The July bashso marks the first time since Hatsu 2017 that the banzuke features 4 Ozeki ranked rikishi. Hatsu 2017 was a tumultuous basho, featuring both the demotion of kadoban Ozeki Kotoshogiku after his dismal 5-10 record, and elevation of Kisenosato to Yokozuna following his 14-1 yusho.
Prior to that, there had been 4 Ozeki on the banuzke starting in July of 2015, which Terunofuji appeared at the rank of Ozeki for the first time. For many modern fans, this was the “Good” era of sumo, with a strong group of high performance rikishi in the named ranks who kept the rank-and-file sufficiently crushed to the point there was little possibility of anyone else contending for promotion.
While having 4 Ozeki on the banzuke could make for some great sumo in week 2, fans have their doubts that we will actually see 4 compete. Shin-kadoban Ozeki Takakeisho has been slow to start training for the basho, and he may not be genki enough to effectively compete. Fans cheered Tochinoshin’s return to Ozeki following his 10-5 score in May, but as one reader correctly labeled him, he is a “Glass Cannon” that is prone to performance limiting injuries.
We are in a different era than the days of summer in 2015. Hakuho is reaching the end of his magnificent reign as dai-Yokozuna, and Kakuryu is always hit-or-miss. Fans are right to look to the Ozeki ranks for signs of another Yokozuna in the future, but with Goeido closer each tournament to aging out, Tochinoshin struggling to keep his body healthy, and Takayasu seemingly stuck in his sempi’s habit of jun-Yusho, there are no likely candidates.
Things to watch for:
- Goeido is probably genki this July. With no jungyo he probably trained a lot, and will show up fast, strong and ready. I like his chances this time.
- Takayasu is back to marathon training sessions with Araiso Oyakata. Will it help? I think it left his sumo at Natsu vague and confused.
- Tochinoshin looked strong, confident and brutal at Natsu, but his stamina was only just enough to get him to 10. I would expect him to rack another 10 in Nagoya as long as that foot stays healthy.
- Takakeisho, as reported above, is not healthy yet. Coming in kadoban means he needs 8 or face demotion to Ozekiwake for Aki, and a mandate to win 10. A healthy Takakeisho can win 10, but it’s a gamble on how long it will take that knee injury to resolve.