In the Fukuoka Basho’s biggest surprise in years, the ozeki, despite their largely poor standards of late, didn’t perform too badly. The aging trio of Kaio, Chiyotaikai and Tochiazuma were all well within range of Asashoryu as far in as the mid-way point.

Kotooshu was lagging, having lost thrice by the end of the middle Sunday but a stronger showing later in the tournament pushed him up a notch to a decent 10-5; an identical record to that of Tochiazuma who could have — should have perhaps — pulled out after being injured in his Day 10 bout with former ozeki Dejima.

Sadly, normal Kaio week-two service resumed after the mid-way point, by which time the Fukuoka native had already secured his kachikoshi. Come the start of Day 9, he was still unbeaten, but in his final seven bouts, all against sanyaku men, he could only pick up two more scalps — against Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki — both men renowned for their own ability to collapse in the home stretch. Neither disappointed the form books in Kyushu, as they took a mere four from 14 possible wins between them on the back 7 to end side by side with 9-6 records.

Still, when all was said and done, the four performing ozeki were again left bowing to the majesty of Asashoryu!

The Mongolian remains sumo’s longest serving lone yokozuna, with Kyushu his 18th straight basho at the top of the pile. He must now be content in scratching around for records to break — the search for effective competition having borne little fruit in 2006.

On the “records to break” front, the yokozuna’s latest 15-0 zensho (unbeaten) yusho means he has surpassed Takanohana to claim the fourth spot on that all-time list — behind such household names as Taiho, Chiyonofuji and Kitanoumi.

In addition, his yusho tally to date (19) means it is mathematically possible that this time next year he could have bettered Takanohana (22) and Kitanoumi (24). The next step will then be, by late 2008/early 2009 at the very earliest, aiming at the records of those at the pinnacle of “yusho won” tables — Chiyonofuji (31) and Taiho (32).

Slightly lower in sanyaku, Kisenosato, went 8-7 in another solid performance that belied his age (20) and limited experience. Another Japanese lad whom many have high hopes for, maegashira Homasho, ended a magnificent tournament with a 12-3 record and as the winner of his first Fighting Spirit Prize and first Technique Prize.

In the lower divisions, the juryo title went to Michinoku Beya man Jumonji but many of the sport’s non-Japanese fans were paying more attention to Magaki Beya teenager Wakanoho at the top of the makushita rankings. The Russian will don the white practice mawashi only seen on sekitori in the coming weeks after securing promotion from the highest nonsalaried division. He even has something of an online fan club with members in Ireland and the United States.

Speaking of foreign fans of sumo, the question of moving the Kyushu Basho was raised on once again the main English-language sumo forum.

You would think that row upon row of empty masu-seki box seats would be a sign of something. It might be awhile, though, before poor attendance convinces the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (NSK) of a need to move the basho away out Fukuoka or maybe even toward taking the year’s final basho “on the road.”

The question remains though: Wouldn’t the sumo world profit from rotating the annual November tournament through four or five decent-size cities — Sapporo, Sendai, Nagano, Hiroshima, to name a few? Does the bitter pill of having to throw away thousands of unsold tickets not cause at least some consternation in the NSK? Why not move on, see what another city has to offer?

Whatever is decided, or ignored, the last 15 days of sumo we see each year are starting to lack something. The mojo has been absent for a while now and Asashoryu, as brilliant as he is, is not going to bring it back alone — no matter how many Emperor’s Cups or records he takes home from the nation’s southernmost basho.

Note: For the sumo starved: On Dec. 10th the 55th All Japan (Amateur) Sumo Championships will be held at the Kokugikan, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. If in town why not head down to Ryogoku to check it out?

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