Preview – Tachiai’s “Ones to Watch”

At Tachiai, we have a group of talented or unique rikishi we follow each tournament in the lower divisions. Some of them are young up-and-coming potentials who are fighting their way to the top. Some are injured veterans struggling to return to the limelight of the top divisions. We call them the “Ones to Watch”.

The Osaka basho featured intense competition in the lower divisions, with some of our favorites going down in flames, but others rising to the cusp of promotion into the salaried ranks. The Natsu basho looks to have some of the most full-throttle action in a while, with an elite crop of rikishi gathering in the top 10 ranks of Makushita, and a few beloved veterans pushing hard up the ranks to return to their former glory. Lets take a look at who we will be following this May.

Wakamotoharu – After a 1 basho visit to Juryo, Wakamotoharu’s 5-10 record sees him relegated back to the top of Makushita. A simple kachi-koshi should be enough to return him to sekitori status, but in Makushita this is no easy task. He will be in fierce competition against the likes of Kotokamatani, Kizakiumi and Ryuko.

Ichiyamamoto – Returning to his highest ever rank of Ms3e, he will need to maintain a winning record to press for promotion. He has been kachi-koshi in his past 3 basho, and he will be working hard to overcome the same competitor that Wakamotoharu must out-shine to gain a handful of possible promotion spots to Juryo.

Hoshoryu – The young Mongolian powerhouse finds himself inches away from breaking into the salaried ranks, and he has yet to rack up his first make-koshi tournament. But the top 4 ranks of Makushita feature 4 rikishi who are fighting at their highest ever ranks, and a pair who are near their top posting. The competition in this bracket may be some of the toughest in many years.

Wakatakamoto – Just outside the Makushita meat grinder at the top, the lowest ranked Oanmi brother will be looking to pick up his 4 wins and inch closer to “the Wall”. His two prior tournaments have resulted in solid 5-2 results, and he looks to have his sumo in good form.

Midorifuji – Competing at his highest ever rank of Ms13e, he will face off day 1 against flagging former Juryo man Gokushindo on day 1. The top half of Makushita is frequently inhabited with former sekitori struggling to find a way back to the top. Note: Gokushindo has since withdrawn from the tournament.

Akua – Speaking of men who bounced out of Juryo and are still trying to find a way home, we find Akua, who I would predict is still suffering from one mechanical injury that saw him go kyujo from the 2018 Aki basho on day 12. If he has his body in good condition, he should be a tough competitor and we will see him start is long climb back upwards.

Naya – Another young rikishi with a lot of promise, Naya has size, his family heritage and all of the training they imparted on him in his favor. He finished Osaka with an impressive 6-1, and will find the competition quite a bit more challenging.

Musashikuni – Two consecutive make-koshi tournaments have put the scion of the Musashigawa heya back into the bottom range of Makushita. Musashikuni has had physical problems with his undercarriage, and his fans are simply waiting for him to get his body in good working order, and return to his normally powerful ways.

Ura – Note that we are unlikely to see Ura any time soon. He has once again had surgery to reconstruct his knee, but both Ura and his Oyakata have stated flatly they are looking for nothing short of perfection in the repair before he begins training again. I would guess no sooner than next year, by which time he will be well down the banzuke.

Roga – After finishing 7-0 in Osaka, and taking the Jonidan yusho, risking Mongolian star Roga finds himself in the top quarter of Sandanme. Given the strength and focus of his sumo thus far, I am guessing he will be a strong contender against the Sandanme regulars.

Terunofuji – The injured Ozeki made his return in Osaka, and finished 7-0 in Jonidan, losing the yusho in a playoff match with Roga. He is subsequently ranked a bit further down the banzuke at Sd49e. Terunofuji looked physically out of sorts in Osaka, and we hope he has been training and working on his conditioning since then. If he’s mechanically well, he should be able to make swift work of most of his opponents.

Torakio – It has been announced that the one time scion of Naruto heya has left sumo. He was struggling quite a bit as of late, and he has decided to pack it in and return to Bulgaria.

Shoji – A one time up and coming rikishi, Shoji peaked at Makushita 52 last year at Natsu, and has been trending lower since. Now near the middle of Sandanme, he has a real opportunity to regroup and get his sumo back on track.

Amakaze – A former Juryo mainstay, Amakaze became injured and took and extended kyujo, re-entering competition in Osaka, and turning in a respectable 6-1 from Jonidan. Now ranked towards the bottom of Sandanme, he should have a fairly easy kachi-koshi if his joints stay healthy.

Wakaichiro – Tachiai favorite Wakaichiro has yet to find the formula to hit and stick in Sandanme. During 2018, he faced a number of physical challenges, and each consecutive match saw him mount the dohyo with an increasing amount of tape on his body. Since then it seems he may have turned a corner on his health, which will delight his fans.

Kitanowaka – New sumotori Kitanowaka will have his first professional sumo matches in Tokyo this may. An impressive young man from Yamagata, he starts his sumo career at Jonokuchi 16e.

9 thoughts on “Preview – Tachiai’s “Ones to Watch”

  1. I just finished reading an article on Sankei Shimbun’s “Iza” – they count Hoshoryu, Kotokamatani, Kototebakari and Naya as their Makushita “ones to watch”. They say that Naya is still “unfinished”, though. I doubt Naya got any serious training from his auspicious relatives – his grandfather died when he was 13 years old. His father divorced his mother and has been estranged from his boys for quite a while now. His sumo comes mostly from high school, and I think joining his grandfather’s heya has not been the right choice for him, either, though he must have felt obliged to. Otake oyakata doesn’t seem to have good control of his rikishi, and with Osunaarashi having retired, the 19 year old finds himself the top ranking “star” of the heya, with no one to pull him up.

    Iza reports that the two Kotos and Naya trained very fiercely during the Nishonoseki joint keiko – being the strongest in the Makushita moshi-ai, and on equal footing with Juryo rivals.

    • Sounds about right. I would add that I think the emergence of Tebakari has pulled Kamatani’s game up. Which to your point, can be a help not so much afforded to stables with one key prospect, especially when they don’t do as much training within the ichimon.

      I was at Onoe this week (more on that later) and I do think Ryuko will be interesting to follow for that reason.

    • I don’t know what to think about Otake-oyakata. His rikishi have been getting in trouble in recent years, but when I watched the documentary on Osunaarashi, he looked like a really good oyakata. Tough, but not unreasonably so, and attentive to troubles of his rikishi. Maybe that was just when the cameras were on.

  2. I’m not going to run any spoilers from the fantastic chat I had with Murray Johnson for our Tachiai interview, but I will say that he had some words of very strong encouragement regarding Roga. His work over two tournaments has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream pundits and folks in the commentary booth.

  3. I am not surprised about Torakio. Injuries were already piling up for him and he didn’t seem dedicated to learning how to improve his sumo (whether that’s due to his injuries or something else I’m not sure). It’s entirely possible he was sold on a promise of “not struggling to advance” or something similar as well when he was recruited. Whatever the reason, I don’t blame him for going home. The challenges of sumo are many and they are doubled for non-Japanese rikishi.

    • That means the foreigner position in Naruto beya is accepting applications. Man, if only I was younger than 23.

      • It’ll probably go to a Japan-educated Mongolian eventually, like nearly all the spots do nowadays…

        • I’m calling Dergerbayar of Nittaidai for that spot, at least if Osh doesn’t feel the need to fill it right away

  4. I still think Terunofuji is a textbook example of how much sumo happens between the ears. He’s lost little there, and will probably continue upward for a little while longer on that alone, IMHO.


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