Lower Division Highlights: Kyushu 2022, Day 1

That is a long, hideous title. I’ll think of something better as the basho rolls on. This series of posts is for those who are sick of the “hawt mess” in sanyaku. I’ll just say that sumo deserves an Ozeki who doesn’t tuck-tail and run from Tobizaru. That was utter capitulation. I’m looking forward to reading Bruce’s take on it. Anyway, as I’ve done in the last few tournaments, I’d like to look at the developing talent in the lower divisions. Lately, the recruiting classes have been small so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to just focus on Jonokuchi as I had been doing, so I thought I’d provide some updates across the lower divisions.

Juryo

Josh kicked things off with a great tournament preview for all of the guys in the second division. In an effort to keep that going, let’s track a few of the highlight bouts:

Tsurugisho started things off with a good ‘ole slap to the face (harite) of Bushozan but he quickly found himself in danger as Bushozan drove forward, forcing Tsurugisho to the edge. At the edge, Tsurugisho found leverage along the tawara and slapped Bushozan down. They called it a kotenage but I found it could have been more likely a katasukashi. (Oooo, look at you, Mr. FancyPants, challenging the kimarite!)

Hidenoumi demonstrated power, endurance, and superior position as he eventually forced Mitoryu out over the bales. Mitoryu found himself attacking Hidenoumi from above which immediately put him on the defensive. While Hidenoumi found himself a win, stablemate Kinbozan wasn’t quite so fortunate. Kotokuzan roughed him up pretty good before winning with a well executed pull-down. Hokuseiho showed a bit of patience, overpowering Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni’s gameplan was to be as wild and mobile and disruptive as possible but Hokuseiho wore him down; Chiyonokuni made the first mistake by stepping out.

The best bout, in my humble opinion, was Enho’s shitatedashinage win over Kaisho. First of all, I love to see Enho take someone on head-to-head, fighting big man sumo. He went right at Kaisho and didn’t get discouraged when his initial pull-down attempt failed. He re-engaged but as he couldn’t quite muster the strength to drive Kaisho back, he instead frustrated him with a solid left-hand belt grip which he used to pull down. Kaisho barely maintained his balance and tried to free himself from the pixie’s grasp. But as he stood tall to wrench Enho’s arm free, Enho drove forward forcing Kaisho to the bales. Enho then finished him off with a last, quick, hard pull on the mawashi.

Schedulers pitted the two Juryo division rookies, Tsushimanada and Roga, against each other on Day 1. Tsushimanada was raring to go and launched out at his opponent. Roga countered by slowing things down and forcing a belt battle. However, Tsushimanada proved too powerful today as he pivoted and threw Roga into the waiting gyoji. I’m eager to see this rivalry take off. Let’s hope both men have good tournaments and work their way up the banzuke in 2023.

Makushita

The big story in Makushita for this tournament will again be Asanoyama. He came just short of the division title in the last tournament but his otherwise dominant performance catapulted him into the Makushita joi, where his competition will be the most fierce since his return from suspension. Here, he’s going to face a potpourri of fading former top division wrestlers, borderline sekitori, and more recent hopefuls. Last night he took his first step to likely re-promotion by cautiously wrapping up Daiseiryu and walking him back over the bales. Slow and steady.

Ishizaki weathered Tochimaru’s tsuppari storm and won with a quick shift and thrust down at the edge. Up-and-comer Hayatefuji had a strong showing against Makuuchi veteran Akiseyama. He displayed excellent speed and power but Akiseyama’s wiles turned the tables on the youngster, pivoting at the edge for a hard fought win. Fujitoshi used his head, literally, to knock out Nabatame. Nabatame met Fujitoshi’s fiery tachiai head on, but when the crown of Fujitoshi’s head met Nabatame’s jaw the Futagoyama youngster crumpled to the dohyo. We’ll see if he has to go kyujo.

Setonoumi won his first bout against Kainoshima. Readers may remember Setonoumi from his lower division yusho as he came back from a neck injury. He’s now reached his highest-ever rank at Makushita 26. With the hay-makers he was throwing last night, he’s aiming higher. He charged out at Kainoshima from the word, “jump,” with aggressive harite and a high-energy, free-wheeling oshi-tsuki style.

