Hatsu Story 4 – The Tadpole Army


Harumafuji’s departure was likely the starting gun for the wave of change that will sweep through sumo’s upper division. Entering Hatsu 2018, we have two additional Yokozuna that could possibly face retirement if they are not able to perform at Grand Champion level. Likewise, we sadly lost an Ozeki when Terunofuji was unable to defend his rank as an Ozekiwake in Kyushu. This means that the promotion lanes, still impossibly narrow, are starting to open and could be active later this year.

As is always the case in these times, there is a vigorous crop of young rikishi who are battling their way to the top, eager to make their bid to attain sumo’s highest ranks. Most of them are in their mid to early 20’s and have a distinctive, bulbous body shape. I have nicknamed this cohort the “tadpoles”.

Days before Hatsu, we have a determined group of young men who we expect to keep the Ozeki and Yokozuna on their toes.

Mitakeumi – I would call him the king of the tadpoles, as he was the first to reach the upper ranks. He showed a great deal of promise early and then broadened his sumo from the traditional Tadpole Oshi sumo by becoming increasingly competent fighting on the mawashi. He has proven surprisingly resilient at Sekiwake, including at Kyushu where he seemed to struggle at times, but prevailed with a workable 9-6 record.

Takakeisho – At times he seems almost unstoppable, but his mostly tsuppari offense leaves him a bit one-dimensional. He has the body, the health, and the drive to go far, but right now he does not seem to be able to go chest to chest with the upper ranks, and that will keep him out of Ozeki contention.

Onosho – As long as he keeps the red mawashi on, I think he can keep winning. Although he ranks one slot below Takakeisho, my opinion is that he is a more versatile rikishi, and has a real shot at staging a bid for Ozeki this year. It may be a few more years before he can succeed, however.

Hokutofuji – Where Takakeisho and Onosho grab the attention, Hokutofuji continues to move ahead with commanding force. For Hatsu, he is ranked one step behind Onosho, but his sumo has a greater degree of variation than the two rikishi immediately ahead of him. At this point, all of Hokutofuji’s problems are in his head, and the moment he accepts his skill and fixes his mind, he is Ozeki material.

There is another group behind them, who are not quite ready to shine.

Yutakayama – He has moments of brilliance interspaced with matches he should have won. To a large degree, he has the skill and ring sense to at least be upper Maegashira if he can improve his focus and his reaction times. Many fans think there is no hope for this guy, but I am quite sure he’s got a lot of room to grow.

Kagayaki – He needs to replicate Kisenosato’s approach. He does not have the overwhelming talent of Onosho, but he has the workmanlike persistence to grind his way higher. Sadly at Takadagawa beya, he may not have a consistent partner (as Kisenosato has Takayasu) to help forge his strength. [See here and here for lists of Takadagawa’s members. –PinkMawashi]

Asanoyama – I think this guy has huge potential. He had a bad basho in November, and Hatsu will be the one that reveals if he is going to persist and advance or be washed back down to Juryo to re-focus.

33 thoughts on “Hatsu Story 4 – The Tadpole Army

  1. I think with Mitakeumi, it is worth remembering he fought through some limiting injuries in the last couple of basho in 2017, so I imagine double digits will be on the cards for the upcoming tournaments.

    Also with Takakeisho, I seem to recall him beating guys right at the top of the banzuke in Kyushu. Interested to see whether he tries to implement more mawashi technique (I mentioned once before I think he has shown some glimmers of throwing ability), or whether he tries to really focus on making his pushing attack next to unstoppable.

    With Onosho, I hope that going forwards, he can make sure that if he loses, he bounces back and wins the next day, rather than going on a longer losing streak (he did this week 2 of Aki and week 1 of Kyushu).

    • More than the other tadpoles, Mitakeumi has certainly been tested and has shown that he can hold on to his Sekiwake spot. Since the start of 2017, he’s been in the joi and hasn’t posted a single make-koshi record.

      • Yeah, he’s in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment. There is at least one more level of power he’s going to need if he wants to try and string together 33 wins. I think he will do it eventually, and Hatsu 2018 may be the stepping off point.

