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Monday, Sept. 24, 2001

New champion Kotomitsuki loses final bout of Aki Basho

Special to The Japan Times

No. 2 Maegashira Kotomitsuki who clinched the championship on the 14th day, lost his final bout to Tokitsuumi, and thus finished with an impressive 13-2 record.

The Sadogatake Beya collegian has taken his first title only 16 tournaments after his debut in March 1999, and only nine tournaments after his initial promotion to the top division. Kotomitsuki defeated yokozuna Musashimaru, ozeki Chiyotaikai and Miyabiyama, and lost only to ozeki Musoyama and Tokitsuumi. The 25 year old from Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture dominated the tournament after the top rankers fell apart.

Both powerful and skillful, Kotomitsuki nearly won the championship last November, when he turned in a 13-2 record upon returning to the Makunouchi division (he was absent when he was first promoted).

Kotomitsuki is expected to be promoted back to sekiwake for the Fukuoka Basho in November, and could emerge as a strong ozeki candidate if he can continue to excel.

There is speculation that his shikona (dohyo name) will be changed to Kotozakura, that of his mentor Sadogatake Oyakata during his active days, when he is promoted to ozeki in the future.

Kotozakura achieved promotion to yokozuna when he was 32. Sadogatake is obviously hoping that Kotomitsuki can go all the way to yokozuna in the next four years, since he will have to retire from the sumo world in four years time, when he reaches 65.

The yokozuna and ozeki, with the exception of Musoyama, who performed credibly with a 10-5 record, fell apart in this tournament. Takanohana was absent, as in July, due to a knee injury, while five maegashira competitors defeated the hapless competing yokozuna, Musashimaru. No yokozuna had previously lost to five maegashira.

Musashimaru looked in desperate straits at 6-5 after the 11th day, but he pulled through in the home stretch to finish with a poor 9-6 record. He was easily beaten on the final day by sekiwake Tochiazuma.

Musashimaru's performance was especially disappointing since he did not face a single yokozuna or ozeki. There is speculation that Musashimaru's poor performance this time was due to excessive weight (he weighed in at 226 kg prior to the tournament) or injuries, but the reality may simply be lack of effort and insufficient training.

The tournament was the most lackluster in memory.

There was no real yusho race after Kotomitsuki took the sole lead after the first week and remained two wins above his closest rivals until he secured the championship on Saturday.

Ozeki Kaio, the yusho winner at Nagoya in July, was widely favored to win the Aki Basho and gain promotion to yokozuna. The normally powerful Kaio looked exceptionally weak from the first day, and was forced to drop out winless on the fourth day. Not only will Kaio have to start over from scratch in his quest for yokozuna promotion; if he fails to win at least eight bouts in November, he will be demoted to sekiwake. At 29, and plagued with back pains, the odds of Kaio ever being promoted to yokozuna are now probably less than 50-50.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai, who was mentioned as a darkhorse prior to the tournament, dropped out with a 4-5 record. Like Kaio, he must win at least 8 bouts in November to avoid demotion from the rank he has held since the March tournament of 1999.

Ozeki Miyabiyama, who was kadoban (facing demotion if he failed to win at least 8 bouts), got off to a poor start and dropped out at 3-7 with an injury. Just turned 24, he will become the youngest former ozeki in over a century in November. Due to the injury, he is likely to sit out the Kyushu Basho and make his comeback attempt in January. He will be automatically promoted back to ozeki if he wins 10 or more bouts, a tall order, since his best record in his year at ozeki was 9-6.

Miyabiyama may still prove to be a force in sumo if he trains much harder and develops better defensive sumo.

Of the four ozeki, only Musoyama finished the tournament, losing on the final day to komusubi Wakanosato, but still passing with a decent 10-5 mark. The 29 year old Musoyama lost his ozeki rank at one point last year, but has become quite stable since he regained the ozeki.

Other than Musoyama, of all the sanyaku rikishi, only sekiwake Tochiazuma made his presence felt. By defeating yokozuna Musashimaru on the senshuraku,he finished with an outstanding 12-3 record. He is now close to ozeki promotion, at least on paper, since he had a 10-5 record at sekiwake in July, and 9-6 in May.

However, there were too many bouts in which he sidestepped his opponents. Given the generally poor performance of the ozeki in recent basho, the Sumo Kyokai will likely be cautious in approving Tochiazuma's promotion to ozeki. He will probably need at least 12 wins in November to be seriously considered.

Dejima, who was demoted to sekiwake for the September tournament, would have gone straight back to ozeki if he had won 10 bouts. Despite a decent effort, he was still in poor shape with a severe leg injury and won only five bouts. He will be demoted to the maegashira ranks in November. Though Dejima is still quite young at 27, he will have to start from scratch to return to ozeki. In fact, no former ozeki who was dropped to the maegashira ranks has managed to return to komusubi or sekiwake in almost a quarter of a century, since Kaiketsu not only returned, but made his way back to ozeki in 1977. Dejima needs to heel his leg injury and aim at returning to sanyaku.

The two promising komusubi, Wakanosato and Tamanoshima, both turned in disappointing 7-8, and are due to be demoted. Waka and Tama, however, have considerable promise and will likely be serious ozeki candidates in the future.

No. 1 Maegashira Asashoryu achieved a fine 10-5 record, and upset Musashimaru and three of the ozeki. At one point, he was tied for the lead with Kotomitsuki, but in the last week he faded somewhat. Asashoryu is likely to be promoted back to komusubi. With more weight and defensive technique, the 20 year old Mongolian could emerge as an ozeki candidate at some point in the future.

No. 4 Maegashira Kaiho turned in a remarkable 10-5 record. The little Hakaku Beya rikishi,who had very poor performances in his previous ventures into the high maegashira ranks, upset yokozuna Musashimaru. Since three rikishi are being demoted from the sanyaku, Kaiho is likely to move up to komusubi for the first time.

Veteran former Maegashira Aogiyama won the Juryo yusho with a good 12-3 record, defeating Tamarikido, also a former maegashira in a play-off for the yusho. The Makushita title was won by Hokutoarashi, the Sandanme title by ex-Maegashira Wakanojo, the Jonidan championship by Chiyotsukumo, and the lowest Jonokuchi by Daishochi.

37 year old former komusubi Tomonohana finally reached the end of the line in September. He finished with a 5-10 record low in Juryo, and rather than fall to the unsalaried Makushita, he is expected to retire.

The Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award) was awarded to Kotomitsuki, the Kantosho (Fighting Spirit Prize) to Asashoryu, while the Ginosho (Technique Prize) was shared by Kotomitsuki and Kaiho.

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