Nihonyanagi pancaked Miyagi and Mukainakano greeted Wakatakamoto with similar treatment. Both Miyagi and Wakatakamoto bounced back up and neither appeared to be injured despite rather scary falls. Lastly, Mudoho met his match in Okinofuji. Okinofuji was too big and powerful to drive back so Mudoho tried a poorly executed pull/throw-thing at the edge. Yeah, I’m not too clear on what he was doing, and it seemed neither was he. When he ended up with his back to Okinofuji, it was over in the most ignominious way possible, okuridashi.

Sandanme

After 26 years, Dairaido is still plugging away and finding wins. Today he powered his way to a win over Ryutsukasa…who was born a year after Dairaido joined the sumo world. Takeoka chased Ishii around the ring, forcing the Miyagino-beya hopeful out. Hitoshi started off with a quick, dominating win over Ebisumaru. I can’t help but reminisce whenever I see Ebisumaru’s name about the great times I had in Ebisu in Tokyo. And shrimp. Especially the Cajun shrimp I used to get in New Orleans when we’d visit from Biloxi, Mississippi. But I digress… Hitoshi will find his way up the banzuke quickly. Ishii needs a bit of a rethink as his strategy against Takeoka looked more like a retreat, from the beginning.

Jonidan

Our Jonokuchi yusho winner, Otani, started Kyushu off with a win as Terutaka’s henka attempt went awry. I don’t think Terutaka’s heart was really in the henka but he sure didn’t want to take Otani head-on. That’s like playing chicken with a dump truck — whose driver’s blind. Anyway, Otani’s my favorite for the Jonidan yusho.

Jonokuchi

This tournament, there are two wrestlers making their debuts but the big story is the return of Kyokutaisei from injury. Newcomers may not know him but while he’s had a few appearances in the top division, he’s really been a solid Juryo mainstay for a good six years. Needless to say, he put away the outmatched Fujinonami with 1 and 1/2 good shoves. Of the two debutantes, Takerufuji will hope to challenge Kyokutaisei for the Jonokuchi yusho. His Nihon University pedigree gave zero f***s about his opponent, the hapless Higohikari, tossing him unceremoniously off the dohyo. The eventual highlight bout between Kyokutaisei and Takerufuji will likely be all she wrote for this yusho race, hence the scope creep for my posts this tournament.

Why does Higohikari never have a chonmage? He always wears his hair in the free, zambara-style. He debuted nearly 20 years ago and his official Kyokai profile shows a picture of him with a chonmage. If anyone knows, feel free to share in the comments. It’s just one of those curiosities that I don’t seem to find an answer for.

Nagoya 2022: Jonokuchi Match Day 7

Who said that winning anything would be easy in this tournament? Well, it sure looked like it for about two weeks in the bottom division. A win for Takahashi here would have clinched the Jonokuchi division yusho. Kazuto would not go quietly into that good night. After the tachiai, Kazuto buried the crown of his head into Takahashi’s chin. This disrupts Takahashi’s game plan, lifting his upper body.

Kazuto tried to get some forward momentum going but when Plan A failed, he moved to Plan B and tried a quick slap-down… but missed. Plan C? RUN! Kazuto backed away, cycling around the dohyo with Takahashi in hot pursuit. Seeing no options, Kazuto planted at the tawara and made a last ditch effort, collecting it all to launch forward into Takahashi. What do you know, it worked! He corralled Takahashi squarely and drove through the dohyo, sending Takahashi to his first loss. This win sealed a ticket for a rematch in a prime time yusho playoff on senshuraku.

The Jonidan yusho was claimed by Hitoshi. That’s his second yusho in Jonidan. He won last year but after several tournaments kyujo, re-entered Jonokuchi last tournament. He featured in the opening days of the yusho race in May before losing to Yamato and Kazekeno, both of whom eventually fought in that play-off, Kazekeno claiming the title.

Speaking of Kazekeno, he finished with a strong sixth win. His only loss was to Miyagino prospect Ishii. This is another strong group of competitors who will find themselves in Sandanme in September. Unfortunately, Yamato won’t be able to join them yet because he got caught up in Musashigawa’s covid kyujo earlier in the tournament, and will finish with a 2-2-3 make-koshi including a loss to veteran Tochihayate. It will be very interesting to see where he ends up on that banzuke.

