Here’s something I wanted to do for a long time, a rundown of all 42 makuuchi rikishi and how they performed in this tournament. Then I did it and realised that unlike doing a recap where there are usually 20 things to talk about, I had to have twice as many things to talk about, and it was going to take forever. Those of you who have been following the site for a while now will you know that while you may not hear from me often, usually when you do you get quite a lot of content, and this promises to be no exception…
M17W Ichiyamamoto (8-7)
Junior Abi had an up and down tournament, and seems like he might be someone who rides the elevator for a while. In a more competitive division he’d probably be more of a Juryo mainstay, but in the current climate we can probably revise his ceiling to someone who bounces around before settling into a low Maegashira role, maybe running into the joi-jin once or twice in his career (kind of like a Chiyomaru). This tournament for me reflected that any growth from Ichiyamamoto in the future, will, at 28, likely be down more to exposure to top division action than any real talent development. Perhaps it’s a puzzle for his new shisho.
M17E Kagayaki (7-8)
He should be entering his prime, but it seems like the 27 year old is instead on a (very slow) downward spiral. His return to the top division only came courtesy of a fusen-sho, and having dropped two bouts to Juryo opponents in this tournament, it’s likely that he’s heading back to the second division. We always rave here about his fundamentals, but too often in this tournament as in recent history, he simply failed to show up. As he already qualifies for elder stock, it’s worth wondering whether he could actually be someone to take early retirement in a few years.
M16W Kotokuzan (7-8)
Even before this tournament, I had planned to write a piece about Arashio beya and I still plan to do that, and it’s a shame that the heya’s latest top division debutant was not able to score his kachi-koshi on day 15. I felt he gave a good account of himself in week 1 before the week 2 fade, but maybe the buoyant mood around the place will lead to some intense training. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that he was languishing around the top of makushita for ages and his rise in the past year has been very fast, and I think what we’ve seen in this tournament is just a lack of high level experience catching up with him a bit. HIs oshi-zumo was fairly unspectacular, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for me to see a kachi-koshi next time especially from M17 if he sticks around. I think we need to see probably two more tournaments to understand what we can expect from him at this level.
M16E Nishikigi (9-6)
Very impressive return for Nishikigi, who hadn’t scored a kachi-koshi in the top division for what seemed like donkey’s years. After his 3-0 start I was convinced he would be the guy from the lower half of maegashira ranks to hang around the yusho race before getting absolutely pumped in week 2, but as it happened, he just settled into a consistent and competitive top division return. At 31, he’s at or around what will be his peak performance level, rank-wise.
M15W Tochinoshin (9-6)
The end of Tochinoshin has been postponed, and although he faded badly in the last 4 days to be denied a double digit winning record, these are the kinds of tournaments that can add 4-6 more months onto a veteran’s career, being that it might take him 2 more make-koshi to end up at M15W again, dependent on banzuke luck. One thing I noted from his performance this tournament was that it felt like there was an increasing desperation from the big man to land the left hand outside grip. This has always been his calling card, but it seems like these days he feels that’s the only option he has to win a match.
M15E Akua (4-11)
He’s an intriguing rikishi of a few curious techniques, but ultimately I’ve always found him a bit wanting at this level. He’ll be back down in Juryo, and after a pair of 11 loss tournaments it’ll be intriguing to see how he regroups or if he continues to free fall. Clearly he underperformed but even with a 4-11 there’s an argument to be made he didn’t underperform as much as…
M14W Yutakayama (7-8)
Yutakayama really should be hitting kachi-koshi at this level, and I know he took it to the death, but in the end you have to make it happen. Physically and talent-wise, he has all of the tools to be ranked consistently about 10 spots higher, but fitness and possibly mental reasons continue to keep him ranked quite low. He’s had a winning record in 8 of 23 top division tournaments, and it’s just not good enough for someone of his ability. He’s another who may well end up in a one-off appearance in the joi again some day, but I think it’s clear now with performances like this at this rank that his current career high rank will likely always be his career high rank and until he manages to find some consistency and power in his oshi-zumo game, he’ll struggle just to stay in the division.
