Just as I predicted, all of my predictions about the past basho were wrong. After watching pretty much all of Hatsu 2013, one thing is certain in my mind. As Dylan said: Things, they are a changin’. We have a big historic heya closing its doors for good, and an old heya reopening its doors. We said farewell to the greatest Yokozuna in modern history, and farewell (temporarily) to a beloved rikishi. We are gonna see a significant shake up all the way down the banzuke for Osaka. From Makuuchi all the way down to the mushimegane. There are a lot of promotions and demotions to talk about, as where as where sumo will be headed for the rest of this year, so lets get started.
M1 – Yokozuna
Osaka will mark the first time since Kyushu 2009 that Hakuho(12-3) will be ranked at West Yokozuna. I don’t know if Hakuho was off his game or if, as suggested in numerous other places, he threw his bouts. It can’t be argued beyond a reasonable doubt either way. What I do know is that there has been a decline in his performance of late. Haks had 14 losses in 2012, as compared to 9 in 2011, 3 in 2010, and 4 in 2009 (and Asashoryu was still in the game in 09.) He hasn’t had 14 or more losses since 2007 when he was an Ozeki about to make Yokozuna. This could be a slump, it could be Hak playing the “game”, or it could be the beginning of a decline. Seeing as Haks will only be 28 in March, I think this is just a slump, he’ll come back. Even in a slump he’s better than anyone else out there by a long shot.
Harumafuji(15-0), as a yokozuna, is a bit of an enigma to me, he’s basically doing the opposite of what Hakuho is doing. He’s never had a record this good since way way way back in the lower ranks. 3 zensho yusho in 1 calander year? It sounds pretty astounding, and to be fair, there has been a noticeable step up in his performance. However he’s prone to injury, and what’s more, he’s prone to getting 8-7 records. The sport can’t sustain enough yaocho to keep him at the top for long, so I see him having a shorter than normal yokozuna career, but it won’t end this year.
Some of the biggest news is Baruto’s(8-7) failure to regain his ozeki rank. He was forced up against a wall. 2 straight kyujo basho in Aki and Kyushu made him have to fight on 50%. Again, being fair, he did soft pedal a few bouts (notably Hakuho and Harumafuji) trying to save his stamina for the last few days when he had a chance, and that rematch on his last bout against Ikioi was obviously thrown Bart’s way to dull the pain, but 8 ain’t enough. Subsequently, he’s back down to sekiwake until he can get the 33 wins over 3 tournaments again. Which he will, once he’s healed up.
Caaaaaaaan’t really say much about the other Ozeki. Kakuryu(8-7) continued to disappoint as an ozeki. This is 4th record under 10 wins since making ozeki (out of 5 basho.) His performance in Hatsu was negligible and he never factored into the yusho race. He is still got good technique, but for some reason couldn’t bring his A game. I think we might get one or two good basho from him a year while he is ozeki. Same with the Geek(8-7), only i’ll increase that to two or three, at least these guys are more interesting than… Kotooshu(10-5)… The content of his sumo this basho was slightly better, but again NO factor in the yusho race until his win over Hakuho, I would much rather see him demoted to sekiwake than Bart.
Kisenosato(10-5) seems, oddly, to be the only one pulling his weight. the content of his sumo wasn’t bad this time out. As usual he lost some bouts to slouches. It’s strange though, there was lots of talk about his promotion despite not meeting the 33 in 3 rule. But i guess the proof is in the pudding. He only has 1 record below ten wins in all 7 basho as an ozeki. He’s been in the yusho race a few times, at least for most of the basho. Not sure how I feel about that, but there it is. It’s no secret the kyokai has a boner for the Kid, and they certainly give him an easy go of things. Montana and I are convinced he’ll be gifted a yusho at least once pretty soon.
We saw some good stuff from West 1 Myogiryu(7-8) and Shohozan(4-11) this basho, just not good enough. Shoho always looks good on the dohyo, he just doesn’t always win. He did beat Geeku, Ozan, Kaisei, and Kyokutenho, and he lost to literaly zero slouches this basho. It was his first basho at komusubi, and it won’t be his last. M. Yogi was a bit of the same. He came into the basho with a bit of an injured ankle. Same as Shoho he lost to zero slouches and got a kinboshi. They’ll both have an easier go of things next basho and we’ll see em back up in joii/sanyaku in a few months.
Sekiwake Goeido(8-7) and komusubi Tochiozan(8-7) showed us a typical basho. Nothing spectacular, but nothing horrible. Between them they took down all the ozeki and neither lost to slouches (unless you count Ikioi a slouch, and I don’t). Despite unnecessary talk of Goeido making ozeki, they are both keeping their current ranks, and will do either the same or worse next time out.
That just leaves M1 the Sneak (9-6). Connolly doesn’t like the term giant-killer, and for the record, neither do I. However, he had a hell of a basho. Beat 3 ozeki in a row, a komusubi, and a sekiwake, and at 34 he is 5 years older than the oldest of those gents. On top of all that, we didn’t see nearly as much henka from him as usual. Over-all a good less “sneaky” basho from the “Sneak”, or was his non-inclusion of henka in itself “sneaky” as he defied convention? Leave a comment… or don’t, which ever is “sneakier”.
