Prior to Aki 2018, it was clear there was a handful of high-potential rikishi ranked in the bottom half of the banzuke, and we wrote that there was a strong chance that these “ringers” might over-perform the rest of the lower Maegashira. As sumo tournaments are a zero-sum competition (everyone who wins delivers a loss to their opponent), a handful of strong performers at the bottom of the banzuke will result in a large number of make-koshi rikishi, and an absolute headache for ranking in November. Let’s take a look at who was wrecking the torikumi for September.
Yoshikaze – Full disclaimer, I am a huge Yoshikaze fan. He was worryingly weak during the Nagoya basho, so much so that I wrote that he might be on the cusp of retiring. At 36 years, he is one of the older sekitori. Yoshikaze also has secure “elder stock” in the sumo association, assuring he will continue to be part of the sumo world well after he chooses to retire. The Aki banzuke ranked him at Maegashira 15w, and a make-koshi in September would have seen him drop from the top division. But the “Berserker” had put whatever ailed him aside, and roared to an 11-4 record. Fans noted that his body seemed to be covered with some sort of rash for at least part of the basho, but it did not seem to affect his performance.
Nishikigi – He has never been very genki, and mostly scooted along the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke, bouncing between lower Maegashira and Juryo. But lately his sumo has improved enough that he has been not only able to hold Maegashira rank, but has brought in two double-digit win tournaments this year. It has been fascinating to watch Nishikigi – who seems to never give up no matter how badly he is doing in a tournament – keep slowly improving no matter what. Toward the end of Aki he was paired against two mid-ranked opponents, M7 Shohozan and M9 Hokutofuji, and beat them both for the first time. He even managed to win against fading former Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Whatever transformation has taken place, it’s great to watch and we hope he can continue to strive for higher performance.
Ryuden – After bad health problems in 2013 and 2014, Ryuden dropped all the way down from a (then-career-high) Juryo 12 West to Jonokuchi, and fought his way back up through the ranks. Since returning to Sekitori status, he has floated between good and terrible, with his 3-12 disaster at May’s Natsu basho a standout. He had a series of good matches at Aki, but that included puzzling losses to hapless Ishiura and Kotoyuki. Despite this, his 10-5 result will likely catapult him back to mid-Maegashira ranks. Fans rightly wonder if he will be able to hold on this time.
Takanoiwa – In October of 2017, Takanoiwa was involved in an after-hours party that led to him being in the hospital with a head wound, and Harumafuji out of sumo. Recent court activity shows that those two are not done fighting, though now they let their lawyers grapple. After sitting out two tournaments and dropping to lower Juryo, Takanoiwa has been kachi-koshi for the past 4 tournaments, including the Juryo yusho in the sweltering heat of Nagoya. Returning to the top division for September, he managed a respectable 10-5 record. Prior to his injury, he was a dependable mid-Maegashira rikishi, and given the blood bath at the top of the banzuke in September, he seems likely to return to that posting for Kyushu in November. Sadly the distractions for Takanoiwa are likely not over. In a puzzling complex of events, his stable master, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, left sumo and closed his stable. As a result, Takanoiwa and the rest of the Takanohana rikishi have been re-homed to Chiganoura heya, which will surely disrupt Takanoiwa’s training and mindset.
All four of these rikishi are likely to see steep promotions for Kyushu, and Tachiai will be eagerly awaiting the publication of the November banzuke in just a couple of weeks.