Real sumo starts back up again on Sunday, and while we wait with anticipation to see what will happen on the return of some of the premiere stars of the sport, there will be a whole lot of rikishi mounting the dohyo early on in the day, and some of them belong to the next generation of superstars. With that, it’s the return of our Ones to Watch series where we highlight 20 upcoming rikishi from the bottom 4 divisions (and one other special friend of Tachiai).
This time, a slot opens up due to the promotion of Ones to Watch alum Mitoryu of Nishikido-beya, who makes his Juryo debut amid much fanfare. Descriptions here may be somewhat abbreviated as your humble correspondent needs to get on with the business of boarding a plane and going to the basho, but we’ll continue to check in with these guys throughout the tournament and see how they’re getting on, with further analysis.
Finally, as we’ve been following some of these guys for several tournaments now and they’ve repaid our faith by performing well, this month’s set of picks is very Makushita-heavy.
Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – There’s only one place to start. Miyagino-beya has been involved in some strange controversies in the last few weeks but the good news is that this man continues his trajectory. After acing his first 3 tournaments, he put up a solid 5 win record in November and finds himself nearer the cusp of the sekitori ranks.
However, here’s where things start to get really interesting: his match-ups this time will likely come from a combination of yo-yo rikishi who have bounced up and down from Juryo, grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time and fellow members of the next huge wave of up-and-comers (more of whom, imminently). Not that he didn’t have solid rivals last time out at Ms14, but I anticipate this tournament will be his first real test.
Ms6 Wakamotoharu, Ms17 Wakatakakage, Ms34 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The three brothers Onami and stablemates (who also all took/changed shikona in the last year presumably in tribute to their grandfather Wakabayama) have all taken up places for the first time towards the upper reaches of the Makushita division. We’ve put Wakatakakage under the spotlight as the university man with some pedigree has flown up the divisions, but he suffered his first make-koshi last time out. Will any of these men reach the next level – and if so, who will reach it first?
Ms8 Murata (Takasago) – We’ve been measuring Murata against Wakatakakage who debuted at the same time and more or less matched his records over several basho, but now it’s time to split them up. I was impressed with how Murata rebounded from a narrow make-koshi last time out to post a sterling 6-1 record and bound into the division’s top 10, but even more impressive was how he easily despatched the much heralded Shonannoumi in so doing.
Ms21 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – He had been blitzing his way up the banzuke and I had even tipped him as a sleeper yusho candidate last time out before he came a little unstuck and scraped a narrow 4-3. His match against Kiribayama is going to be interesting, and he’ll likely come up against our next man as well. This part of the banzuke always has an odd collection of mostly declining veterans and rikishi whose peak will be this level with the odd talented youngster thrown in and I’d like to see a more emphatic kachi-koshi here this time out.
Ms23 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – Here’s one of the bright spots for Isegahama-oyakata, as this man just continues his fast progress and the 21 year old put up his best record in 5 tournaments as he cruised to a 6 win basho last time out. As with Ichiyamamoto, how he navigates a mixed bag of opponents will determine how quickly he can join a pretty solid collection of rikishi in challenging for Juryo.
Ms30 Ryuko (Onoe) – Ryuko celebrates his anniversary in sumo here having never put up less than 5 wins. I think he will be challenged to continue this impressive feat this time out, as actually this area of the ranking sheet looks a bit tougher to me than where Ichiyamamoto and Nishikifuji find themselves. The 19 year old is off to a great, solid start to his career.
Ms31 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – An almost spotless opening to Tomokaze’s career has him 20-1 with two yusho. Now he takes on the 3rd division and will face some challenging rikishi (I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t run into Ryuko) in his bid to further clog up the Juryo promotion queue.
Ms49 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I really hemmed and hawed about whether I wanted to include him, and his heavy oshi- attack is a little rough around the edges, but I just have a good feeling here. The rank feels good for him and while the results by the numbers haven’t been especially spectacular, I think he’s a good follow for a few tournaments. Obviously, the pedigree is there.
Ms55 Tanabe (Kise) – Kise-beya needs some good news and it’s possible that Tanabe’s promotion to Makushita might be the start of it. Obviously there are an enormous number of rikishi ahead of him just within the stable both inside and outside of this division but I like his match ups at this level. He has done exceptionally well so far and has managed to break apart from Fukuyama who had managed to stay ranked in front of him despite what I saw as slightly poorer performance.
Sd2 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – Fukuyama gets his third crack at a division where he’s finally unlikely to have to face his bogeyman Tanabe any longer (Tanabe won all 3 of their match-ups). Only promotion will do this time out.
Sd21 Shoji (Musashigawa) – He’s 2 for 2 so far with a perfect record, despite the fact that rival Torakio has really pushed him to the max. Now he competes to match Enho’s stellar 3 straight yusho achievement from last year. This will be a tougher challenge. Also I’m interested to see what state his hair is in when he turns up this time.
Sd47 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – There are so many Sadogatake rikishi in this division including the fabulously named Kotozensho, but this man repaid our faith as he continued his comeback from a long injury layoff last time off and again the rank here feels good for success.
Sd83 Torakio (Naruto) – Oh boy. Torakio is a fireball with massive strength and even a bit of a temper as we saw last time out after his match with Shoji, and now he takes a crack at a new division at the bottom end where anything can happen. The big question for me is whether he can run his record to 6-0 and end up running into Shoji again, though this time I expect that will depend more on Shoji. If he has been performing well in training and continuing his progress, then I think we’re going to see a BIG tournament from the Bulgarian this time.
Jd23 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – The debut in Sandanme wasn’t what we all hoped at Tachiai, but a strong tournament here may reverse his fortunes and send him back up – or close to it.
Jd41 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – The 27 year old’s comeback after an extremely long layoff started well last time out as he notched 6 wins and earned a promotion. How far can he go?
Jd42 Hayashi (Fujishima) – The debut basho was mostly a success for the half-Filipino “Mike” Hayashi. His utter dismantling of the also promoted Bando (one of Izutsu’s few rikishi) was a fun watch but he won multiple matches in similar fashion and it’ll be interesting to see him come up against hopefully stronger competition.
Jk18 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – If you liked the way that Hayashi manhandled most of the opposition in his debut, then you’re going to love Yoshoyama, who makes his bow here and has been described as “enormous” and “a beast.” He makes his debut presumably a tournament ahead of fellow hotly tipped Mongolian Byambasuren and by all accounts it’s going to be fun to watch these two climb the banzuke. I’m going to be very surprised not to see a yusho here.
Jk19 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – Another debutant rolls off the Sadogatake production line. This isn’t a pick made looking massively down the line but rather one specifically for this tournament – Kototebakari has a sizeable mass advantage over most of his twig-like competitors at the level and having breezed through maezumo, it will be interesting to see how his match with Yoshoyama goes as it will maybe even give somewhat of an indication to how the Mongolian can deal with more developed rikishi at higher levels.
Our bonus is the man at Jk24, Hattorizakura, who enters the tournament again ranked above two rikishi and looking to avoid what would be a tenth consecutive winless tournament.