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Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006

Lights, camera, action -- 'Hakuho for Yokozuna' -- Take II!

Special to The Japan Times Online

September's Aki Basho approaches and as was the case prior to Nagoya in July, with it comes the talk of how Mongolian ozeki Hakuho will fare; whether or not he'll be performing the yokozuna dohyo-iri alongside yokozuna Asashoryu at the next tournament.

News photo
Baruto getting up close and personal with an opponent prior to the Aki Basho KYODO PHOTO

Realistically not many would bet against him (again!) were flutters on the rikishi legal in Japan and when push comes to shove, the ozeki still only has one obstacle to overcome to reach the top of the banzuke -- himself.

Ranked alongside Hakuho on the banzuke, the quartet of 2006 also ran ozeki; Tochiazuma's 14-1 Hatsu Basho yusho with Chiyotaikai and Kaio dropping out and Asashoryu turning in a below par scorecard notwithstanding, have been planted firmly in the Mongolian's shadow. Between them they have managed to scrape together just over half a dozen tournament victories over the past five years and all will yet again serve to merely make up the numbers come senshuraku.

Slightly lower down at sekiwake, Miyabiyama's July failure to return to the ozeki rank he vacated in September 2001, (as the world's eyes were centered on New York) will be a point thrashed about by 'what if scenario' fans everywhere as he is still riding the carry over concept we have seen the Sumo Association (NSK) use several times this year.

The Musashigawa Beya man from Ibaraki Prefecture was dealt a post Nagoya 'Do Not Pass Go' hand -- even with an above average win/loss ratio over three basho that would normally see promotion a given -- a victim of the NSK not wanting the rank clogged up for the next couple of years especially as five of six, should Hakuho not get to yokozuna this time, (would) have little or no chance of ever going further.

With Hakuho (and Tochiazuma in May) though, by failing to win back to back yusho, the hand dealt becomes more of a 'Get Out of Jail Free' option in providing a second shot at the cherry. At the same time, the NSK injects itself with another chance to pray to the sumo gods for the rival yokozuna money spinner so lacking since Musashimaru's retirement in 2003.

Ideally, in the 15 days following on from September 10th, Miyabiyama should be looking for wins in the 12/13 range but Hakuho needs the title plain and simple. Anything less taking him to a tsuna fitting pre-November and his detractors will forever hold it against him.

At the foot of sanyaku Kokkai will be making his komusubi debut and might well eke out a respectable 8-7 or slightly better if the ozeki slack off in light of none of their number being kadoban and in danger of automatic demotion. Kokkai has been a couple of years getting to the rank so is more experienced than many in the upper maegashira ranks which will, should, help him cope if fit.

Kisenosato remains at komusubi despite a winning record two months ago, the result of unfortunate timing in that neither man at sekiwake, Miyabiyama and Kotomitsuki, are ready to give up on their rank and the banzuke makers haven't been overly keen on more than two sekiwake at rank recently.

Featuring at the head of the maegashira ranks will be the 198-cm, 168-kg giant Baruto. Following on from the Taiwan Jungyo, the Estonian managed to get home for a few days to appear at a junior sumo event in late August where, as star of the show, results and the event itself played second fiddle to his presence. Whether or not a couple of days spent in the air and milling about airports during the month will show itself in his performances is yet to be seen.

Near the top of the makushita division is the teenage Russian Wakanoho. He has had his mojo slapped about in recent months but to be so high based on just 18-months of experience would indicate he is not one to be written off. Sekitori status will come sooner rather than later for the young man training under former yokozuna Wakanohana II at Magaki Beya and hopefully Aki will see him correcting the 'give-up and lose' mentality he displayed several times in Nagoya when his right hand was prevented from grabbing his opponent's mawashi. Onoe-Beya rikishi Shiraishi -- heading the division -- has been staying quiet as he recovers from an injury that saw him fall from the salaried ranks after the 2005 Kyushu tournament, and like Wakanoho will soon be donning the white sekiwake practice mawashi -- 'Take II'.

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