Tachiai fan favorite Ura finds himself in the thick of a very competitive Makushita division to start 2019, and it will be his biggest challenge in more than a year. Out of all of the stories that will be woven through Hatsu 2019, Ura’s battle to return to the top division continues to attract an increasing number of followers, as the master of “What the hell was that?” Sumo continues to fight his way though the ranks.
Ura attracted a great deal of attention from the start. A youth sumo competitor, he began his professional sumo career in May of 2015, and made quick work of the lower divisions. His promotion to Makushita in November of 2015 (his 4th basho) did not seem to slow him down at all, and he dispatched nearly every opponent. His arrival in Juryo in May of 2016 came just 1 year after his Jonikuchi debut. The man is a fierce competitor, and is the bane of any rikishi who faces off against him across the shikir-sen. He gained a well deserved following for his dynamic, acrobatic and sometimes unbelievable sumo.
But a tragic injury during Aki 2017 damaged his right knee, and he assumed at the time that his sumo career had ended. He opted for reconstructive surgery, and sat out healing tournament after tournament while his rank plunged down the banzuke, falling to the bottom of Sandanme before he was strong enough to return to competition a year after his injury. Since his return, it’s clear that his months spent healing his lower body allowed him to focus on his upper body, and he returned to the dohyo with a rather impressive gain in strength. He tore through his first two tournaments, scoring only a single loss.
After taking the Sandanme yusho in November, he has been ranked Makushita 23 for the Hatsu basho. The top quartile of Makushita is some of the most brutal, tough and flat out rank in sumo. This area is populated with rikishi who have fallen from the lofty ranks of Sekitori, and up and coming youngsters who are so close to the glory, money and privileges of the top two divisions. In some way it’s more rough and tumble than any other sumo group. Ura will be in this grinder, slugging it out for rank.
Some of Ura’s fans have asked if he should score a 7-0 yusho (possible but not likely) would he would be returned to Juryo. Truth be told, the climb through the top of Makushita into Juryo is sometimes referred to as “the wall”, and we can expect even a 7-0 finish to probably not be enough to do more than move him into the top 10 of Makushita for March. In order to reach Juryo, a rikishi must have both a strong winning score at the top of the division, and a slot must open up in Juryo by make-koshi, injury or retirement.
How tough will the competition be? Let’s look at some possible opponents:
- Hoshoryu – Yes, that guy; Asashoryu’s nephew. He’s fast, strong and like Ura, has his eye set on a Sekitori rank.
- Kizakiumi – A former college rikishi, he is another tough competitor who so far has not had to deal with injuries.
- Chiyootori – Yes, the former Komusubi currently fighting it out to return to the top divisions, but mired in the Makushita mosh pit. This would be a tough, and exciting match.
It should be noted, that bout scheduling in Makushita works differently than the upper divisions. The first match will be someone close to the rikishi’s rank, then rikishi with the same score (ie, 2-0) will face each other in each successive match, with the schedule trying to keep huge rank mismatches from taking place.
Team Tachiai will be glued to our screens for each of Ura’s matches, as he has finally reached the rank where his recovery will be put to the test.