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Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Nagoya's mixed bag of high fliers and ranking issues yet to come
By MARK BUCKTON
Special to The Japan Times Online
Prior to the basho, it looked like Nagoya Basho 2010, would be remembered for just one thing: the gambling and the suspensions surrounding it. As the basho that saw a handful of top and second division rikishi suspended (and thus ending with 0-0-15 records), sumo at first appeared to be on a downward spiral with no end in sight.
The tabloids did try and jump on the back of the gambling scandal mid-way through the tournament by attempting to link former yokozuna-turned-stable master Takanohana with gangsters. Several other insinuations about various figures in the world of sumo have also been made but none have thus far borne the fruit the scandal mags hope will sell them a few more copies.
On the dohyo, despite all the woes surrounding the sport away from the clay ring, the yokozuna was in fine fettle — winning his third consecutive tournament with a flawless 15-0 record. It was something his predecessor Asashoryu never acheived, and indeed a new record in the modern-era of six tournaments a year. Hakuho is now on a 47-win streak — the longest such run in the Heisei Era and now the third longest of all time. Ahead of him stand Chiyonofuji (53 wins) and Futabayama (69).
The grand champion himself has kept a relatively low profile in the past month or so as accusations and allegations have been flying all over. Meanwhile, Hak's sumo is getting better and better. At present there are few who would, with any confidence, bet against him one day surpassing the 32 Emperor's Cups tally set by the great Taiho in the 1960s and '70s.
In Nagoya it was left to maegashira 13 Homasho to push the top man going into the final weekend. Having come off a horrible couple of years injury wise, the Yamaguchi Prefecture native went undefeated well into the second week, only tripping up in the final few bouts to end with an 11-4 record, which will ensure him a slot at or near his best rank ever of maegashira 1, with all the forced absences imposed on those gambling and thus officially posting an all-loss record. Aran of Mihogaseki Beya also went 11-4 with an almost reverse record of that posted by Homasho, the Russian starting poorly but improving greatly as the basho wore on. As was predicted some time ago in Sumo Scribblings he has started to move about the ring a lot more, utilizing a wider range of techniques, and it has certainly paid off. Yet another 11-4 record was posted by Mongolian Kakuryu, who remained in the yusho race until the weekend before faltering and posting just a trio more shiroboshi (winning white circles) in the remaining week.
Regrettably, none of the ozeki really shone through and the media spotlight ahead of the September Aki Basho in Tokyo will yet again fall on Kaio. The Fukuoka man has muddled through the past three or four years when all have expected — or hoped for — his retirement, and he was once again forced to drop out just after the mid-way point. He had started with a 6-2 record, only to fall foul of a couple of defeats and ultimately injury. If he is to return once again to his "home" basho down in north Kyushu in November he will need to secure at the very least a winning record in September. This is, after all, the man who has indicated he will retire should he fall from ozeki to sekiwake, which is guaranteed, should he not post a kachikoshi record in the autumn tourney.
The promotion/demotion game will be a mixed bag this time out, with the forced expulsions from Nagoya raising an eyebrow or two on even the most dedicated of banzuke watchers. Normally a 0-15 record anywhere near the bottom half of makunouchi would lead to a drop to juryo, but with four "highly probably" demotions from those actually taking part and finishing with bad heavy losing records, as well as six others being penalized with a 0-15 due to their gambling on baseball, makunouchi demotions are anyone's guess. Add to this just a few in the juryo division who could safely expect a promotion based on their performances, and the meetings now going on regarding banzuke ranking could well produce a few stays of execution in makunouchi or offers of promotion to those not expecting it in juryo. The deciding factor will likely to be the degree to which the gamblers should be punished in the eyes of the sumo powers that be.