Hatsu, Black Francis & The Reckoning


Andy and Bruce’s comments earlier in the week caused me to reflect on my own wishes for sumo in 2019. We’ve touched a bit on this in the Tachiai podcast (smash that subscribe button!), but in advance of marking the start of another spin around the sun and amidst an ever growing awareness of the passing of time, let me dive into what I’m looking for in sumo in 2019:

The Reckoning

While in Fukuoka, I accused Bruce of being the tin-hatted toilet-paper-hoarding apocalypse-touting fallout bunker dweller of Tachiai, so steadfast has been his insistence that we are on the verge of the great changing of the guard in sumo with never before seen masses of intai and tadpole-shaped superstars (plus Kagayaki) claiming scalps and kinboshi from the mass graves of fallen heroes.

I’ll stop putting words in Bruce’s mouth here, but let me just say, while maintaining the utmost reverence for those mainstays who have provided us joy, that I’m joining ranks with the big man and giving a full-throated welcome to sumo’s next dimension.

Does this mean I’m no longer Mr. Hakuho-2020-Ganbare? Hardly. But, I’m fine with the Boss serving up 2-3 glorious basho a year until the 2020 Olympics. As discussed in that latest Tachiai podcast (like and subscribe) however, we’ve been talking about this for the past year and the only major retirements we’ve actually seen have been tied to the Harumafuji Scandal. Woof.

I want to see a Yusho in 2019 from Takayasu. It’s been there for him to take and it’s time for him to step up and take it and show us he can at least make a case to be Yokozuna. I have a hard time buying into the idea that being a “good” Ozeki would be enough for Takayasu. As things stand he’s the only one of the top 7 ranked rikishi not to have claimed the Emperor’s Cup, and when you consider that sumo is usually dominated by a small group of men (a fact that has been especially true since the rise of Asashoryu and then Hakuho and to a lesser extent Harumafuji), he may never have a better moment.

By the way, The Reckoning doesn’t mean we don’t have time for romantic storylines. Do I want to see a sumo world without Kotoshogiku? Of course not (especially if he brings back the bend). But his two-way career-suicide pact with Toyonoshima adds intrigue as the latter continues his re-emergence as sekitori and continues his climb back towards Maegashira status so that the two men can resume their ages old rivalry. What price a torinaoshi, a final hug, chug and goodnight?

Hot Names for 2019

Takakeisho. Yutakayama. Onosho. Tomokaze. Meisei. Yago. Hokutofuji. Abi. These are the guys I think we will see regularly taking their lumps in the joi by the end of the year. Yes, even shin-Juryo man and yusho-grabber Tomokaze – who should make quick work of the second tier and establish his upper-top division credentials before the leaves turn.

The Pixies

I don’t know about you, but perhaps more than most, I like little-guy sumo. When you talk about the old times, I love Mainoumi. I couldn’t wait for Ura to make it up to the top division and I rooted for Ishiura and still do even when we could all see a henka coming through the thick gritty sludge of a protein shake.

While Ura packed on the pounds (leading some to question whether the bam-thwok of all the pressure on his knees led to his injury) and Ishiura slid out of the top division, there are still a number of smaller rikishi, rough diamonds who are making a considered assault on the slots held by the current crop of rank-and-filers. I predict that all of them will bossanova their way into the top division in 2019. Here come our men:

Terutsuyoshi is the closest, having maintained a lengthy stay in Juryo. The copious salt thrower is, for my money, the man to restore glory to Isegahama-beya and, given the way he shows no fear against gigantic opponents, I think he can ring the bell in the top division for a long time.

Wakatakakage is one of three brothers from Arashio-beya who have troubled the upper ranks of the amateur ranks over the past couple of years. However, he is the first to make it to Juryo and looks to be making quick work of the division. Like Terutsuyoshi, he is a tenacious rikishi, taking his opponents head on. He has a good grasp of fundamentals.

Enho is perhaps the newest darling of the sumo world, and you can tell from the wall of sound that echoes around the arena when he enters the dohyo. If I’m Endo I’m looking over my shoulder with some of these endorsement deals, because this new pretty boy packs a punch and delivers the enthusiasm and frankly excitement that’s been missing from the current pin-up boy’s sumo over the past year. Having quickly debased the credentials of the opposition in the bottom four divisions, his elastic antics call to mind Ura, and I for one can’t wait to see the erstwhile Hakuho-bagboy and the cherry blossom mawashi man have at it with kensho on the line.

The Tachiai Community

It’s been a pleasure to spend another year contributing along with the others on the site. It’s been incredible to see this community continue to grow, and even to meet folks in person at basho in Japan. Please continue to stay in touch with us, and tell your friends in the sumo community. And if the Natsu Tachiai meet-up comes to fruition, then we’ll look forward to seeing you there!