M14E Kotoshoho (9-6)
This was a really good tournament for the youngster after a year (!!) out of the top division. I’d give it a solid B+, as he needed to consolidate his spot after regaining promotion after Hatsu. He’s become noticeably more comfortable on the mawashi. Despite being overtaken by his stablemate Kotonowaka, he has always been someone with the tools to make it at a high level, and at only 22 I still think that he can at least achieve Sekiwake in his career. Hopefully this basho can be the platform from which he can at least spend the next year consolidating his position in the upper half of the division.
M13W Chiyonokuni (5-6-4)
It’s an incomplete, as Chiyonokuni channeled peak hospital ward-era Ikioi with his countless bandages. I give him credit for coming back and trying to at least pick up the few wins that it might take to stay in the division – he got one which may or may not be good enough (lksumo says no). He displayed good enough sumo for the level when he was on, but he just physically wasn’t able to compete.
M13E Chiyomaru (5-10)
He started ok but lost 6 of the last 7, with the only win being against hapless Meisei, and there’s just no defence for that kind of performance at this rank. Sumo doesn’t work like this, but the argument could be made he deserves to be sent down in Chiyonokuni’s place (they both could, but of course if anyone will be spared it will be Maru on account of the half rank advantage). He’s put together a fine career riding the Juryo/Makuuchi elevator and using the limited tools at his disposal to put together a long career (over 50 basho now across the top two divisions). But I do think that his continued presence in Makuuchi despite not adding much is probably a symptom of the perceived slide in quality of the top tier.
M12W Chiyotairyu (7-8)
In May he’ll reach his 60th basho as a sekitori, a full 10 years at the salaried levels. It’s a remarkable achievement, and he continues to flummox fans and foes with his unbelievable inconsistency, sometimes perfectly executing his blast em out or pull em down strategy and sometimes being caught so wildly out of control that he “ole”s into the crowd or pushed down on his backside. He’s 33 now and we’ve seen for the last few years that the lower maegashira ranks are his level in this late phase of his career, so you can probably say this performance was about a C. Whether he’s 7-8 or 8-7 now it doesn’t really matter, he entertains and the performances are just about fine.
M12E Kotoeko (9-6)
Kotoeko always has such tenacity and I wouldn’t call this a breakout basho, but he did at least show a renewed ability to put opponents away. In previous tournaments he has often taken the upper hand against his opponent from the tachiai, but failed to actually find the technique to despatch them. This time he largely beat up on those ranked beneath him, dropping only 3 of his matches to lower ranked opponents. You don’t expect him to compete with Endo or Kiribayama on ability but for him to put away guys ranked M13-17 is what he needed to do, and by and large, he did.
M11W Terutsuyoshi (8-7)
While we all love to dream on the little guys, the harsh reality is that this score is a complete victory for a rikishi who’d been without kachi-koshi since last summer. What we can say about Terutsuyoshi’s performance is that he showed an awful lot of fighting spirit. While the sansho “fighting spirit prize” is almost awarded to a rikishi with a much more robust score, Terutsuyoshi reminds me more of the meaning of the term, and this part of the banzuke looks set to be his home.
M11E Myogiryu (7-8)
Look, there’s not much between his score and the man on the west side, and this also would have been a decent result for Terutsuyoshi all things considered, but the truth is that by and large, Myogiryu has been a mess since his improbable yusho challenge four tournaments ago. Partly it’s injury, but father time may also have zapped his energy, as the veteran looked lethargic in many Haru bouts.
