If you’re a person who feels like the lack of functioning Yokozuna has left a void of intrigue, or that the Juryo storylines for Haru weren’t enough to sate your lower division sumo appetite, then we’re happy to give you the gift of the Ones to Watch for this basho. Haru sees this series’ second and third graduates exit the listing, as Enho and Takayoshitoshi join Mitoryu as Ones to Watch alumni. We wish them the best of luck in the second division, hopefully onward and upward!
Ms1 Hakuyozan (Takadagawa) – We won’t get Hakuho at the top of Makuuchi in Osaka, but we will get Hakuyozan at the top of Makushita. The Takadagawa man has been around so long (seven years!) that it’s tough to believe he’s still only 22. After a long run at the level and a number of tries in promotion position, he has made it to the summit of the amateur divisions and four wins from a debut in a kesho-mawashi. He reached the same rank two years ago and failed at the first time of asking, and will hopefully be looking at better results this time, having skilfully navigated the brutal bottleneck at the top of the division to the extent that only his results matter now. He’s not a top prospect and struggles against more hyped opponents, but he’s worth a mention as someone who could be about to make the next step and potentially play a part in the turnover of the upper divisions.
Ms1 Wakatakakage (Arashio) – We’ve been featuring him here since his impressive debut, and now with a yusho in the bag in both the third and fourth divisions, the reigning Makushita championship holder will look to grab the kachi-koshi that will surely seal his promotion to Juryo. Last time out we featured him alongside his brothers, who may not be far behind, but the alliterative rikishi from Fukushima has established a rather impressive record to go with an equally impressive collection of early kimarite. This tournament will present different challenges than he faced in week one at Ms17, but it’s hard to look past the yusho holder when making a list of must-follow competitors at this level in Osaka.
Ms5 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – It dawned on me while writing this that for all of their mainstays in the top divisions, we’ve never featured a Kokonoe-beya rikishi in one of these listings. Chiyonoumi won three early yusho to vault him up the banzuke only to fall to an extended kyujo period and have to rebuild his status again. Therefore it is a bit of an anomaly that at the age of 25, this is only his 14th tournament. Of his previous tournaments, he has suffered only one make-koshi and has rebounded nicely to put himself into promotion position, a lane made slightly clearer now that he will no longer have to face a seasoned sekitori in Osunaarashi.
Ms11 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – Hatsu made it a sixth consecutive convincing kachi-koshi to open Ichiyamamoto’s career, and he will look for similar results in Osaka to set himself up for a promotion window at Natsu. ‘Big Guns’ Shohozan is the only sekitori in the stable, but the oshi-specialist Ichiyamamoto is making a case to join him later this year by relying on relentless forward motion to put together a string of impressive, clinical performances. As with Wakatakakage, the top quarter of the Makushita division will present some altogether different challenges than he faced the last few times out, and adjusting to veteran opposition will be the challenge here. There are a slew of Juryo/Makuuchi vets right in front of him on the banzuke and he will surely get matched with some of them over the next two weeks.
Ms13 Murata (Takasago) – Murata had a setback last time as he ran into highly competitive opposition, but there’s not going to be any let-up this time despite the drop from Ms8 to Ms13. He will likely face many of the same names that pushed him to a 3-4 make-koshi, but he suffered the same result at Aki and responded at Kyushu by correcting errors en route to a convincing 6-1 record which vaulted him up the banzuke and into the promotion mixer. The good side of his challenging list of likely opponents is that he did face many of them four months ago in that strong Kyushu, and that should position him confidently to reclaim his spot in the top ten at Natsu.
Ms17 Ryuko (Onoe) – Ryuko is just one loss worse off than Ichiyamamoto in his career, and it’s fairly incredible that the difference between them at this point is their first ever professional match in Jonokuchi, a head-to-head bout won by Ichiyamamoto on his way to the yusho. Another oshi-heavy fighter, Ryuko now comes into a part of the banzuke where he’s going to be pitted against tougher opponents. A 4 or 5 win tournament here would be a good show of progress.
Ms18 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – He knocked off Ryuko at Hatsu and I would expect him to face him again and win again. I expect a little more from the Oguruma man who has pocketed two lower division yusho already. He shows promise, and may be able to stem the bleeding the stable is starting to experience in the top two divisions. It would be an enormous surprise if he’s not able to get to Juryo by Kyushu, especially as the promotion lanes appear to be more open than ever, in spite of the enormous bottleneck at the top of the division. Tomokaze is a good sized rikishi with good physicality, but maintaining mobility and balance in his matches against tougher rikishi is going to be key.
Ms46 Tochikodai (Kasugano) – It’s an exciting time at Kasugano-beya, and after a steady start to his career, Tochikodai pressed the accelerator with an impressive 7 win run at Sandanme to launch himself far up the banzuke. Many who dominate the lower levels tend to struggle in their first matches in mid-Makushita, so how he copes with a significantly increased quality of opposition may be fascinating. What’s also interesting is where we see many prospects relying on oshi-zumo manoeuvres, Tochikodai is, like his stablemate Tochinoshin, a rikishi who wants to get on the mawashi. He has no issue waiting out his opponent in the middle of the dohyo before attempting a more varied mix of kimarite than the common oshidashi-or-nothing.
