Fresh Blood In The Upper Ranks.
Since the final day of Natsu, it was easy to know that the Nagoya banzuke was going to be a wild tangle of re-ranking and fresh faces. It’s publication on June 25th did not fall short of that idea, and in fact further review of the ranking sheet indicates that sumo fans are in for a wild ride this basho.
Chief among the factors for chaos are the sizable number of young rikishi who are making their upper Maegashira debuts in Nagoya. Many of these young men are healthy and strong, and are eager to make the most of what will likely be a short stay in the top half of sumo’s top division.
These freshly elevated rikishi will face an entrenched and determined San’yaku, most of whom are well rested, in good health and ready for battle.
Takakeisho – Ranked at an impressive Maegashira 1 West, this newcomer has only been in sumo since Aki 2014. Let that sink in, he’s only 20 years old, and he has been almost unstoppable. He has won 4 yusho: Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Makushita and Juryo. He turned in an 11-4 record for both prior basho as a Maegashira. Some sumo fans will wonder where this guy came from, and what he is all about. While I am not predicting a kachi-koshi for him in Nagoya, it’s going to be interesting to see what he does against the top men of sumo. Because he is M1w, you can expect him to face the likes of Hakuho, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Goeido and Mitakeumi. One thing is certain, Takakeisho will be challenged.
Hokutofuji – To date this rikishi has only ever had one make-koshi tournament. Now he enters Nagoya Maegashira 2 West. He has won three yusho: Jonidan, Sandanme and Juryo. He is big, he is powerful and he is patient. Watching him compete reminds me a great deal of Takayasu. He has the potential of being a significant factor of the Maegashira ranks for some time if he can stay healthy, and if he does not get discouraged by the level of competition at the top end of sumo. As Maegashira 2, you can expect him to face the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps during the first week. I especially hope that we get to see him against Terunofuji and Harumafuji, as their unique and somewhat unstoppable form of sumo will present a level of competition that Hokutofuji has yet to encounter.
Ura – A fan favorite, Ura may be doing almost as much as Kisenosato to energize the fan base in Japan. In addition to his unorthodox and anything-goes sumo style, he seems to be a genuinely nice and personable guy. He struggled to bulk up and then to learn how to manage his mass prior to entering Makuuchi, but during Natsu it was clear he had found some manner of recipe to bring his unique brand of sumo into the upper division and make it work. Now at Maegashira 4 East, he will certainly face at least a handful of San’yaku rikishi. This could include (during the first week) : Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku and Mitakeumi.
Kagayaki – Kagayaki seems to get overlooked, at least up until now. He is a quiet, un-assuming rikishi who seem to just want to train and compete. Japan loves this kind of guy, and sumo is built on the shoulders of men like this. Like Kisenosato, he took the slow road to his rank, and has been griding hard since he joined sumo at age 16. Unlike some of the other rising stars, he cannot show a string of yusho or a rapid rise. But he never gives up, and never gets discouraged. Even when he suffers a set back, such as in 2015-2016 when he bounced between Juryo and Makuuchi, he just kept training, kept working hard. At Maegashira 4 west, he will face the same card that Ura does, and we will see him take on (at minimum) Sekiwake and Komusubi opponents.
Onosho – While not in the upper Maegashira ranks, Onosho is worth a mention. Due to the blood-bath in the upper half of Makuuchi in Tokyo, he finds himself launched from Maegashira 14 to Maegashira 6. This huge move up the banzuke will present him with a vast increase in difficulty. He will face off against the likes of Ura, Endo and Ikioi. With any luck, he will gamberize, and present a strong challenge.