M10W Aoiyama (7-8)
Contextually, this is a disappointing result for Big Dan. When you open with two wins against the guys ranked just in front of you, you have a bit of a stacked deck with a majority of your matches to come against lower rankers. But the newly Japanese-Bulgarian went on a 1-6 run that reversed his odds, and he looks set to cede the heyagashira role at Kasugano beya back to Tochinoshin. He still has his days, but more often than not he looks like he’s playing out the string and benefitting from a weak division. Some may say I’m being a little harsh and that he was unfortunate to be paired up with a Maegashira 1 for his “Darwin” match, but the reality is that if he had put away M16 Nishikigi, it would never have come to that. I think we’ve probably seen the last of him in the joi.
M10E Shimanoumi (8-7)
He’s a weird case and continues to confound me. He’s inconsistent, and may just be an average middle of the pack guy, which is a reasonable ceiling having arrived late to the top division and already approaching 33 years of age. The eye test tells me that he’s someone who really needs to be dialled into his technique on a given day, which is odd because he doesn’t have the appearance of a technical rikishi to me in the slightest. Still, decent result.
M9W Wakamotoharu (9-6)
His brother will take all the plaudits, of course he will, but this was another really solid tournament and you can see how the Onami brothers’ fundamentals just continue to improve. I think there will be an inevitable setback and adjustment when he reaches the joi but for the meantime he’s performed very admirably, and the real question is why the third brother, Wakatakamoto, continues to fail to challenge to reach Juryo in a stable that is really surging under the guidance of the former Sokokurai. I think Wakamotoharu won’t have nearly the ceiling of Wakatakakage, but it wouldn’t surprise me for him to eventually reach san’yaku once he adjusts to the top end of the division, even if just for a brief stint.
M9E Tobizaru (9-6)
I bracket this achievement alongside Terutsuyoshi’s kachi-koshi. Tobizaru just continues to give us thrilling sumo. It’s worth remembering he languished in Juryo for 2 1/2 years while we were marvelling at the rise of Enho, but the consistency of Tobizaru to entertain and keep himself in the mix and continue to find himself pitted against higher pedigree opponents – and win – is a real credit. His final flourish here to win 5 of 6 and make it look ultimately comfortable was positively Hokotofujian.
M8W Sadanoumi (5-10)
Here’s a guy who never seems to be anywhere near a good score and yet this was actually his first make-koshi since last May. No disrespect at all to the soon to be 35 year old, but the quality that has been lacking in Sadanoumi’s sumo to me is reflective of the division’s downturn. We’re seeing at best Juryo level sumo from a Maegashira 8 in the middle of the rank and file. I have nothing against him and he may well go on to be a good coach. The fact that two of his wins came against up-and-comers like Kotoshoho and Wakamotoharu, and not losing to anyone whose star could be considered to be on the rise (apart from, charitably, Takayasu again), means that sumo is just not ready to dispense with mediocrity and move to a new era.
M8E Chiyoshoma (5-10)
The Mongolian’s finish in this basho was horrendous. As with Aoiyama, he picked up a couple really nice wins against fumbling veterans to start the basho, but then was just completely overwhelmed for much of the tournament. We also didn’t see much in the flying henka department this time out, and maybe that explains a 1-2 win deficit from where we’d expect him to be. His future home is probably in the bottom half of the division though, and that’s where we’ll see him in Tokyo.
M7W Okinoumi (5-10)
He’s 36 and the interesting thing is, he’s really the example of someone who can keep themselves going for a year off the back of just one or two kachi-koshi. After another double digit loss basho he’ll be right back around where he started the May basho a year ago (M12). In some ways you’d say it was a shocking tournament in that he started the first week looking like anyone could beat him (except Sad Sadanoumi apparently), and the Day 9 make-koshi released some kind of inner gambarism that took him up to an almost respectable final scoreline after a handful of matches preying on losers.
