So, we find ourselves at the beginning of another Nagoya basho. For those of you, like us, in the home country of sumo, the weather the past few days has been much like last basho, a bit of a rollercoaster. Moments of intense downpour and (in some places) landslides, interspersed with confusingly placid, clear, and cloudless skies. After the first few days of Natsu, almost everyone was sure it would be an Ozeki yusho. But who could really complain about Kyokutenho picking up a yusho. Sure, he hasn’t been totally on his game of late, but goddamn if I didn’t stand up and applaud the sad-man when Tochiozan folded like so many houses of cards in the ketteisen.
Anyway, we need to take a bit of a look down the banzuke to prepare for tomorrow. So let’s dive in.
Even the brightest light casts a shadow, so let’s talk about the rikishi that were just terrible last basho.
Top of the list for me has to be the superlative failure of a basho for Tochinowaka. It was more than obvious that he had an injured arm, but that doesn’t explain everything. Look at his bouts later in the basho, there seemed to be no effort whatsoever. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch someone who has so much potential drag it out, but seemingly put in no effort. Why he didn’t go kyujo is just a complete mystery.
Next on the shit list is Miyabiyama. This fucker has been on the long and winding road to retirement ever since he was demoted from ozeki. Practically everyone has gotten wise to his crap push-push-pull sumo, except the few new recruits that haven’t fought him before. Makuuchi would be better without him. Go ahead, try and disagree with me….
I remember a time when Aran was relevant. He would get double digit wins every once in a while and flirted with sanyaku a few times. He would beat some ozeki, and had decent bouts against yokozuna. However, recently it just seems that he doesn’t have a solid idea of what he wants his sumo to be. As a result, we see the ineffective, mixed-bag sumo with the seemingly obligatory henkas every other bout. Alan needs to sit down with his oyakata and decide what it is he wants to accomplish, because this workin-for –the-weekend style sumo is not exciting to watch. His embarrassing performance on day 15 vs Takekaze was a perfect example.
Homasho. Montana and I agreed that both Homasho and Tochinowaka are the kind of guys that when they are on, they are great to watch, but when there’s some hiccup it’s just embarrassing; a fact made worse by being in the meat grinder. Harumafuji’s first yusho when Homasho went 1-14 (also from komusubi) comes to mind. I am expecting a decent basho for the cigar store Indian from M6.
Gagamaru – Still a bit over ranked last basho. He improved his stability against lateral motion, but is still prone to collapse under his own weight or momentum. He’s much better off in midmaegashira for now, and I hope to see some improvements this time around. I want to be a fan of the gentleman, but he’s making it difficult.
Chiyotairyu – Kokonoe-oyakata said more than I could ever say. The wolf publicly trash talked his deshi for having shit-terrible sumo. There is a reason that this guy was not welcomed with as much fanfare into the sekitori ranks as someone like Myogiryu or Jokoryu (former Sakumayama) was. I hope he shapes up his bag of tricks for this basho.
Kyokutenho – The only thing I can (and do) mock this guy for is his constant morose expression, the bizarre sock he wears, and his age. He’s always had solid sumo, very few henkas, and just like me, has had a problem with cars. I want to make a comment about the oldest guy in the division winning a yusho; hinting at something terrible about the quality of the basho. But to be fair to Kyokutenho, he’s always been a stand up rikishi, and he had a good basho. Well done buddy.
Tochiozan – Good basho for Elvis as well. With wins over Kakuryu, Kisenosato, Myogiryu, Okinoumi, and Shohozan, and no losses to slouches, he’s in like Flint at Sekiwake. I would have liked to see a win over Kotooshu as well, but these days a fusensho seems to be almost par for the course. It would be nice to see him post this kind of performance in Nagoya.
Goeido – I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Kool-eido had a good showing. He beat the Yokozuna, he got a shukunsho, got his KK at sekiwake, and had one of the better tachiais in recent memory. But which Eido will show up in Nagoya?
