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Basho Flashback: Nagoya 2011

Fantasy Basho has been around for a very short time, especially in sumo terms. The sport goes back centuries, and professional sumo has been around and well tracked since the 18th century. Some longer perspective might be in order. With that in mind, Fantasy Basho is going to look back at previous basho to see what lessons can be learned for future basho. We're not going back to the 1700s, but to the Nagoya basho of 2011.

Why July 2011 as a starting point? Because Sumo had a bit of a restart then. In mid-2010, a large-scale betting scandal erupted around Japanese baseball. A handful of sumotori were caught up in that, which led to the uncovering of text messages coordinating "yaocho." Yaocho is the word in Japanese for match-fixing in sumo. Wrestlers were describing ways to fix matches and what the payoffs for doing it would be.

This led to a big, big problem for sumo. So big they cancelled the March 2011 tournament in Osaka while they investigated. Ultimately, the Japan Sumo Association requested 19 wrestlers to retire. 4 oyakata were also sanctioned directly, with others being demoted from high roles in the JSA as punishment for being unaware their rikishi were doing it. Sumo has not had any similar kind of accusations since, and it does seem like it was a fairly confined, if persistent, issue among a few sekitori.

They restarted with a "Technical Examination Tournament" in May, but it didn't really count. It wasn't on television and tickets were free. (It still counts as Hakuho's 19th career yusho, though.) Therefore, Sumo's restart really happened in July in Nagoya. That's where we will start, to avoid the strange gap that would show up otherwise.

Getting down to the business of seeing what we can learn from the Nagoya 2011, here is the final Banzuke, in Fantasy Basho form.

Now the important thing, what are our lessons from this basho?

1. The Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Sekiwake are there for a reason

It wasn't a completely banner tournament for the top of the Banzuke, especially as long-term Ozeki Kaio went kyujo on Day 11 and retired immediately. Everyone else in the top three ranks had at least nine wins and were really the only ones in contention. Harumafuji got his 2nd yusho on Day 14 by beating fellow Mongolian and sole Yokozuna Hakuho. Hakuho lost to Estonian Ozeki Baruto on Day 15, giving Hakuho 12 wins and Baruto 11. The Sekiwake also all reached double-digits.

2. Being a Komusubi is terrible

Not every Sanyaku rank is great, and that was especially true in Nagoya in 2011. Both Goeido and Tochinoshin were promising youngsters who jumped into the bottom named ranks for Nagoya 2011 and were eventually destined for Ozeki. Both also got hammered. Goeido only won 5 matches, and had a seven match losing streak from Day 3 to Day 9. Tochinoshin got six wins by putting together two wins followed by three losses three times across the basho.

3. Upper Maegashira is a zone of death

Upper Maegashira is just like Komusubi, but with less pomp and circumstance. In July 2011, there were 10 Sanyaku ranks (1 Y, 4 O, 3 S, 2 K), so the top 3 Maegashira slots were scheduled to face the top ranked rikishi. Incidentally, only one of them, Maegashira 2 West Toyonoshima, got a winning record. He had nine wins. Tosayutaka withdrew with no wins, but Kyokutenho and Aminishiki got 2 wins while mounting the dohyo all 15 days. It's probably not a coincidence that both Maegashira 4, Okinoumi and Takekaze, got 8 wins with easier early schedules.

4. Winning big as a Maegashira often comes after losing big

Homasho got 11 wins and the Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize) at Maegashira 9 during Nagoya 2011. In May 2011, he was at Maegashira 2 and only managed 3 wins. Aran got 10 wins at Maegashira 6 after going 6-9 at Maegashira 5. Tochiozan achieved double digits at Maegashira 8, following a 4 win performance. Sometimes you need to get dropped down the banzuke to find the level where you can dominate.

Overall, the Nagoya 2011 Basho went pretty much as a standard basho would go. That's perhaps more strange because the events leading to it were so nonstandard. On the other hand, Nagoya 2011 might just tell us that sumo follows a pattern in a basho for a reason

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