Basho Flashback: Aki 2011
In the ongoing look at previous basho, we're moving along to Aki 2011. It was the second real basho after the sumo world had to restart in the spring of 2011. Yet, in many ways, it was a typical basho of the era. Hakuho was the sole Yokozuna and won the yusho, his 20th overall and eighth in nine tournaments.
Yet there was more to this basho than Hakuho's dominance.
By Fantasy Basho rules, Hakuho wouldn't have even had sole possession of the top point total. Then-Sekiwake Kotoshogiku had a great basho, securing 12 wins, the jun-yusho, and two Special Prizes. Oh, and he beat Hakuho on Day 13. That was enough to get him an Ozeki promotion after Aki 2011. If he had managed to beat Baruto on Day 15, he could have had a playoff with Hakuho, but Baruto sent him down by Uwatenage. Hakuho beat Harumafuji, and lifted yet one more Emperor's Cup. He wasn't even halfway to his current total.
Other notes about this basho:
The Sekiwake Dominated
Aki 2011 was a rare case of three Sekiwake being on the Banzuke. That can happen when there are two Sekiwake already who cannot be demoted, and a Komusubi has proven himself Sekiwake-worthy. That extra Sekiwake here was Kakuryu, and it was his second basho as the third Sekiwake. His 9 wins were good, but Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato both got 12. The Ozeki were not as good (Kotooshu was kyujo with injury.) They also put a stomping on upper Maegashira. Tellingly, all three men would become Ozeki within the year, and two of them would eventually become Yokozuna. It's a reminder that sometimes a Banzuke isn't aligned correctly as people come up the rankings.
Mid-Maegashira Can Be a Blessing
By win total, the leaderboard on this basho was Y1 Hakuho at 13, S1e Kotoshogiku at 12, and S1w Kisenosato at 12, followed by M10w Kyokutenho and M11w Gagamaru on 11 wins. Oh, and M11e Kitataiki and M12e Aminishiki had 10. Sometimes Maegashira 10 and 11 can be a sweet spot, because they face easier competition than guys slightly higher. It was for those four. Kyokutenho was a former Sanyaku rikishi coming off a poor performance. Kitataiki was finding his level. Gagamaru was a 24 year old with impressive size climbing the rankings. Aminishiki was a long-term veteran coming off a miserable record. There's not a real pattern there, except they all hit the sweet spot in the rankings for this one basho.
Promotion Means Something
Due to the Sumo Association still shaking out from the match-fixing scandal earlier in the year, a full six rikishi went from Juryo to Makuuchi between Nagoya 2011 and Aki 2011. Masunoyama, Yoshiazuma, and Takanoyama all made their top division debuts, while Tamaasuka, Kokkai, and Hochiyama were making returns. Other than Kokkai's 9-6, they all had lopsided records in a bad way. Masunoyama shot all the way to Maegashira 9, but then was injured on Day Five and sat out the rest of the basho. Everyone else just got whipped. Promotion means you see tougher opposition, in the spotlight, and you also have to fight off demotion among a dozen opponents.
Aki 2011 fit a typical pattern of basho, with the upper Sanyaku dominating and mid-Maegashira succeeding nearly as well. What it really was was a further sorting out of sumo after a major scandal. The cream was still rising to the top at this point, so very few wrestlers were at their true level. Except for the Yokozuna and Emperor's Cup winner, of course.