20 thoughts on “Hatsu, Black Francis & The Reckoning

    • The word is that Kotoshogiku is remaining in the game while Toyonoshima continues his comeback to makuuchi, so that the two can renew their ages old rivalry – and they will not retire in the meantime. Toyonoshima has done his part while Kotoshogiku has been hanging in there in a good but somewhat diminished capacity and Toyonoshima should be in position to challenge for promotion back to the top division in the next couple tournaments.

  1. great summary for the coming year
    thank you

    i’m so with you re the pixies
    it takes a lot of moxie for each of them to stand up to the big guys; major respect and admiration

    • You got it

      There are endless amounts of things that can be said about sumo which is what makes it great…. but I want to see these guys in the top division giving their best against the big guns

  2. The amazing thing about watching the pixies in action is how they don’t get many easy wins and have to battle tooth and nail for their victories. They can’t steamroller opponents at the tachiai like a Chiyotairyu or a Takayasu so really have to dig in and wait for their opportunity. That is unless they pull a henka!

    The one of your hot names I’m not so sure about is Abi. He’s been struggling a bit of late and it’s going to be really interesting to see whether he continues to get found out as a bit of a one trick pony, or whether he can develop his sumo to add more techniques and re-establish that element of surprise he first had when he burst onto the scene.

    Thanks Josh and all the tachiai contributors for some really interesting commentary ahead of Hatsu!

    • Yes, for sure!

      I almost included Abi separately, but the thing with him is that he’s “struggling” now owing to his emphasis on developing additional techniques, and it’s going to take some time for that to come off in the dohyo, and the fact that I think owing to the way that sumo works and where you need to be ranked in order to make your living, he’s really doing this kind of on the fly and learning at the top level while doing most (obviously not all) of his training with folks at a lower potential ability/execution level. It kind of reminds me of the Tochinoshin/Mitakeumi connection in that he’s going to need to find a consistent training partner on or above his level in order to be able to start to execute that stuff at a higher level.

      THAT ALL BEING SAID: I think even his current brand of sumo if further refined probably gives him the ceiling of a Shohozan who has been in his own right a joi-botherer for most of his recent career and a five time komusubi. So, Shohozan with the Endo fanbase is kind of the path he’s been on for me – if he can put it together and add the yotsu-zumo then I would revise that up to Tamawashi being his absolute floor as a Sekiwake+, which may even compare favourably to some of the other names above

  3. I worry about Takayasu’s mental composure. Yes, there was that loss to Mitakeumi that cost him the Fukuoka yusho, but there have been other moments too. When he faced Hakuho in Aki, he was so visibly nervous that he lost the match before it even started.

    I’m -hoping- that Fukuoka serves to light a fire underneath the guy, but I can also see it digging him into a funk in the short term.

  4. Thanks so much again Josh. Your hot names for 2019-u said it, u got my boys covered Yago Tomokaze Hokutofuji and I’ll add Meisei too – great potential- have loved what Takakeisho and Onosho have done in 2018 too. Then on top of it all the Pixie brigade – exciting tough battles all – 2019 will be so exciting – just hoping for a return to form from injury for Kyokutaisei; more exciting wins for Ura on his way back, the remaining 2 Waka brothers to up the anti and for Yoshikaze to upset the joi and possibly make a bid for dare I say it Ozeki proving there’s life in the old dog yet… yes, I do have rose coloured glasses haha 😂
    Happy New Year one and all and thank u all at Tachiai for feeding all of our sumo addictions

    • Good shout. I considered him, but ultimately left him off my hit list. On the plus side it is really hard for me to think of too many rikishi in the top division that have the level of tenacity that he does such that you can actually see the hatred and fear of losing on his face when he’s at the bales

      On the flip side though I haven’t seen enough quality from him across the joi line to think he’s in that top bracket of up and comers yet. Next six months will be telling for him and he’s entering peak years.

      • After a solid Makuuchi debut (10-5 at M16), Ryuden went 8-7 at M9, 3-12 at M7, and then 8-7 at M15. Following a nearly unprecedented over-promotion from 10-5 at M13 to M3, his one tournament in the joi resulted in a 6-9 record. I don’t see any evidence yet to expect strong performances when he’s ranked above the bottom quarter of the banzuke.

  5. This needs to be the big year for Takayasu. The older brigade are fading, but the next generation are starting to break through. A wrestler’s peak is usually reckoned to be 27-30 and Takayasu is the only top guy in that age bracket. I think the phrase is “window of opportunity”.

    • Yes. I was thinking about that very point though neglected to mention because I figured someone would pop up going, “well Kisenosato was on the other side of 30 when he made it.” But physically he doesn’t seem to have the durability to maintain (even/ironically) that kind of comparison so it does seem like a now or never moment in the context of a traditional “peak”

    • Takayasu can move ahead this year if he can just hold tight and keep pulling down double digit wins. The war of attrition against his fellow Ozeki and all 3 Yokozuna will do some of the work for him. If I could give Takayasu a New Years gift, it would be a sure fire way to dismantle a tadpole attack. I am going to think that he is going to be fighting and increasing number of them each basho.


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