Get Ready for July: Juryo Ones to Watch

To get fans ready for the Nagoya basho, Tachiai has covered the current Ozeki mess, the return of a former Ozeki, and what bouts the scheduler likely have in store for us on the two opening days. Now, let’s take a quick at some of the rikishi to watch who’ll be fighting in the second division. I am planning a second post that will preview lower divisions.

The top Juryo rank is occupied by two men who each came within a win of securing a post-suspension return to the top division. Ryuden, who violated COVID rules, sits at J1e, and 8 wins should all but guarantee a spot in Makuuchi for Aki. Hidenoumi, who got embroiled in gambling, is ranked J1w. Not only is he only the second rikishi in the last two decades unlucky enough to be stuck in Juryo after 8 wins at that rank, but to add insult to injury, he didn’t even get the expected minimal promotion to J1e, instead getting leapfrogged by Ryuden, whose 9 wins at J3w should have been equivalent in terms of banzuke placement. As the saying goes, if he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have none at all.

Rising star Atamifuji is at J6e, a career high, and a strong enough performance could land him in the top division after only two years in professional sumo and just in time for his 20th birthday. Lightweight fan favorite Enho, toiling in his 10th Juryo tournament after a 9-basho stint in Makuuchi, is, at J8w, closer to falling out of sekitori ranks than he is to a top-division return. So is lovable veteran Kaisei, J11e, who may or may not have a comeback in him depending on the state of his injured ankle. And I haven’t heard whether Enho’s stablemate Ishiura, J10w, who sat out the Natsu basho, will be back in fighting form in Nagoya.

Natsu sekitori debutant Tochimaru surprised us with an 8-7 kachi-koshi and will be fighting a bit higher up, at J11w. Just below him at J12e is much-touted Kitanowaka, who sat out the middle 6 days of Natsu with injury but came back to get the two wins he needed to stay in the division. And then we have three exciting new faces. J13e Oshoma makes his sekitori debut in just his 5th tournament after starting at Ms15TD in November and going 4-3, 5-2, 3-4, and 7-0 Y. On the West side we have Hakuho’s giant protégé Hokuseiho, whose two previous basho ranked in Juryo yielded exactly one bout—he sat out Aki 2021 due to COVID along with the rest of his heya, then got injured in the opening bout of Kyushu. Three straight 5-2 tournaments have brought him back to the sekitori ranks, and I hope that this time we get a real chance to see how he performs at this level. Last but not least, we have J14w Gonoyama (formerly Nishikawa), another collegiate star who debuted at Haru 2021 at Sd100TD, upset Ryuden to take the Makushita yusho in January, and hasn’t posted a losing record aside from one injury-marred 2-3-2 tournament. He is former Ozeki Goeido’s first big recruit. Who’ll be able to stay in the division and move up the banzuke? Tune in to find out!

Get Ready for July: Likely Opening-Day Bouts

As I’ve written before, the scheduling early in the tournament largely follows a formula based on rank. Let’s take a look at what the math spits out for Day 1 and Day 2 fight cards barring withdrawals.

Day 1

With eight men in the named ranks, and 28 available bouts between them, the tournament will start with one intra-san’yaku bout per day. Traditionally, the highest-ranked rikishi’s schedule starts with the lowest-ranked Komusubi, so Terunofuji will open his title defense against Abi, who defeated the Yokozuna in January but lost their November and May meetings. After that, we move on to the next-highest san’yaku rikishi and assign him the highest available rank-and-file opponent. So the rest of the san’yaku bouts should be as follows:

  • Takakeisho vs. Kiribayama
  • Mitakeumi vs. Takanosho
  • Shodai vs. Kotonowaka
  • Wakatakakage vs. Ichinojo
  • Daieisho vs. Tamawashi
  • Hoshoryu vs. Ura

Some exciting matchups to kick things off! Having taken care of the top 14, we simply pair up the remaining rikishi in rank order, taking into account any withdrawals (Takayasu) and avoiding same-heya pairings (like the 3 consecutive Isegahama rikishi at M11w, M12e, and M12w).

Day 2

The principle here is the same, with a few wrinkles. The Yokozuna gets his next available opponent by rank, in this case M1e Kiribayama. The second-highest ranked rikishi (Takakeisho) faces Hoshoryu—the Komusubi who didn’t have a san’yaku opponent on Day 1. In terms of the order of the bouts, the Ozeki rotate each day, as do East-West rikishi. So the san’yaku bouts should look like this:

  • Terunofuji vs. Kiribayama
  • Mitakeumi vs. Kotonowaka
  • Shodai vs. Takanosho
  • Takakeisho vs. Hoshoryu
  • Daieisho vs. Ichinojo
  • Wakatakakage vs. Tamawashi
  • Abi vs. Ura

A lot to look forward to, and that’s just the final seven bouts of the top division on the first two days of the basho! Please leave any thoughts and questions you may have in the comments.

Shohozan: A Brawler We Will Miss

We’ve often talked about our uncertainty of the legacy and achievements we will see from the current crop of sekitori. A large part of the reason for that uncertainty is that we were blessed by a group of rikishi for much of the previous decade which provided us with plenty of undercard excitement and intrigue. When someone like Bruce or Andy knocks out 21 previews of matches every day over the 15 days of a basho, generally the hope is that there are 21 matches that are going to be worth writing about.