Myogiryu – beat 4 out of 5 ozeki, and moved well. The content of his sumo is quite a bit better than most other people with the same amount of makuuchi experience. He’s still trying to find his feet at the top of the banzuke, but give him one or two basho more. I see nothing but good things for this guy. I am looking forward to his sanyaku debut, but we’ll see how the meat grinder treats him. I am especially excited for his bouts against Hakuho and the ozeki. Especially given his results frohis keiko session with Hakuho.
Okinoumi – I remember this guy’s first Makuuchi basho. His tachiai was slower than mine, which is saying something. But he’s shaped up, and he’s looked pretty good recently. I like his stuff, and he’s almost always at least mildly exciting to watch. I see him as an upper maegashira/sayaku mainstay, which is in no way a bad thing. After all, the Don Juan/Casanova jokes (aside from dick and fart jokes) keep us afloat.
Shohozan – I’ve been a fan of this guy since back in makushita when he went by the shikona of Matsutani. He’s got a ton of intensity and rarely gives up. His main weapon is a vicious tsuppari, but he’s been known to make things work from the belt. He had a brilliant showing last basho, despite not warranting a special prize. It’s no surprise that Asashoryu singled him out as an outstanding rikishi. His bouts are always interesting, and he’s got dimension. M3 will be an interesting challenge. Keep an eye on this guy.
Aioyama is up in joii this basho. Personally I think he is gonna get spanked, and something awful. I can’t really say I have much hope for the young Bulgarian getting his KK this basho. However, I think he will benefit from it in the long run.
Takarafuji – This guy was one of my on the bubble rikishi back before he made juryo. He’s got decent motion, and good lower body strength, but his sumo lacked flavor and drive. We saw a bit more of those last basho, and his numbers reflect it… it also helps that the bottom of the banzuke was rather weak last go round. In any event, congrats to him on his first makuuchi KK. Third time was the charm.
From the lower ranks: Takanoyama with 11-4 from J4 will be up in Makuuchi this basho. I continue to agree with Montana that this guy is good for makuuchi. He may not be the most solid cat in the division, but you know you tune in for his bouts. Jokoryu picked up his first KK as a sekitori, and Hokutokuni redeemed himself after 2 basho of absolute crap. I desperately want to see Sotairyu get up to makuuchi. His only problem there is that he has to maintain his intensity. If he can continue to do that over 15 days I think he can be a contender, at least as far as midmaegashira is concerned. Asahisho is quietly climbing up the juryo ranks, we now have 4 kaze’s in the sekitori ranks (Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Hoshikaze, and Masakase), which I’m sure makes DeGama’s jeans tighter than is comfortable, and Takanohana-beya has it’s first sekitori in Takanoiwa.
The movement in the lower ranks seems fairly standard except for Oosunaarashi’s zensho yusho in jonokuchi. The bouts I have seen this guy in have been pretty powerful. His aite always end up looking like they are running away from him. However, his stuff lacks polish; something I’m sure he’ll pick up in time. That being said, I feel he’ll have a pretty fast rise through the ranks, then cool off for a bit. Maybe around upper makushita, or juryo. That being said, I hope to see him up in the sekitori ranks as soon as possible, but with his seemingly injured shoulder, we’ll see how well he fares.
The Middle ground
Hakuho – Not sure what was up with Kublai. We heard that half-assed excuse mid-way through the basho about a left finger injury, but that doesn’t explain everything. Whether it was something mental, something physical, or something else, I don’t think we’ll be seeing that Hakuho for a while. I’m sure getting so close to under 10 wins put the fear of god in his heart. Haks is back for Nagoya looking for blood and retribution. I’m particularly looking forward to his match with Goeido. His keiko reports have shown nothing but promise for this basho, and I feel really uncomfortable predicting anyone else but Haks picking up the yusho in Nagoya.
The Ozeki – I’d like to challenge the current ozeki to this: They have all beaten Hakuho fair and square before. There are 6 yusho in a year and 6 ozeki. If they can take one of the yusho, they can keep their rank. If not, then they have to go back to sekiwake, and get it back up. The Geeku, Haruma, Bart, and Kak, exemplify this statement. All middle ground last basho. Nothing spectacular, but nothing horribly disappointing. I would say they do ozeki-sumo about half the time. So fair enough, but I’m sure I speak for the rest of the sumo watching world when I say we’d love to see more fire in their performances.