Our veteran M2s Toyonoshima (6-9) and Kyokutenho (4-11) fought the good fight, but couldn’t get what they needed. Not TOO bad a showing by Toyo, but if Tenho wants to hang on till 40 ( a little more than a year away), he needs to at least take out someone ranked above M4. Lets face it Tenho is old and M2 is a bit high for him these days.
M7 Takayasu (12-3, notable wins over both sekiwake) and M8 Chiyotairyu (10-5) are flying high. Although the content of Tairyu’s sumo was improved, Takayasu’s sumo was much better. Good enough to pick him up a kantosho, and a share of the jun-yusho with Hakuho. As far as I can tell these guys will be around the M1-2 mark next basho. It will be Tairyu’s 1st time near the top. Takayasu has never been able to KK above M8 till now, so lets hope this is a sign of things getting better. We’ll see how they fair against the ozeki and yokozunas.
M6 Tochinoshin (9-6) is starting to look like the guy that got a 12-3 Jun-yusho with a kanto-sho in May 2 years ago. It has been a pretty shitty 2 years for Noshin, he showed a LOT of power this basho, not to mention skill. Same for Ikioi, he showed a lot of skill and heart this basho. I’d like to think he’ll put up good numbers higher up the banzuke, but when every bout is against guys ranked M4 and above, I think he’ll have it a bit rough.
This group is populated by the guys who didn’t do so bad, but didn’t do well. First up is M6 Aoiyama (7-8). He had quality wins over some good rikishi. Myogiryu, Okinumi, Takayasu, Chiyotairyu. However, his consistency just isn’t there in the top division. He’ll get there though. He did change heya to Kasugano a while back, maybe things at home aren’t settled yet. Next is our European M4s Aran (7-8), and Gagamaru (6-9). Aran’s memorable moment was the bout with Tochinoshin, power sumo all the way. Alan is still just a bit inconsistent of late, but getting better. Gaga’s moment for me was his bout against Harumfuji. He was SOOOOO pissed after that bout. I have rarely seen that much emotion on the dohyo, and I’m surprised he didn’t get chided for it (or his record). His performance was otherwise lackluster. M3 Kaisei (6-9) performed statistically. He beat everyone ranked below him, but didn’t win to a single wrestler ranked above M3. Which is kind of where he is right now. Middle ground… too good for lower makuuchi and gonna get chewed up in the upper ranks until he gets his stuff together. He tended to be a bit high this basho. And finally M8 Yoshikaze (7-8) nothing stellar this basho, he couldn’t get his usual stuff to work. He didn’t change the game plan really… he was just unlucky, or slow, or both this go round.
Going really down…
M7 Masunoyama (4-11). His problem isn’t power, it isn’t skill. It’s a little bit balance, it’s a little bit of being too far forward; really its his health. He can only go full power for like 20 seconds, then he’s done. He is a bit too eager sometimes to finish things quickly. If he works on concentration and balance, he’ll do much better. Let’s face it M3 Toyohibiki (5-10) has never been at the top of people’s favorites list; mostly he’s ok, but kind of a one trick pony, and he’s only decent at that one trick. No one was really fooled this basho. Down he goes. Going WAY WAY down is M5 Homasho, who didn’t even show up this basho. but he should have a cake walk next basho.
M15 Tochinowaka (8-7), M14’s Shotenro (8-7) and Takarafuji (9-6), M12 Tamawashi (8-7), M11 Fujiazuma (8-7), M10’s Kitataiki and Okinoumi (8-7 each), and M9 Tokitenku (10-5). Tochinowaka had an awful 3 bout double digit losing streak in Makuuchi last time he was up. He’s back, and is still a bit high most times, but he’ll work it out. Takarafuji was the toast of the first half of the basho, going 8 in a row from day 2, then failing to pick up 5 of his last 6. Fairly standard performance from Shotenro, Tamawashi, and Fujiazuma. Kitataiki opened well, but as usual his momentum dies off after the first 5 days. Oki was hit and miss all tournament, and will be again in march. And Tokitenku had a fluke basho do to under-performance of his peers.
M12 Sadanofuji(7-8), M15 Kotoyuki (6-9). Both showed some spirit, SOME being the key word. Not terrible, but not good from these two.
M9 Takekaze (6-9) , M13 Daido (6-9) why their own separate category? Because Takekaze henkas and Daido has big ears. Nothing really good out of these guys this basho.
M16 Tamaasuka (4-11), M13 Asahisho (4-11), M11 Wakanosato (4-11), and M16 Miyabiyama (3-12). Tamaasuka would have gone in the above category because of his big eyebrows, but his performance was much worse, he would have been better off kyujo because at least there is plausible deniability that he’s not awful. Same goes for Asahisho, except that he actually is not a bad rikishi, but he would have been better off kyujo… the kyokai would have saved enough money on salt to tempt one of the other two guys with a better retirement package, because that is where they are both headed. When they are getting over 10 losses this far down on the banzuke it’s time to hang it up. I am really surprised that between there were so few KKs in the lower ranks.
Overall my ratings for this basho go like this
Good – Harumafuji, Takayasu, Kisenosato, Tochinoshin
Bad – All of lower Makuuchi, Baruto
Ugly – Daido, Tamaasuka, and Gagamaru (physically), Wakanosato, Asahisho, and Kyokutenho (sumo-wise), and Miyabiyama (both.)
That’s all for this basho’s rikishi wind up. stay tuned this week for reports on heya, upcoming rikishi, and other sumo news