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 Note: Gokushindo has since withdrawn from the tournament.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.