Well, Hokutoriki couldn’t quite do what his predecessors Takatoriki, Kotonishiki, Tagaryu, and Kotofuji (remember them?) did, which was pull off a Cinderella yusho from the rank and file. Nonetheless, the M1 far exceeded anyone’s expectations and made Natsu Basho 2004 a memorable one with a breakout 13-2 performance and a championship playoff bout with Asashoryu. For his efforts, he picked up his first Shukunsho (outstanding performance) prize—for his sweeping the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks, no doubt—and second Kantosho (fighting spirit) prize, the other coming in his rookie Makuuchi campaign exactly two years ago.
Everything was clicking for Hokutoriki this basho, as his trademark oshi-zumo seemed twice as effective as it ever has been. Combine this with the absence of any pulling techniques, and a little luck, and there you have the reason the guy made his run. By luck, I mean day 6 when he shocked the nation by stopping Asashoryu’s win streak at 35 by taking advantage of a rare, ill-advised pull from the Yokozuna and following through for a powerful force-out that triggered many a suited Japanese salaryman to go nuts and finally celebrate a long-awaited loss for that darn, hateful Mongolian who has taken over their beloved sport. As Mike mentioned, it’s too bad the pressure finally got to Hokutoriki on day 15 in a bad loss to Hakuho, then again in the playoff with Sho. He was unable to show the stuff that had brought him that far into the yusho hunt in either bout, which was probably the most disappointing aspect of an otherwise exciting basho.
There’s already talk of Hokutoriki as a potential Ozeki, but I say hold your horses on that one. Takatoriki, Tagaryu, and Kotofuji were one basho wonders before him. We have a case in point this basho in the name of Asasekiryu. He dazzled us last basho with a 13-2 and followed it up this time with 3-12. The only other rikishi that I’ve seen who exploded onto the scene like this and actually sustained it is Takanosato, the current Naruto Oyakata. He won a yusho (or jun-yushoed, I can’t remember which) out of nowhere from the bowels of Makuuchi and never looked back; he, of course, went to Yokozuna. So while I’m impressed, I’m far from jumping on the Hokutoriki bandwagon.
As for Asashoryu, he collects his third straight cup for 2004, during which he is a combined 43-2. This yusho is uncommon for Sho as he had to come back to win instead of being the front-runner. He still is head and shoulders above the field when it comes to concentration, intensity, and dogged competitiveness.
The Ozeki ranks disappointed and were completely shoved aside in mediocrity in terms of the spotlight this basho. Chiyotaikai and Kaio were up for Yokozuna promotion (yawn) but came up short, finishing 9-6 and 10-5 respectively. Musoyama keeps the revolving door to demotion in motion by posting a 6-9. I’ve lost count how many kadobans this will make for him. Tochiazuma, who sat out for two consecutive basho, will be demoted to Sekiwake in July, so he will have to post a 10-5 or better to jump back up to Ozeki.
Speaking of Sekiwake, what a logjam we’re looking at here for Nagoya. You’ve got Tochiazuma, who definitely will be there, along with Wakanosato, who posted a 9-6 from Sekiwake this basho. Then you’ve got to think Kotomitsuki deserves promotion by way of his 9-6 from Komusubi. Then don’t forget Hokutoriki, who at M1 stole the show with his 13-2 performance. Could we have four Sekiwake? Probably not, but I say they all deserve it.
Komusubi Miyabiyama sucked this basho with a measly 3-12. What is up with this guy? He needs to go back to his lime-green suit or something.
Double-digit winners in the rank and file were M5 Tamanoshima (12-3), who deservedly picked up his first technical-merit prize with a stellar performance; M6 Iwakiyama (10-5); M7 Kokkai (10-5), who was one vote shy of the fighting-spirit prize and will try his hand with the big boys next basho; M9 Kotoryu (10-5), who surprisingly sustained a fast start for once; and M16-rookie Hakuho (12-3), who garnered the fighting-spirit prize and more than lived up to the hype he generated upon his promotion to the top division.
Don’t forget we also said goodbye to former Ozeki Takanonami this basho, who finally hung up his mawashi, meat-hook arms, and one-of-a-kind style that entertained us for more than a decade in Makuuchi. Old man Kotonowaka (M5) is still showing some spunk though; he won four of his last five to pull out an 8-7 and looks to be banging with the joi again in Nagoya.
Down in Juryo, high-profile hopefuls Hagiwara (9-6 from J12) and Kotooshu (10-5 from J10) continued their ascent but were upended by another rising star in the name of Tokitenku, another Mongolian, who won the division from J10 as Kotooshu’s counterpart with a gaudy 12-3 record. It’s been a while since we’ve had multiple bona fide up-and-comers simultaneously in Juryo. This bodes well for Sumo as we move forward. I’ll be in Japan for the better part of Nagoya basho, but I’ll check in when I can. We’ll see you in a couple months!