Ms47 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – We’ll allow a mulligan here as Nishikifuji suffered along with many other Isegahama rikishi from illness during the Hatsu basho, which deposited him back down around the ranking we saw him at Kyushu. He turned in a strong performance there, however, and the goal now is to reclaim the ranking in the upper half of the division that he ceded with his poor performance at Hatsu. Hopefully he’s genki and ready to go.
Ms56 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – It’s five straight kachi-koshi to open the Fujishima man’s career, but the last two have been of the last day variety. Fukuyama has somewhat tracked careers with Tanabe thus far, and as the rikishi that I’ve always felt was more talented – Tanabe – struggled to hold his own at this level last time out, that may forebode similar results. An early 4th win would do wonders here.
Sd2 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – As I said at the time, this is going to be more of the draft-and-follow type of pick for me. We’ll hang in there because we believe in the man’s pedigree, and there’s just a lot of interesting stuff happening at Musashigawa-beya right now. We regularly have 2-3 rikishi on the list and while it has taken him a while to progress, it’s getting tough to look past this man – the top in the stable – as potentially the one who will represent the stable at some point (maybe late 2019 or 2020) in the professional ranks.
Sd12 Tanabe (Kise) – Tanabe was still in zanbara at Hatsu and in addition to not looking the part, he didn’t act the part. He’s another oshi-zumo guy who suffered some truly humiliating losses in his debut at Makushita level following a confident progression to the division over 4 tournaments in which he made it look, frankly, easy. The minimum requirement here is a competent, strong kachi-koshi, so that he can get back where he belongs and continue his progression. Confidence is really the key word in terms of what I’m looking for out of Tanabe this time out.
Sd37 Shoji (Musashigawa) – Shoji probably wasn’t the best rikishi in the two tournaments he won over Torakio, but he won them and that’s what counts. But in so doing, he was promoted beyond his means and fell to a narrow make-kochi last time out. I think he’s well placed here to regain his momentum. His tachiai isn’t brilliant but that’s to be expected at the level. This guy does more grappling than Edmund Hillary. The interesting thing in that is that while he cruised to those first two yusho mostly with push/thrust victories, he clearly seems to want to go to work on the mawashi, as Murray Johnson might say. Watching the development of a young rikishi in that moment is pretty fascinating stuff.
Sd89 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – Obviously, we breathlessly covered the Texan’s re-promotion to the fourth tier at Hatsu, and we’ll be looking for better results this time out following a tough Kyushu at the level where he posted just one win. However if we’re looking for positive omens, he seems to struggle a bit against the seemingly omnipresent Sadogatake rikishi in this part of the banzuke with a 1-4 record against the stable, and it’s unlikely he’ll face more than one of them this time out. His markedly more confident dohyo presence (including a face slapping routine which feels like it could even develop into something Takamisakari inspired) is continuing to make him an even more enjoyable watch. As ever, Team Tachiai will be cheering him on.
Jd5 Hayashi (Fujishima) vs Jd5 Torakio (Naruto) – It’s kind of cool when you get to see two really interesting rikishi at the same rank this far down. Mike Hayashi has had two quietly good tournaments to start his career. His positioning at the top of the division is arguably a lot more interesting from a competitive perspective than had he been promoted a level after his 5 win Hatsu, as a good tournament could see him set for a huge promotion next time out. Torakio, meanwhile, has been demoted following a shocking time of it at Hatsu where he went 2-4-1, suffering a henka loss and then two nasty throws which left him clutching his arm in pain both times. The strong Bulgarian has already shown he can be a force to be reckoned with – and it’ll be interesting to see his health tested, especially should he be drawn as expected against his counterpart here from the off.
Jd42 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – Kototebakari just had too much for his opponents last time out, and at 188 cm had a big height advantage on competitors. He is an imposing rikishi and only lost the yusho via a playoff after dropping his only match on a visit up a level to Jonidan, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the improved level of competition. Sadogatake have an enormous amount of rikishi in the stable – he’s going to be an interesting follow as the stable has a couple interesting prospects but many rikishi who are lost in Sandanme.
Jd78 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – Bigger things were expected in the debut from the Mongolian who limped to a 4-3 kachi-koshi. He didn’t appear as strong as his billing, but if you’re looking for positives at least you can say he has a lower and more aggressive tachiai than his much maligned stablemate Shodai. This is still a part of the banzuke where a good prospect can do some serious damage, and if he’s added strength/weight he should still be a good bet for a strong tournament.
Haru is the tournament that sees the most amount of entrants to the sport, and we will see a bumper crop of new, talented rikishi taking their turns in mae-zumo. However, two of the most anticipated debutants will make their full bow in Osaka, and both come with connections to two of the all time greats – along with considerable media coverage:
Jk18 Naya (Otake) – he is the grandson of Taiho, and so naturally has moved into the predecessor heya to the one owned/operated by his grandfather, the great. He is also the son of former Sekiwake/oyakata and 9-time kinboshi specialist Takatoriki. So, he has some fairly large footsteps to fill. However, at just the age of 18, he is already a fairly massive 166kg. His progression will be fascinating to watch, along with that of…
Jk19 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – The nephew of Yokozuna Asashoryu has been covered/anticipated in sumo circles for a while. You may have seen him referenced under his real name Byambasuren before he took a shikona referencing his famous relative. While comparisons will doubtlessly be made, it would be unfair to expect the meteoric rise of his uncle. Naya got the better of him in maezumo, and they will inevitably match up again here, and it may be the first of many interesting battles to come, should they both meet their potential and hype.