M7E Takayasu (12-3)
I’ve been dreading writing this, so it’s a good job I’ve already catalogued his previous history of misses. While some of those were tragic, this felt different. While the veteran conspired to throw away 3 of his final 5 regulation matches to bring others back into the title race, and 3 in a row counting the playoff after his spectacular final weekend collapse, this wasn’t like those previous blowups. Takayasu in week one was the picture of calm, perfect through ten days and cruising. Like last year’s invitation for Terunofuji to jumpstart his sensational promotion run, he threw this away by losing composure at key moments in the final week. But this time, going into the final day, it remained in his own hands even into a playoff after his rivals also lost. And the look of how desperate he was for his yusho was all over his face and visible into the first throes of the playoff match itself – rarely have I seen Takayasu hit an opponent harder or with more intensity. But it ended the way that one felt it was destined to end. Still, he’ll get another bite at the big time as he will end his exile from the joi-jin, and get another chance to do it all over again. But how many chances will he ever have again like this?
M6W Kotonowaka (11-4)
Also dropping 3 of the last 5, this was still an inspired tournament from the youngster, who stayed around the yusho race until the death. A final day win that would have banished Hoshoryu to the rank and file might have just opened a san’yaku spot for himself and added spice to the playoff, but instead he’ll make do from surely a new career high rank. He’s long been tipped as a future ozeki, and I think it’s the next tournament that will tell us more about his ability to challenge the top rankers after his previous stint in the joi was blighted by injury. He has a real physical presence and, from the lower ranks, has started to show that he’s learning how to use it. He’s been one win off the pace heading into senshuraku now of consecutive basho. I don’t think we can expect a yusho next time out on his first real run through the gauntlet, but he’s starting to show that he may have what it takes to revise what currently looks like a ceiling of Sekiwake up at least one notch.
M6E Hokutofuji (9-6)
9-6 isn’t a bad score, and Hokutofuji always seems to finish strong, as he did again, winning 5 of the last 6, but this tournament feels extremely underwhelming by his standards. For several years now he’s been a fixture at the top end of the division and this rank felt way below his level, and so seeing him drop early matches without much punch (although admittedly two of those first four losses were to yusho candidates) was a real surprise. I expected a double digit score here. Many years ago, I thought he had ozeki written all over him, as if he could be this generation’s Chiyotaikai, but he’s just never really had consistency since Ryuden cleaned his clock a few years back. He seems like a real confidence rikishi who’s destined to be streaky, as his performance in Haru again showed.
M5W Ishiura (2-7-6)
I know the prevailing thought (certainly said by no less an authority than our friend Kintamayama himself!) is that Ishiura should have just stayed put at 1 win and kyujo, but I think we have to put these things in some perspective. If he’s 22, then sure, he has his whole career in front of him. Ishiura is 32, and the one extra win he picked up may likely be the difference between staying in makuuchi (almost certainly will with two wins) and not (demotable with 1). Some people may say, you still collect a salary in Juryo, and it’s true, but he’s someone with a family, at the back end of his career and who will presumably want to stay salaried as long as possible, and that means trying to do whatever you can to get back on the dohyo and find an extra couple of wins. So I don’t begrudge him that, but I was sad not to get more from him at a career high rank, because – even taking the injury into account – he looked pretty awful in the 8 matches we did get.
M5E Takarafuji (6-9)
Takarafuji turned 35 before the basho, and he’s another who ends up with a creditable enough score despite the eye test telling us he was just missing his mojo. Nothing different about his sumo, he just didn’t have enough power to defend and then extend. Natsu may tell us whether this was a one-off, or the sign of a decline.
M4W Endo (8-7)
Par for the course: all kinds of wacky technical hijinks, maddening inconsistency, a smattering of kimarite and a whole lot of fun. Endo, now that we’ve given up the hope of him becoming some great star, has really turned into a bit of a treat these days, win or lose.
M4E Kiribayama (10-5)
I’ve been high on him for a while, and make no mistake, this is a good result having had to fight everyone of note apart from Takayasu and the absent Terunofuji. Most impressively, he beat an awful lot of folks ranked higher than him, in what was his first double digit winning record since his debut in the top division over two years ago. Unlike others, given that he’s only 25 I do still think he has the ability to go on and reach Ozeki, but I don’t think it’s necessarily in the next 2 years. It would be good to see him get a kachi-koshi in the joi next time out and join the youth movement starting to apply upward pressure on the san’yaku veterans.