I’m not saying there hasn’t always been the odd M12 vs M15 dud. Of course, throughout the years, there are matches every day that just flat-out aren’t exciting or interesting. But for many fans who got into sumo during the 2010s, they could be thankful for the guys up and down the makuuchi rankings who put on a hell of a show every time they crossed the tawara. One of those, without question, was Shohozan, who announced his retirement this past week.

The storylines that permeate most tournaments are: who’s going to win the yusho? Who’s going to be the next Ozeki/Yokozuna? Who’s this new top division debutant and how is he going to fare?

But it’s a real credit to the Shohozans of the world, the Yoshikazes of the world, the Chiyonokunis of the world (yes I know, he’s still going… kinda) that there’s a lot of sumo that doesn’t necessarily generate the headlines that inspire NHK to invest in luxurious half-an-hour-long special programming, but that still captures the excitement and the essence of what sumo is. Sumo that makes the whole of the product, and not just the top six bouts of the day, worth our time.

I’m not going to sit here drunk on nostalgia and pretend that the retirement of Shohozan gives me #allthefeels that I had for the retirement of Ikioi. Shohozan wasn’t my favourite rikishi. But he might have been yours. And his permanent scowl on screen, and his unmistakeable all-out brawler style cast him as a vital character in the recent, if now-bygone, era of this centuries-old saga that we all can’t stop watching.

Here, in a raucous – if half full – Kokugikan (calling back to the times in which you could go to Japan to watch sumo and the atmosphere was amazing), a fan captured Shohozan’s first kinboshi from 2013. It was the first of five in total and three which he took from from Yokozuna Harumafuji:

His stern on-dohyo demeanour always seemed all the more stark in contrast – to my poorly educated ears anyway – to the apparently eloquent and articulate way in which he spoke off the dohyo. In a world of mumbling Endos, here’s a guy who looked like he may go on to really do things in a future career in the kyokai.

This made it all the more shocking to sumo fans when, after a string of popular sekitori of the last decade had seemingly little trouble succeeding to their oyakata careers, the kyokai announced simply that Shohozan had retired with no mention of the elder name he would be taking. Because he wouldn’t be taking one.

SumoForum’s Akinomaki quotes a news article from PostSeven postulating that he was unable to remain in sumo due to a poor relationship with his oyakata, and that he will move on to a career in the food & beverage industry in his second life (and that the former Matsugane/Nishonoseki oyakata, former Ozeki Wakashimazu, preferred Ichiyamamoto as the eventual successor to his stock). This is a real shame if it is true, with Shohozan having been the oyakata’s finest product as a shisho. [updated to add: Akinomaki now reports (via ZakZak and recommended for the full quote) that Shohozan stated at his intai press conference that he did not have an intention to remain as a coach anyway.]

But we can’t possibly know or cast a value judgement on what goes on behind the scenes. You may already think I’ve spilled too many words in an opinion piece eulogising the career of someone who posted a 46% win rate in the top division and never found success in five tries at his career high rank of Komusubi.

Shohozan’s best wasn’t really about winning or losing though, at least not to me. It was about his contribution to enthralling battles, such as his epic late career encounters with Enho, or this bloody tsuppari special from Aki 2017 that ends in a loss to Yoshikaze (courtesy of Jason’s channel):

The man himself would surely prefer this example of a signature victory, his tsuppari giving way to the oh-so-satisfying bodyslam into the gyoji of Chiyonokuni at Haru 2012 (video courtesy of Maarike11):

The other day when reading quotes of interviews that Kintamayama had transcribed, I noted that rikishi are often reported with a desire “to go all out.” I asked our friend what the Japanese term for this actually was, and he said it’s “Ishoukenmei” (いしょうけんめい), and used in almost every interview to the press by rikishi. Lots of them may say it, but perhaps few actually deliver on the concept in the way that Shohozan did. Cheers to him for that, and best of luck to the man from Fukuoka in his second life.

Nagoya Banzuke Postmortem

A week ago, I tried to guess the banzuke before the official rankings came out. Now that they have been announced, let’s see how the Crystal Ball fared.

TLDR: the Crystal Ball nailed it this time. Of the 42 banzuke positions, I predicted 33 exactly, with 3 more rikishi at the correct rank but on the wrong side. Of the remaining 6 misses, 5 were by half a rank, with only a single pick (Chiyomaru) off by one full rank.

At the top of the maegashira ranks, the banzuke committee employed the predicted solution of moving absent Ichinojo down one rank, allowing Kiribayama, Takanosho, and Kotonowaka to have modest promotions. My only error down to M8e was placing Takayasu at M4e, ahead of Wakamotoharu, whom I had at M4w.

The banzuke committee placed Nishikigi at M8w, just ahead of Shimanoumi at M9e, while I had them the other way around. And that was the only other switch until M14w and below, which I had pegged as the trickiest area. Here, I placed Onosho half a rank ahead of the top promotion candidate from Juryo, Tsurugisho. The banzuke committee bucked their usual preference for upper maegashira over Juryo promotions and ranked them in opposite order.

Finally, I correctly predicted the other promotion candidates—Chiyomaru, Daiamami, and Nishikifuji— and placed them in the final 3 slots, but the banzuke committee ranked His Roundness at M17w, behind the other two.

With the rankings announced, we only have two weeks to wait until the start of the July tournament, and Team Tachiai looks forward to sharing our coverage of it with you!