  2. Also I am predicting decent things from Abi and Ryuden, they have looked good in recent tournaments, so interested to see how they make the step up to makuuchi

  3. I’m a skeptic on Yutakayama and Asanoyama–I think they both look light up there. For their size they sure don’t look strong. But they certainly have the build and I’d love to see them make the next step on unlocking their potential.

    • I think balance and weight distribution may be particular issues for Yutakayama. Watch out for the way he falls, it seems to be a consistent problem that he cant find a solid centre of gravity. He is still very young and seems pretty dominant in juryo so there is a lot of scope for him to adjust aspects of his sumo to the top division.

        • Onosho has more of an overcommitment problem. Everyone at Aki 2017 spotted it – he’d go in for the attack and either get slapped down or, against Takayasu, just plain fall over of his own accord. He was able to turn in a kachi-koshi despite that, and if he has any sense, he’ll have been training hard on improving that aspect of his sumo.

  4. I’m hopeful that Asanoyama rebounds this Basho and has a good showing. He’s been so dominant throughout his short career, and I have to wonder what having 4 consecutive losses twice in one basho did to his confidence. Before November he only had one streak that was more than two losses in a row. Hopefully, now that he knows what losing feels like he will apply himself more and not just rely on his innate talent.

    • Asanoyama was said to have some foot or ankle issues prior to Kyushu (can’t remember exactly now), and it showed in his sumo…as soon as he got moved backwards he was toast, because he just couldn’t generate any power to resist. The few wins he did get were mainly against opponents who lacked the strength to take him head-on. If he’s over that issue, he should be much closer to his Aki form than that of Kyushu.

  5. Bit surprised at Kagayaki’s presence here. Never been impressed with him, really.

    Couple of omissions to throw in for discussion: Endo who though battling injury recently seems to have recovered his mojo, and Okinoumi who impressed in the last tourney. How high might they rise?

    And I know we have another whole article on him, but ichinojo still has plenty of potential, no?

    • Both Endo and Okinoumi are from a different generation, and this posting was completely to focus on the young crowd, the “Tadpoles” as we call them. I have hopes that both Endo and Okinoumi can turn things around, as they deliver some great sumo.

      Kagayaki shows up specifically I think he is not done ripening yet, and in a couple of years could be a contender.

  6. Asanoyama and Yutakayama (and Daiamami) don’t count as tadpoles: they are just huge men with arms long enough to grip the mawashi. This kind of blatant misrepresention keeps me awake at nights.

    If a tadpole gets to ozeki does he turn into a frog? And does he then need a kiss from a princess to become a yokozuna?

    • You are correct sir. Thankfully in the modern age any moderately attractive idol can be substituted for a princess.

      • Mitakeumi will always be the Tadpole Princess to me, due to his strange official mugshot pic from 2016. It made him look like he was wearing lip gloss and contouring.

  7. By the way, if you think that Asanoyama is Mr. Sunshine who just loves sumo, wait for Abi, AKA Peter Pan.

    Q: You don’t eat much, do you?
    A: I don’t. I have no interest in food, really.

    Q: What’s your favorite food?
    A: Ramen. Also I seriously love MacDonald’s. Sutadon. Yoshinoya [Japanese restaurant chain]. What I hate is vegetables [laughs].

    Q: Which rikishi do you respect?
    A: Of the active ones, Kakuryu. I used to be his tsukebito. But already had nothing but respect for him. I felt there were a lot of things to learn from watching him. Of the past ones, of course my stablemaster (Shikoroyama oyakata). I really respect him as a man.

    Q: What are your goals from now on?
    A: In 2018, I want to win the Makuuchi Yusho. As for the future, I want to go further than my stablemaster (former Terao, top rank Sekiwake), so I want to be an Ozeki. And I will be!

    Big LOL. “I want to win the yusho this year! I will be Ozeki! I hate vegetables! I’m not interested in food, except Ramen and Mac and Sutadon and Yoshinoya!

    Who took a 7-year-old boy and put him in a 23-year old rikishi’s body?


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