hand down before the tachiai) against Wakanosato (3-4). Waka was overwhelmed and was at ring’s edge before you could say “where’s Chiyo’s bad pulling habit?” However, as with Toki, at the tawara Waka gave a last-gasp maneuver to sidestep his charging opponent. Amazingly, it worked. The gyoji gave Waka the nod, but this one was an even closer call than Kaio’s bout. Still, no hands went up. Interestingly, the head judge was Chiyo’s stablemaster, Kokonoe. Maybe he didn’t want to seem like he was questioning the gyoji in the name of defending his own guy. But again, bouts this close usually warrant a conference to “confirm” that the guy being pushed out was in fact still in the ring, and there was none of that today. In the end, the non-calls were good judgments, but the judges’ inconsistency lately is a source of concern. If it had been Asashoryu that had been given the nod by the gyoji, I wonder if the judges would have raised their hands. Something tells me, “probably.” Anyway, Kaio and Chiyo both suffered huge defeats today.

In the rank and file, Tosanoumi is having a good basho. He sent Tokitsuumi to his first defeat today; both now stand at 6-1. The only other rikishi still hanging on to one loss is Kasuganishiki. As far as sansho hopefuls, Miyabiyama is looking strong at M1 with a 5-2 record. Today he pulled down the struggling Kyokutenho (2-5).

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day Six Comments
By Mike Wesemann

Just when you thought things would get back to normal with Musashimaru’s withdrawal, allegations have now arisen that Asashoryu broke the side mirror of the Mercedes Benz that chauffeurs Kyokushuzan around in Nagoya. Asa’s critics — including a jiji on the Yokozuna promotion council — have also voiced concern about a Yokozuna who pulls his opponent’s hair. My whole take on the matter is “deal with the fact that a foreign Yokozuna is dominating your sport.” Previously, Akebono has been the top dog and Musashimaru has had his day in the sun, but these two came from America. I’m beginning to wonder if higher-ups involved with the sport can’t stand the fact that someone from lowly old Mongolia is kicking the homeboys’ collective asses.

I do think that Asashoryu intentionally hit Shoeson’s mirror out of frustration, but I don’t think that the hair-pull was intentional. Kyokushuzan was on his way down before his hair was pulled. Memo to Kyokushuzan: we didn’t need to see you pretending to straighten out your coif over and over to increase the judges sympathy. You fight like a scared woman in the ring, and now you’re pouting like one out of the ring. How are people expecting Asashoryu to act? The guy absolutely hates to lose, and he’s undefeated so far in Nagoya; yet, he’s been saddled with two losses. You also can’t say “Takanohana wouldn’t have reacted this way” because Takanohana would have gotten the mono-ii call on day two, and he wouldn’t have been called for pulling Kyokushuzan’s hair on day five. Those are facts. Maybe this is unprecedented behavior for a Yokozuna, but this is also unprecedented poor treatment of a Yokozuna on the Association’s part. Go ahead and demote him form the rank; he’ll be right back up there two basho later.

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day Five Comments
By Kenji Heilman

Oh, boy. Here we go again. Asashoryu continues to be victimized by bad breaks, and Musashimaru finally spared us of any more misery by withdrawing after doling out a third kinboshi in as many days.

In a revenge bout against countryman Kyokushuzan (remember last basho’s classic), Asashoryu was befuddled again in the first ever disqualification of a Yokozuna victory. The match initially mirrored last time as Kyokushuzan (1-4) attempted his usual pull after the tachi-ai. This time Asa wasn’t fooled and used the momentum to drive Shuzan back to the edge. With Shuzan trying to resist being driven out, this time Asa used the pull down to bring his opponent crashing to the clay. During the pull, Asa’s left hand inadvertently got caught in Shuzan’s hair. Since 1955 when the Sumo Kyokai officially recognized “intentional pulling of hair” as a rules violation, there have been only 5 cases of disqualifications and none by a Yokozuna. Head judge Mihogaseki (former Ozeki Masuiyama), who called the mono-ii (conference), stated “the hair was clearly pulled, and continued to be grasped which contributed to the outcome; thus the disqualification”. Okay, this is a true statement. But then he said “it doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or not”. Hmm, I’m not so sure I’m okay with that statement since it’s in blatant disregard of the recognized definition of the disqualification. You mean to tell me that, in the heat of the battle — in that split second of time when you are employing a move to win a match — a rikishi is expected to mentally take note that his fingers have become stuck in his opponent’s hair, then actually make a judgment to release your hand from the hair, then resume the bout in the name of fair play? I’m sorry, but this is simply impossible and I challenge anyone who thinks Asashoryu could have reacted in better judgment to his fingers being stuck before the match was over. The guy was trying to win the bout, not pull hair. Our wonderful judges ringside are mysteriously silent when there is a questionable outcome as in day 2 when Kotonowaka was given the nod over Asashoryu even though Koto’s hand hit first, but are eager to raise hands when our fiery Yokozuna happens to get a handful of topknot en route to victory. In other words, Asa doesn’t get the call whether he’s on defense (day 2) or offense (day 5). I’ll tell you what: there’s no better outcome for Nagoya now than to have Asashoryu run the freakin’ table and yusho to show the Sumo Kyokai in no uncertain terms that, even with all odds against him, he is the best rikishi in sumo today. Asashoryu falls to 3-2 on paper but remains unbeaten on the dohyo in Nagoya.