M3W Meisei (1-14)
A penny for Takanosho’s thoughts, having been the only one to suffer a loss to Meisei in what was a tournament to forget for the Tatsunami beya star. He will absolutely be back, but having finished the previous basho softly, the signs are worrying and can only be reversed by a return to fitness or opponents of lower quality. This score was so bad he’s guaranteed himself the latter next time out. Sometimes you’ll see a rikishi who throws everything at his matches and can’t buy a win, but there was nothing truly unlucky about this result. He just wasn’t there.
M3E Onosho (6-9)
Another disappointing basho for Onosho, who started okay enough and will continue to ride the elevator in and out of the joi. Not much to say that we don’t already know: powerful thrusting when he’s on, too much forward lean and he’s down. He’s been in the top division nearly 5 years, but at only 25 he can still improve. On current form however he doesn’t look likely to best his career high Komusubi rank.
M2W Tamawashi (7-8)
I would give Tamawashi a B+ for this basho. He was in with a shot at his kachi-koshi until the last day, added to his kinboshi collection for the second straight basho, and continues to be sumo’s Ironman, despite carrying some worrying knocks to his midsection. He continues to be the definition of gambarising, showing up every day, built well and will keep hanging around the top dogs next time out at 37. He can’t be killed.
M2E Ichinojo (9-6)
This is a really good result for an Ichinojo who seems to have realised there’s really nothing but himself keeping him away from san’yaku these days. Entering the final weekend 9-4, he could have punched that ticket but coughed it up in two admittedly tricky matches firstly against his direct opposition Daieisho, and then against the wily Tobizaru in an entertaining final day bout. Sumo is better for him being on form, and injuries aside, it doesn’t look like the boulder is meaningfully moving soon.
M1W Ura (4-11)
One more win and we’d be saying this was actually a decent basho from Ura, punching well above his weight at his career high rank. If that seems like a surprise it’s because through the second weekend he was an unstoppable loss machine, starting 1-10. If you go through his matches, there just weren’t too many of the usual surprises and he was easily squared off, his mobility not really much of a factor. Still, he racked up 3 from 4 in the final days from mid-table underachievers and that should still keep him middle of the pack himself when we see him in Tokyo.
M1E Daieisho (8-7)
The margins are so fine and the standards have been set so high by the man himself, that losing any one of the final three days would have felt like a disaster. Daieisho started by knocking off the top Ozeki and taking another kinboshi from the Yokozuna, but it was a big downhill from there as he needed a huge effort over the final weekend to claim his winning record. He’s having trouble sticking in san’yaku these days, but at 28 and conceivably in his prime, it’s possible he still has room to cement his place.
KW Hoshoryu (8-7)
Here’s another situation where whether a guy is perceived to have a successful tournament or not comes down to one win, and I often think that’s a little unfair. Hoshoryu is improving slowly but surely, but truth be told this is more of a mental victory than anything else, as a 7-8 result that dropped him to M1 wouldn’t have been a bad tournament either. The impressive thing for me is seeing the mental resolve to come from behind with a losing score deep into the second week, and turning it around against some good quality opponents where other san’yaku debutants have faltered.
KE Takanosho (4-11)
Dreadful basho for Takanosho, who’s spent the last 18 months in and around the san’yaku ranks, holding his own at points. The big guns beat him up early but for him to fall to 11 losses without even facing the Yokozuna, and having the advantage of not having to face one of the Ozeki, is very poor. Like Meisei (to whom he granted the fellow ex-Sekiwake’s only victory), he just looked absolutely listless at points in the tournament, although hopefully he will take heart from beating up some easy prey in week 2.
