As stated, I have a great sense of trepidation about the upcoming May tournament in Tokyo. Some of that has now been realized, but at the same time, there is a huge amount of awesome sumo that is about to take place. In spite of my concerns about much-loved veterans facing the end of glorious careers on the dohyo, sumo’s future is bright, and there is an army of fresh talent pressing hard to rise through the ranks. The Tadpoles are nursing their wounds, the Freshmen are ascendant, the old guard is fading with grace and dignity – the anticipation for this basho is off the charts!
I would have to start with Ichinojo. I am not sure why he is pressing for Konishiki-class mass, but he has increased his already considerable bulk in the run up to Natsu. With that much Mongolian meat on the move, any opponent is advised to think creatively and act quickly. Even Yokozuna Hakuho had trouble with him in training, showing that Ichinojo is a force for Natsu. While his new larger weight may cause him and his opponents trouble, it is going to make for some world class, amazing sumo.
Shin-Komusubi Endo has been a heartbreak trail for years, battling injuries and various problems as he struggled to rise through the ranks. Going into Natsu, he seems to be genki, and at his highest ever rank. Unlike some fast rising rikishi who bounce hard off the San’yaku wall, there is some hope that Endo may hold on. His sumo has been looking solid and focused, and we know he has the drive to win.
I find great interest in the fact that two of my “Freshmen” are in the joi for this tournament: Abi and Yutakayama. Abi has had a meteoric rise, in part due to a superb combination of oshi-zumo and very long limbs. Coupled with excellent mobility, he has been an interesting and potent take on the all-too-common pusher-thruster pattern that seems to dominate ranks below San’yaku. Now we see what happens against the top of the sumo world, and frankly I can’t wait. Yutakayama has been single minded in his determination to rise to the top, requiring multiple attempt to even remain in Makuuchi. Now he’s going to face Ozeki and Yokozuna. I expect him to be tossed like a cork on the raging sea, but it’s part of making him a better rikishi.
Somehow Shodai is back at Maegashira 4, in spite of two back to back make-koshi records. This guy has some phenomenal luck, or is close drinking buddies with the banzuke team. I still think he has potential, if he can stop losing matches at the tachiai. Then there is Ikioi. Everyone loves Ikioi, and why not? He was a self-propelled orthopedic crisis for all of Osaka, but managed to win big. Is he still genki? Is he going to find his groove and win?
I think Ryuden may have a break-out performance this tournament. At Maegashira 7, he is in a sweet spot on the banzuke, and I think he has a good shot at a kachi-koshi, while many above him in the banzuke will be fodder for the San’yaku. I also think Hokutofuji is due for a rebound. He has been looking poorly the past few tournaments. At one point he was a bright up-and-coming star, until a series of injuries took his sumo down a couple of notches.
On the subject of “what happened to their sumo?”, we can lump dear Yoshikaze and Arawashi into that bin. Both of these guys need a good tournament for a change, and I am putting my faith that they are going to show up rested and eager.
But I love the bottom of the banzuke yet again this basho. Uncle sumo is back? Nishikigi holds on against all odds? And Kyokutaisei makes the big leagues? Yes, yes and more yes!
Bring on the basho, it’s time for this sumo fan to smile.