Takamisakari (4-1) grabbed his first career kinboshi in defeating Musashimaru (2-3) to drive the final stake into the one-handed Yokozuna’s Nagoya basho. Thank goodness. There’s no need to go into describing the match here. Asanowaka could have beaten Musashimaru today. It’s back to the drawing board for Maru. How much healthier do you think his wrist would be today if he had not made the first bad decision to try coming back too soon a couple months ago?

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day Four Comments
By Mike Wesemann

The overall sumo improved a little bit today, but the good stuff sure didn’t come from the sanyaku on up. Enough already Musashimaru; you’re embarrassing yourself this basho. How many more kinboshi is this guy going to give up before the Sumo Association forces him to withdraw from this tournament? Watching Musashimaru in Nagoya is like getting stitches removed; it’s physically painless, but mentally it’s torture.

In today’s final bout between Yokozuna Musashimaru and M3 Takanonami, Maru didn’t use his left arm to touch the dirt at the tachi-ai, he didn’t use his left arm during the bout, and he didn’t even use the left arm to break his fall when he fell forward. Pathetic. Tomorrow when Musashimaru’s tsukibito ties the mawashi around the Yokozuna’s waist, he may as well tie the left arm behind his back good and tight in the mawashi; it will make no difference. From the tachi-ai Maru attempted to shove Nami with the right arm, but the unbalanced attack left Maru turned 90 degrees to his left. Takanonami easily pulled Maru down by the back of the neck with one hand to send the Yokozuna to an ugly ugly loss. Talk about an easy win over a Yokozuna and an extra 15,000 yen a month to boot for Takanonami. Both rikishi now stand at 2-2.

Yokozuna Asashoryu looked as if he had a bone to pick with M1 Aminishiki. Asa came out firing tsuppari to Aminishiki’s face, which eventually threw Ami off balance and let Asashoryu send Ami backwards to the dirt with a sideways forearm to the cheek. On the way down, Aminishiki’s big right toe got caught in the dirt causing him to fall awkwardly. Aminishiki looked as if he was in serious pain, and it’s questionable whether or not he’ll be able to continue this basho. He was taken to the dressing room in a wheelchair. Asa moves to 3-1; Ami drops to 1-3.

Ozeki Tochiazuma took it on the chin — literally — against M1 Miyabiyama. Miyabi came out firing endless tsuppari directly at Tochiazuma’s noggin. The blows were definitely taking effect, but you weren’t sure if Miyabiyama would get tired before he could finish off the Ozeki because he was flailing away at such a frantic pace. In the end, Miyabi’s paws-to-the-face tactic worked as he was able to push Tochiazuma out of the ring before he himself ran out of gas. Both rikishi stand at 2-2.

Ozeki Kaio made short work of Kyokushuzan. Kaio’s reserved tachi-ai is the perfect antidote against being side-stepped at the tachi-ai, so Kyokushuzan really had no chance. It was a stand straight-up tachi-ai with Kaio pushing Shu out with little effort. The win gets Kaio back on track after his loss to Tochinonada yesterday. With Tochinonada and Dejima out of the way, who else is going to give Kaio trouble? Kaio is sitting pretty at 3-1. Kyokushuzan is 0-4 to no one’s surprise.

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day Three Comments
By Kenji Heilman

As if yesterday’s questionable Asashoryu loss (boy, was Mike upset about that one) opened the floodgates, today we saw 3 of the 5 top guys who fought drop like flies. You knew it was coming; it was just a matter of time.

Asashoryu (2-1) rebounded against Miyabiyama (1-2). After a right harite (slap) to greet Miyabi, Asa used good timing to pull down the top rank & filer before he could regain his wits. Not model sumo, but considering Asa is coming off an early loss and also nursing a strained elbow suffered on day one, it got the job done. One final comment on his loss: Asashoryu is like an ace pitcher working with an ump who has a hitter’s strike zone. He needs to win convincingly because he won’t be getting any close calls from the judges.

