Basho Flashback: Hatsu 2012
The purpose of reviewing older basho is to see what lessons can be learned from past tournaments that could apply to future tournaments. Sometimes, though, things are kind of weird. Hatsu 2012 was so unlike the most recent Kyushu tournament that it seems like a different kind of sport.
In many ways, Hatsu 2012 was how sumo is supposed to look. As sole Yokozuna, Hakuho didn't win the tournament, but he did get a 12 win jun-yusho. The winner was the Ozeki 1 East, the Estonian sumotori Baruto. He dominated with 14 wins. Every Ozeki had a winning record. This meant they battered the rest of Sanyaku, creating a barrier to the very top and structuring a basho how the Sumo Association probably would want it to be.
Except the basho also lacked drama. Baruto won by Day 13, thanks to a Hakuho loss to Kotooshu. Everything was settled pretty simply. Hakuho also only lost to Sanyaku wrestlers (Kakuryu, Harumafuji, and Kotooshu), meaning no one even got to throw a cushion after a kinboshi.
The chart for Hatsu 2012, in Fantasy Basho format, is here. More notes to follow.
Looking back, this tournament would be Baruto's only yusho and his high water mark in sumo. At the time, though, there might have been reason to think he could have become the first European Yokozuna. He had been an Ozeki for nearly two years, had already gone 14-1 with a jun-yusho in November 2011, and was just 27. Also, he was absolutely massive at nearly 2 meters and 180+ kg. He even started his next tournament 9-1. When he finished 10-5, it was disappointing, but probably didn't shut the door on the ultimate promotion. Instead, he began suffering injuries later in 2012, which seemed to be the dreaded cascade of lower body injuries. He lost his Ozeki status within the year, and Baruto was out of sumo by the middle of 2013.
Although Hakuho could not win the tournament, he did use his Day 15 matchup with Baruto to prevent the Ozeki getting a zensho yusho. That, too, could have made this basho a little more exciting. But Hakuho didn't want a 15-0 from another wrestler on his watch.
As mentioned before, the lower Sanyaku was hammered. The upper Maegashira weren't much better. The five Ozeki all had winning records and Sekiwake 1 East Kakuryu got 10 wins. (Plus, Kakuryu was two months away from being an Ozeki himself.) This absolutely destroyed S1w through M3w. The only riksihi with a winning record was Aminishiki, who achieved 9 wins. No one else was above 6.
This was actually a basho of tiers. Between M4e and M8e, everyone beat up on each other, resulting in all the rikishi there landing between 6 and 9 wins. Then between M8w and M10w, four of the five rikishi got double digit wins. After that was a mixture of middling and extremely poor performances.
The lower Maegashira of note was Gagamaru at Maegashira 10 West. The massive Georgian got 12 wins and the kino-sho prize. This was his best performance ever, and it launched him up to Komosubi for March 2012. Gagamaru never got back to Sanyaku or achieved more wins. He would be a Makuuchi mainstay, but his notable basho would all come at lower Maegashira. Some rikishi are just lower Maegashira in quality, which is nothing to look down on. Gagamaru was one of the top thirty sumo wrestlers in the world for a short while.
The last three rikishi on the Banzuke, Kyokushuho, Kaisei, and Nionoumi all had awful records. For Kyokushuho and Kaisei, they would rebound in Juryo and become solid Makuuchi wrestlers. Nionoumi never had another basho in the top division, and has been a Makushita wrestler for most of the last few years.