Hatsu Basho Preview

Hello all, welcome back to our honbasho coverage. I hope all of our readers had a great holiday season, and have settled into 2023. Before we get rolling with our traditional set of daily posts, it’s time for a bit of a preview.

When we last left the sumo world, we had shed yet another Ozeki, this time it was Shodai. He follows the path Mitakeumi took in November, where he finished at 6-9, giving up his one time chance to reclaim his Ozeki rank with 10 or more wins. Mitakeumi finds himself starting 2023 ranked at Maegashira 2East. Given how poorly Shodai has been fighting in the past year, I am expecting him to exit the named ranks for Osaka in March.

That leaves us with one Ozeki, none other than “Grand Tadpole” Takakeisho. In spite of his physical problems, he has managed to hang in there, and now finds himself once again alone in the Ozeki rank. He has turned in double digit records for the last three tournaments and, for January, he has to be considered the man to beat. His last yusho was in November of 2020, so I don’t think he would get a nod to ascend to Yokozuna, unless they want to count the two fairly strong jun-yusho in the last 6 months.

The lone Yokozuna, Terunofuji, remains kyujo for this tournament, as he works to recover from surgery to repair what is left of his knees. Simply put, he is on even less borrowed time now than when he conquered his way to the top rank in sumo in the summer of 2021.

Taken in summary, the ranks of sumotori at the top of the banzuke are dangerously thin right now. What the sumo world needs now are a handful of strong young men who are ready to climb the last rungs on sumo’s rank ladder and battle tor reach the top.

It makes perfect sense that there are 8 rikishi in the named ranks, 4 in Sekiwake and 4 in Komusubi for January. In true 2020’s style, some of them are young guys looking to try for higher rank, and a few grizzled veterans who had a great tournament in November.

At the top of this pile is Wakatakakage at Sekiwake 1E. He has long been hoped to be the next great star at the top of the ranks, but since his yusho in Osaka last year, he has struggled to twice for kachi-koshi, and is not nearly consistent enough to secure or hold on to an Ozeki rank.

He is followed by Hoshoryu, who had a great record in November at 11-4, but is likewise struggling to make his 8 most tournaments. The chances of his putting together three consecutive double digit basho seem slim right now.

Then there is the rather interesting case of dear old Takayasu. Formerly and Ozeki who lost his rank due to a series of ugly injuries, he has had two back to back double digit tournaments at 11-4 and 12-3, both of them earning him jun-yusho. In fact he has had three double digit results, and three jun-yusho in the past year. Odd as it may seem, he could be the next man to receive a promotion to Ozeki. Frankly I would be delighted.

In Komusubi, we have Kiribayama, Kotonowaka, Meisei and Wakamotoharu. None of them are ready to try for Ozeki yet, but I note with interest that Wakamotoharu has quietly been putting together excellent results for the past year, climbing the banzuke. His last two tournaments are both 10-5, and this is his first posting to the named ranks. I would love to see him do well this January.

A special mention needs to go to Abi, who took the Emperor’s Cup home in November, with at 12-3 yusho that featured a playoff. Given the log-jam in upper Maegashira, the best he could manage was M3E, but I think we will see him in the named ranks soon.

The 15 day Hatsu basho starts tonight, US time. I know I am eager for a return to sumo!

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