Even though you may not believe me, I saw this bout coming with Musashimaru today. Aminishiki (1-2) ran circles around Maru (2-1) and kept the one-handed Yokozuna off balance the entire time to pick up his second kinboshi. Ami didn’t let the big cheese grab his belt with his good hand. With this accomplished, combined with Ami’s agility and belt prowess, the writing was on the wall. Speaking of which, I think the writing is on the wall for Maru. He looks plain awful. I’ll give him a few more days before he withdraws.

Musoyama (3-0) picked up a gimme today as Kotonowaka (1-2) pulled out of the basho with an injured bicep sustained in his “win” yesterday against Asashoryu.

Kyokutenho (2-1) dropped Tochiazuma (2-1) in a very similar fashion to how Asashoryu pulled down Miyabiyama, except that Tenho opted for the morote (both hands to chest) tachiai instead of the harite. After that, when Tenho couldn’t secure the belt right away I think he just impulsively went for the pull. Azuma helped matters with a haphazard tachiai and placing his feet even with his shoulders instead of one in front of the other.

In another quick and lopsided bout, Komusubi Tochinonada (1-2) took it to Kaio (2-1) and made the Ozeki look like an amateur. Kaio even got his coveted right outside grip but it was to no avail. When he tried to twist Tochi down with his other hand behind his neck, Tochi would have none of it. He just soldiered on and pushed Kaio right out in about 2 seconds. Kaio: magnificent one day and lost the next. Seriously, is anyone really surprised?

The only Ozeki to win a bout today was Chiyotaikai (3-0). And lucky him that it was an opponent that wouldn’t propose any strength challenge in Kyokushuzan (0-3). We know the story here. Just plow right through him in that case. And that’s what he did. Ho hum. When Chiyo can have that mentality against strong guys, he’ll finally get my respect. I’m not holding my breath.

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day Two Comments
By Mike Wesemann

I am speechless. Any criticism Asashoryu has received the past few months regarding his demeanor after close losses goes out the door today because he was flat out ROBBED! No wonder Asashoryu questions the ringside judges calls (or non-calls in this case) after close bouts; there’s either some severe incompetence here or an underlying conspiracy against the Yokozuna.

It’s seems that Kenji and I have been mentioning blown calls quite a bit this year, and for good reason… there’s been a lot of them. I’ll only cite one example here, and that is the obvious favoritism Takanohana received for his first two bouts in January. On day one he was clearly beaten by Miyabiyama; however, a mono-ii was called and a rematch was determined, which Taka subsequently won. On day two of the Hatsu basho, Wakanosato looked as if he and Takanohana hit the dirt at the same time, but no mono-ii was called and Takanohana was declared the winner. Now I can understand the Sumo Association’s wanting to protect their Yokozuna by giving them the close calls as they did in January, but the question in my mind is why aren’t they protecting their Yokozuna now? It is ridiculous. Didn’t the ringside judges think it strange that there was no roar from the crowd after Kotonowaka was declared the winner? Didn’t it seem odd to them that no one threw their seat cushions after the Yokozuna was beaten? The reason why there was absolutely no reaction from the crowd is because they all saw what I saw: Kotonowaka hitting the deck before the Yokozuna. TV replays only confirmed what everyone saw live. It just boggles my mind that at least a mono-ii wasn’t called. As much as I hate to think about it, I don’t think it is a coincidence that a blown call like this happened against Asashoryu. Incidences like this only cheapen the sport, and it won’t do anything to help put fannies in the seats. Those of you who saw the bouts on tv couldn’t have failed to notice the gymnasium in Nagoya was 2/3 empty. I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn’t watching the Juryo bouts.

Before I step off of my soapbox, I just need to let Chiyotaikai know that HE SUCKS! His sidestep was so bad today, he even had the announcers commenting on the jeers from the crowd. Thank God I didn’t pick him for my fantasy stable because there is no way that I can root for this guy with a clear conscience.

- - -

Nagoya Basho Day One Comments
By Kenji Heilman

Not only did all six Yokozuna and Ozeki start this basho, they all started without a hitch. How rare is that? We know this kind of streak won’t continue, but let’s just hope they all continue participating.

Asashoryu was his usual whirlwind of movement, and Komusubi Tochinonada couldn’t keep up in the end. He did manage to swing the Yokozuna to the side to garner a collective gasp from the arena but soon thereafter found himself turned the wrong way with Asa behind him. After a brief pause, Asa lifted Tochi up and disposed of him. So starts another basho as the top dog for Asashoryu. Vintage.