I am hopeful for Harumafuji though. His keiko reports look good. He molested Kisenosato at a degeiko session, which is always a good sign for the littlest ozeki.
The Geek. He earned his rank. I would just like to see him contend for a yusho. Same with the Kak. I’d love to see the same fire he showed at sekiwake or joii. Kotooshu, however, is only slightly more relevant in the division than Aran is, in that he usually manages to get 8, and that when his myriad of rivals beat him they get to say they beat an ozeki. He wasn’t terrible last basho, but he also hasn’t been mentioned in the yusho race in quite some time, and he very rarely performs on an ozeki level. Let’s just say that if he were at sekiwake he wouldn’t be getting promoted any time soon. Adding that to his apparent leg injury, I don’t see anything but a disappointing first half to the basho followed by a predictable kyujo.
On Kisenosato – I will say this, he was certainly more focused than usual in Natsu. When the light at the end of the tunnel was getting bigger, I was sure he was going to yusho. Then, in his bout with Bart, he thought he had pushed Bart out, and broke concentration instead of making sure Master-Blaster was out. That moment, I am sure, he will relive over and over. His sumo was better than usual. Although a bit uglier at times, it was more exciting to watch. So over-all I would say I was pleased with his performance. But it’s very typical Kisenosato to get you all worked up, then leave you hanging by screwing up something minute, with disastrous results. I’ll never make the mistake of predicting Kisenosato to do anything except disappoint me when I predict something for him.
Toyonoshima has always been a rikishi I like to watch. He belongs near the top of the banzuke, and I am glad to see him hanging in there. He is one of my favorite Japanese rikishi, and a credit is due to Tokitsukaze beya. Takayasu is also growing on me. While I could argue that he lacks anything resembling originality, I could also argue that he is a pretty decent wrestler, and that he is posting better numbers than Tochinowaka, and is more exciting to watch that Wakakoyu.
Tochinoshin – I remember the days before the Geeku, the Kid, and the Kak made ozeki. Valentine speculated that Noshine would be the next likely candidate. We haven’t seen anything really spectacular from this guy in a while. He did OK last basho and is a bit higher on the banzuke for July. Of course I’d like to see him do well, and he is certainly capable, but he’s starting to look a lot like Goeido in his inability to break through, regardless of talent.
Conspiracy – Look, we can’t deny that cheating doesn’t exist. It does. It’s been proven, and many of the cheaters are still in the game. But whenever someone beats Hakuho, it’s usually labeled yaocho. It’s no secret that Hakuho is head and shoulders above everyone else in the division. But at the end of the day, he’s human. Humans make mistakes, even the most skilled have a bad day or week. Very, very rarely can everyone agree that a bout was yaocho, and I think that, sometime, we commentators use it as a crutch when we just can’t explain why someone would make a horrible mistake. Sometimes going makikae is the only option. They are going out, and it’s “this or nothing.” I am guilty of crying yaocho too. Of course, I’m not suggesting we stop bringing it up and pretend it doesn’t exist. After all, sunlight is the best medicine.
Anyway, I know what you all want. You want to hear some prophetic prediction about who will yusho. I think we can all agree that it won’t be Kyokutenho (and he agrees). I am kind of standing by my previous prediction that Kisenosato will yusho by Nagoya. I think it will be between Kise and Hakuho until the last few days. Harumafuji might play spoiler, and Bart may have something to say. Kak might raise a flag, and the Geek might hump his way to the top. Realistically the Kak is a better rikishi than the Kid, but I think the Kid is going to end up on the top of the ozeki pile this go ‘round.
As for the rest of Makuuchi, my predictions for a good basho would be as follows: Takayasu, Homasho, Tochinowaka, maybe Takayasu, and Toyonoshima, and MAYBE Gagamaru and Yoshikaze. Bad basho predictions would be Aoiyama, Masunoyama (I like the guy, but he’s not due quite yet), and Takanoyama ( a bit overranked). Whether or not I can be trusted will be determined in the next 15 days. Stick around here, and get your daily bout play-by-plays, whisky and cigar reviews, and so forth. So let the Nagoya basho begin.
Daly will be all over shonichi like stink on shiokara.