Intro to the Contenders
Hatsu 2022 starts with two maezumo graduates listed at the bottom of the banzuke, Aoifuji and Masakifuji, both from Isegahama-beya. Aoifuji is fresh out of high school, where he had some success in his high school’s sumo club. Masakifuji’s judo experience will also give him a leg up on competitors in Jonokuchi. There is actually another Isegahama recruit from early 2020, Hoshinofuji, who will finally see competitive action after injury kyujo dropped him back off the banzuke. While I wouldn’t give him much hope of the yusho, it will be interesting to see how he performs. As they’re stablemates, these three will not be able to face each other unless they meet for a yusho showdown. But, who else could be a plausible, early yusho candidate?
By process of elimination, I’ve narrowed the list to these additional two: Tochihayate (Kasugano) and Nakashima (Musashigawa). Both combatants reached Makushita earlier in their careers before injuries took their toll, dropping them into Jonokuchi. The skills, experience and the strength will still be there. Otherwise, the rest of the division is a motley bunch of youngsters who have yet to escape the division or long-term Jonidan/Jonokuchi veterans.
The video starts with the first two fights of Hatsu 2022, so I didn’t edit it out. I wanted to give a bit of the ambiance for those of you who may not have experienced sumo in person. The early bouts are great with the singing yobidashi, the calls from the young gyoji, and after nearly two years of no early crowds it was a bit of a jolt for me to hear applause from fans.
The Abema coverage is also nice because we get to learn a bit more about who the yobidashi and gyoji are. Takeru is the yobidashi who starts things out for us. He joined the sumo world in 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was probably at its worst. He wanted to be a wrestler but because he’s too small, he joined the ranks of the yobidashi. Then, we’ve got Shikimori Tomokimi as our gyoji. He was a member of his high school’s sumo club but also went with the alternative career path of gyoji. For more detail on the calls, Herouth’s great article provides excellent background.
Masakifuji drew Sawaisamu for his first Grand Sumo bout and started out with an easy force out win. Musashigawa veteran Nakashima followed up with a dominant win over the much smaller Kinseiryu. Fast forward to the second day and Aoifuji fought Fukuminato.
How can you tell it’s the second day? If you read the article from Herouth above, you’ll notice that for the first two bouts, the yobidashi comes in from the right, walks left, and sings the East first (Higa-i-shi, Sawai-samu). However, on Day Two, he comes in from the left, walks to the right, and sings the West side first (Ni-i-shi, Fuku-mi-na-to)…after the discreet check of his crib sheet.
Well, Aoifuji put his head down and met Fukuminato firmly and then pulled, forcing Fukuminato forward. The final shove from the back made for the okuridashi kimarite. My question, would it have been hikiotoshi if not for the final shove? Lastly, we’ve got a good tussle between Tairikuyama vs Tochihayate. Tochihayate prevailed, slapping to keep Tairikuyama back and off his belt, but frequently pitched forward, awkwardly, in pursuit. As the two danced around the ring, Tairikuyama got a bit too close to the edge and Tochihayate thrust forward, along with Tairikuyama’s own momentum, knocking his opponent out for the oshidashi win.
Just for fun
I have also included a few great bouts from the first match day’s action. Though these competitors will likely not be in the yusho race, I found the effort they put forward excellent. First up, we’ve got Koga over Itakozakura with a nice switcheroo on the tawara. Then, a real slapfest between Kirinohana and Daitensho. Unfortunately, Kirinohana slipped and touched with his knee. Both bouts with quite the appreciation from the fans in attendance.
Byakuen followed up with a nail-biter against Daitenshin but his foot went out before he could force Daitenshin out. I will spare you from Takemaru nearly breaking Urutora in half. Lastly, Kato is really progressing. He also seems a bit bigger. While he lost to a nice throw by Wakayahara, he was in this bout with much more enthusiasm than in the past. I’ve got hopes that both men will finally move forward and earn promotion this tournament. Hakkeyoi!