Musashimaru, gracing the dohyo for the first time in 234 days, should count his lucky stars that he picked a win today. Sekiwake Kyokutenho won the battle but lost the war. He grabbed Maru’s migi uwate and stuck to him as planned, threw him, pushed him, even re-secured the belt after being rejected of it and kept the pressure on. After keeping the (tied for) fourth winningest Makuuchi rikishi of all time off balance for about 10 seconds, Kyoku’s leg slipped from under him and he fell as he was pushing Maru at the edge of the dohyo. He later stated he got a little too anxious because he didn’t want to stop moving. Maru looked awful, folks. He better shape up in a hurry.

Kaio beat Miyabiyama in very Kaio-like fashion. Kaio is a master at using his opponent’s momentum against him. After a cautious tachi-ai, Kaio picked the right thrust at the right time from Miyabiyama for a nicely executed inashi (sort of a slap to the side) to dump the former Ozeki to a first day loss. Winning on the first day is huge for Kaio.

Chiyotaikai, who tinkered with belt technique before the basho, thought better of it and blasted through the improving Aminishiki with brute force. If Chiyo forgets this belt business and doesn’t wuss out on his oshi-zumo against stronger opponents, he will be in contention on day fifteen.

Musoyama similarly plowed through Mike’s nemesis Kyokushuzan, except that Kyokushuzan retreated to help his opponent push him out even faster. But we’re not really surprised, are we. What was interesting was the commentary during this bout. Sit-in Mainoumi mentioned that Musoyama only practices about 10 bouts a day, describing it as “focusing his intensity into a short and sweet session.” Kitanofuji, the booth color man, takes this type of practice as complacency. “He no longer wants to move up. In fact, he can’t with that little practice.” Interesting. Is Musoyama a ‘salary man’ Ozeki? Does he just want to win 8-10 and keep rank? Or is he still worried about his shoulder? I’ve grown to love Kitanofuji’s analysis. It’s strict and he pulls no punches. In this case I’d have to agree with him. We’ll see shortly how it pans out.

- - -

Nagoya Pre-basho Report
By Mike Wesemann

Musashimaru is back, and that’s going to make all the difference in this tournament. This will only be the second time in two years that we’ll have two active Yokozuna fighting, and the last time that happened (September 2002) it produced the best basho of the new millennium in my opinion. Yokozuna definitely brings a special presence to each tournament, and to have two of them now will energize the atmosphere surrounding the basho.

In addition, I think this basho is completely up for grabs and that makes Nagoya even more compelling. I’m not quite sure who the favorite is, but I’m 99% sure the yusho stays in the Yokozuna/Ozeki ranks. As usual, I’ll start at the top with Asashoryu, who comes in holding the prestigious East Yokozuna slot. Asashoryu’s got nothing to prove anymore. He’s won three of the last four basho, he’s won a tournament as a Yokozuna, and now it’s just a question of “how great can he become?” With all the pressure and scrutiny off of his performance in the ring, I think Asashoryu relaxes a bit this basho. On top of that, this tournament will be held outside of Tokyo, which means anything can happen, so for some reason I just don’t see Asashoryu dominating the rest of the field. If Asa can jump out to another 8-0 start, he’s the favorite because Asashoryu has proven that once he’s the sole leader, he’s not giving anything up. But I just have this feeling someone will get to him early forcing him to fight from behind.

Yokozuna Musashimaru is finally back. All that’s happened in his absence is the retirement of one of the greatest Yokozuna of all time, and the promotion of a fiery Mongolian to the rank in his place. Musashimaru’s left wrist has not completely healed, but so what? Musashimaru at 80% is still better than everyone else except maybe Asashoryu. Maru’s bulk gives him an advantage over everyone else, so I would not be totally surprised to see him yusho. Is he the favorite? I’d say no just because he’s coming off a serious injury and his timing may be off, but look what kind of effort Takanohana gave last September after his long absence. The one worry about Maru is news reports suggesting he can’t use his left wrist to grab his opponent’s belt during practice sessions. If Maru loses twice in the first seven days, I believe he will withdraw from the tournament. Just one question for Musashimaru and the Musashigawa beya: what in the hell were you doing getting your wrist operated on at a hospital in Saga Prefecture? Has anyone ever heard of Saga? Let me guess, it was one of those state-of-the-art hospitals in rural Japan with bowls of red alcohol outside of each room for the doctors and nurses to sterilize their hands with.