The previous few years of sumo have been strange, no? Like it or not, we’re in a transitionary period. For the last decade and more, professional sumo has been dominated by wrestlers of the “Millennial” generation, men born in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s been an incredible era, and it is by no means over, but with more and more of these Millennials calling it quits each year, and with the retirement of Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho in particular, fans have started to actively speculate over what our beloved Grand Sumo will look like in the future. With our heroes aging before our eyes, it’s only natural to ask, “What’s next?”
First, a short acknowledgement of the Now generation. Men like Terunofuji, Mitakeumi, Shodai, Daiesho, Ichinojo, Takanosho, and Takayasu continue to be relevant at the top of the sport, and a few, such as Abi and reigning champion Wakatakakage, seem only now to be peaking in their late 20s. Many of them will no doubt continue to compete at a high level for much of the next decade, but that’s not the point. The point is that one day soon, this group will no longer be competing exclusively against their peers. Gen Z is coming of age. They are the future.
They are also, arguably, the present. It’s easy to forget because he achieved so much so early, but Ozeki Takakeisho is still only 25 years old! He and Onosho (25) shot up the banzuke in their early 20s and established themselves as contenders, but at long last their classmates are catching up. Komusubi Hoshoryu (22), fresh off his first successful campaign in san’yaku, has been an early bright star, and with his electric arsenal of throws and trips he’s already being saddled with high expectations as sumo’s next “chosen one.” So too are we expecting great things from M2w Kotonowaka (24) and M9e Kotoshoho (22), two stablemates with formidable size and strength who are right behind Hoshoryu, making strides up the rankings chart. Last but not least, M14e Oho (21), now a Makuuchi sophomore, completes the quartet of young rivals that fans have been watching eagle-eyed for the last several years. All four have displayed great promise at an early age, and I can’t wait for the many battles between them in the years to come.
I’ve always thought of sumo’s second division as something of a waystation, a checkpoint where promising young wrestlers stop off to hone their raw talent until they pass up and through, and where aging veterans get one last hurrah on their way down and, eventually, out of the sport. Recently, Juryo has been flooded with the former kind of wrestler, and I think there are two in particular who should be on everyone’s radar. J5e Kitanowaka (21), a former high school Yokozuna, more than impressed in his second Juryo campaign, and with his size (190cm tall) and already mature yotsu style, we shouldn’t expect him to loiter at the rank. His counterpart, J12w Atamifuji, is only 19(!) years old, but he too seems to have all the physical metrics for success, as well as a maturity and skill level which is hard to reconcile with that baby face. Both young men will be top division players before year’s end, or I’m Hoshoryu’s uncle.
Makushita and Below
Set to join them are a host of budding talents—there are too many to name, but let’s try anyway. Literal giant Ms2e Hokuseiho (20), Hakuho’s protégé, and Ms1w Nishikawa (23), a university standout and ex-Ozeki Goeido’s protégé, will sit in pole position come Natsu. A 4-3 kachi-koshi should be enough to earn them both their salaries (Hokuseiho would likely still have his, if not for a knee injury in his Juryo debut last September). Close on their heels will be several of Nishikawa’s university teammates and rivals who had near misses for promotion in Osaka, including top-heavy Ms6e Kanno (23) and a pair of foreign-born powerhouses, 2020 College Yokozuna Ms8e Oshoma (24), and Kazakhstani sensation Ms4w Kinbozan (24), March’s Makushita champion. These last two are getting started slightly later than the rest in terms of age, but have exceptional university pedigrees and seem to be making light work of the lower divisions so far. Both seem to favor an overpowering oshi style, and both are ranked near Makushita’s pinnacle for May. I for one will be crossing my fingers to see their first professional showdown.
I would be remiss not to mention Ms4e Roga, also in the Makushita joi, who most should remember for besting the one and only Terunofuji in a Jonidan championship playoff during the Yokozuna’s first tournament back from injury. Roga has since stalled out in Makushita, but is still only 23, and shows great potential, if he can put it all together. Finally, watch out for these youngsters: Ms47w Yoshii (18), a former Hakuho Cup winner; Ms59e Kanzaki (22), another college standout who won the Sandanme yusho in his Grand Sumo debut; and a fresh-faced pair of stablemates, Jd21e Kototebakari and Jd21w Kotokenryu (both 18), who needed a playoff between them in March to sort out the Jonokuchi yusho. Kototebakari in particular we should watch with interest—not only did he win that playoff, but he is the kid brother of the aforementioned Kotoshoho, and it may not be long before the siblings are reunited in the top division.
The list goes on and on, but if there’s one thing left to say, it’s that sumo’s future looks bright. These kids are big (you can say that twice for Hokuseiho), strong, skilled, and hungry. So watch out world—here comes Gen Z.