Intentional or not, Asashoryu has done it again. In the run-up to the Kyushu Basho, he has stolen the spotlight.

It all recalls his behaviour of a year ago, when he had what many saw as a mental breakdown following suspension from two basho for skipping official duties in Japan by claiming to be injured, only to be later photographed in Mongolia running about a soccer field.

Once again, the one-time shining star of sumo has demonstrated a complete disregard for those paying his wages and the fans who want to see him. He’s citing an injury again (elbow this time) and is holed up somewhere in Mongolia. Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren, as he was born, failed to return on at least two scheduled dates following treatment and may well stay away for the duration of the Nov. 9-23 Kyushu (Fukuoka) Tournament.

Not only are yokozuna expected to compete in tournaments, they are also expected to promote the event by going out, pressing the flesh and turning up at promotional events, shrine dedications and the like. As a sumo diplomat, however, Asashoryu has done little, and now even his most ardent of critics are writing him off as a lost cause.

Asashoryu himself must be wondering when the slide began. Just three years ago, in 2005, he won an amazing 84 of 90 bouts he fought. In doing so he claimed all six Emperor’s Cups — a first in sumo history.

This year will end with the dismal score of 45 wins versus 45 defeats/absences, and with just a lone (March) Emperor’s Cup to his name. Couple that with the fact that he has now won only three top trophies in the past two years compared to Hakuho’s current seven (Fukuoka could be Hak’s eighth in that same timeframe) and the time looks ripe for the man who so effectively carried the sumo baton from early 2004 to mid 2007 to stop running. If Asashoryu truly loves the sport that made him famous, it is time to let sumo’s next leg be run — without him.

Excluding Asashoryu, Fukuoka may turn out to be the first — in recent memory — end-of-year tourney with all the top wrestlers in relatively good form.

Despite recent foot surgery, yokozuna Hakuho looks prepped for his third consecutive yusho, on the back of his his 14-1 victory in September. Ama is also well primed. The 129-kg Mongolian has certainly earned his stripes in the four years since his promotion to the makunouchi division and has been a sanyaku regular for much of that time. Posting 10-5 in July and 12-3 in September, should he win around 11 or go even better down in Fukuoka, he will almost certainly be promoted to the rank of ozeki. The past few days have seen him going all out in his quest, putting in as many as 50 practice bouts a day against other high-ranking rikishi , and dominating most.

Other names to watch in the senior division include Baruto, at a career high rank of sekiwake. The huge Estonian somehow clawed back to 8-7 in September after being 2-7 at one stage.

Sakaigawa Beya’s Goeido is another at a career high, a rank below Baruto at komusubi. A very healthy 10-5 in September that had the feisty Osakan in the title race approaching the last weekend has perhaps seen him promoted a little too high at this point. With Kyushu being just his eighth basho in makunouchi, anything above 8-7 will be seen as a marvelous achievement.

Georgian Tochinoshin too (maegashira 4) is ranked perhaps a tad too high given that he only came into the division in January. Kyushu will be a time to either prove himself, or to be spanked by his elders and, for the time being, his betters.

Lower down in the division is a mix of new faces (Aran and Bushuyama) and existing talents that look set to shape the division in the years ahead (Kitataiki and Kimurayama), but gambling men would not go far wrong in throwing a few yen behind Hakuho quietly claiming basho number four of the year.

The fans will of course support local boys Kaio and Chiyotaikai, but wish as they may for an upset, the chances that the ozeki could walk off with the solid silver Emperor’s Cup at this stage in their respective careers is a long shot indeed. A full 24 tournaments have passed since Kaio last won anything. For Chiyotaikai that number is even higher at 33!

As ever, talk of post basho retirement is never far away for the 36-year-old Kaio, but this time there has been no indication from the man himself that this is on the cards.

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