SW Abi (8-7)
Another case of just one win, the final day victory, deciding the difference between a successful and unsuccessful tournament. Abi’s debut at the rank was yet more evidence of his ability to hold his own in the division’s upper echelons. He had a pretty brutal fade in the second week which was reminiscent of the old Mitakeumi, but put dirt on Takayasu on senshuraku in impressive fashion. The stakes will be raised next time, but having beaten everyone he was expected to and having held serve, you’d give his tournament a solid B+ or even A-.
SE Wakatakakage (12-3 Yusho) 🎉
Hard to imagine one’s debut at a new rank going better. The new star’s last three tournaments had hinted at a breakout, as he struggled against the top rankers from his position in the upper maegashira ranks in the first week, only to put it together comprehensively against rank and file opposition in week two (winning the last five matches, all against maegashira in each of the previous three basho). At the Sekiwake rank, he faced the rank and filers early and that momentum gave him the confidence to push on late in the basho, despite dropping a pair of the last three to Ozeki opponents. His two sensational victories over Takayasu ultimately opened the race and provided the silverware, but the entire body of work was remarkable, and reminiscent of the control and poise of a certain one of Takayasu’s former stablemates at their peak. Unlike that legend of the dohyo however, Wakatakakage’s maiden yusho came in his first title challenge, and just his 30th overall tournament – not a bad way to cap off a sensational rise over just 5 years in professional sumo.
O2W Mitakeumi (11-4)
Talking of debuts at a new rank, the man who’s been performing like an Ozeki for years finally is one, and having hung around the yusho race to the end, did exactly what was expected of him. I’d give his tournament an A-, because I felt like he got the results without really needing to get out of second gear, and coughed up a couple key bouts when it mattered. But all in all, he’ll be sumo’s second highest ranked rikishi in the next tournament, and that feels about right, because he’s probably sumo’s second best rikishi.
O1W Takakeisho (8-7)
After the opening week, I’m not sure anyone would have picked him as the Ozeki to finish with the worst overall score, but he cleared kadoban which was the most important thing. Still, 4 straight losses to finish against key opponents (in which I include Shodai, also fighting to clear kadoban) was a brutally disappointing way for the two-time champion to round out the basho. Much has been made of his endurance or lack of it, and he did lose some fiery bouts, so you can’t say he didn’t at least show up and give it his all. While questions will inevitably be asked about his fitness given that he’s been plagued by some frankly frightening looking injuries in the past, there’s also an open question about his ineffectiveness in bouts where opponents have looked to lengthen the match and deflect his attack. Has he simply just been figured out a bit? As Tochinoshin will attest, it’s easy to be a one trick Ozeki when your one trick is so good. And as Tochinoshin will attest, it’s very hard to be a one trick Ozeki when everyone knows the trick AND it’s not working at 100%.
O1E Shodai (9-6)
He just doesn’t make it easy, does he? After giving himself an 0-4 and then a 1-5 hole against not the toughest opposition he might face, one has to say it was a remarkable achievement by a rikishi not known for his mental toughness to pull himself out of an almighty jam with a thrilling winning streak into the second week. While he had a couple memorable wins, the icing on the cake for me will be the thrilling Day 14 win over Takayasu in which he literally threw the latter’s almighty collapse into full motion, removing the Ozeki himself from the danger zone.
Y Terunofuji (3-3-9)
It was pretty obvious that something wasn’t right with Terunofuji from the off, and someone with his health history who has to already very carefully manage his fitness will have potentially have been thrown a wrench by any covid-related complications. No one should be surprised that the Yokozuna is going to struggle from time to time to maintain his fitness, we knew this would come with the territory when we signed up for Yokozuna Terunofuji. But hopefully he can give us at least 4 fit basho a year while we scan the ranks for someone who might be able to be his rival and maintain the position for a bit longer. Fun fact: the five kinboshi he has conceded have come at the hands of only 3 rikishi, as Daieisho and Tamawashi each racked up their second gold star from the Yokozuna in this tournament.