Moving up to Sandanme, Asanoyama claimed the yusho there. But, as Leonid covered, the Makushita yusho was also a bit of a surprise with Yoshii’s close win over Kinbozan. Lastly, Ryuden claimed the Juryo title with his win over Myogiryu last night.

The Makushita Intrigue

It now feels like it’s been many months since we’ve lamented the reduction of top division quality, as many beloved veterans have shorn the mage in favour of a more gentle future. Many of the names that have taken their place in makuuchi have failed to inspire, leading sumo fans to ask the question: where are the next generation of stars?

I don’t know that we can truthfully answer that, but going even beyond the makushita joi, there are some very intriguing names within the third division’s automatic promotion zone (the top 15 ranks can go up automatically with a 7-0 yusho). Now let’s be clear: I’m not saying most of these guys have it in them to zensho at this level, but what I am saying is that there are a whole host of very young rikishi and a few other intriguing names to watch out for when we look at Juryo promotions in the upcoming several basho. There just happens to be a very intriguing crop this time. I’m not going to go through all 30 of them (please see the comments section if you’d like to call me out on this), but here are the names I think are worth watching over the next few basho:

Up and Comers

Ms15E Tomokaze – The piano-playing erstwhile Yokozuna-slayer has continued his gradual comeback from injury and plays out his last basho under the Oguruma-beya name in this tournament, after which the Takekaze and Yoshikaze factions will split and it seems likely he’ll eventually end up in the latter’s Nakamura-beya. He has been fallible at times during his comeback and his ETA to Juryo is probably May or July, but it seems likely that at 27, he should still see out his remaining peak years in makuuchi, whatever his ultimate level. And don’t @ me – he still very much counts as an “up and comer,” even if he’s at the very upper limit of that category.

Ms12W Hokuseiho – Sumo fans were largely deprived of seeing Hakuho’s enormous prodigy in his sektori debut, as he was held out for Covid-19 reasons, then in his second basho was promptly dumped out in his first match before going kyujo. He’s one of a small list of names who, fitness permitting, could theoretically go 7-0 from this position against a slightly easier schedule (he’s done it from higher up the banzuke already once), although I’d posit his somewhat clumsy technique might make him a better shout for a return to Juryo in May, and a potential Makuuchi debut by November under the total supervision of what will be the new shisho at Miyagino-or-Magaki-beya.

Ms12E Oshoma – The Mongolian amateur champion served up a mixed bag in his makushita tsukedashi debut and the next couple tournaments from him will be intriguing to watch, as Naruto-oyakata hasn’t yet found the formulae to graduate any of the broad number of mid-20s prospects (Oshoma is 24 in his second basho) into the junior sekitori division. One suspects it will only be a matter of time, but while there’s a number of intriguing names, who ultimately rules the roost as heyagashira at this fledgling but interesting stable seems anyone’s guess.

Ms11W Oshoryu – Oshoma’s stablemate blazed through his first few tournaments but has very much hit the wall as he hasn’t been able to find the technique required to make the jump to sekitori level. He turns 26 after Haru and one suspects this may be a make or break year if he’s ultimately someone with a hope of ultimately impacting the top division.

Ms10E Tsukahara – It seems like the Kasugano man has been around absolutely ages, but he’s only recently turned 22 and is already a 2+ year veteran of the makushita joi. Having entered the sumo world at 18 and made short work of the bottom three divisions, he’s a case which makes you question what all of those coaches at Kasugano beya are able to do to mobilise their young talent. The critical issue for Tsukahara is that while he’s been able to put up wins, he hasn’t always been able to do it against the other top talent of his age group. But others have been able to build on their makushita experience at a young age to put together lengthy top division careers, so time is on his side.

Ms9W Kanno – Tsukahara’s physically imposing stablemate has passed him on the banzuke, and while his advancement stalled a bit after Kyushu’s 4-3, he seems certain to make his sekitori bow before long. This basho should tell us a bit more about how long his progression should take now that up against more serious opposition.

Ms9E Mineyaiba – A tall, lanky but physical presence from Terao’s place? Say it ain’t so. Mineyaiba, who’s fought most of his career under his family name Ito, made a quick rise to the top of makushita over 2020, and was one of the rare cases of a rikishi in the top half of the division still in zanbara. In any case, While Shikoroyama-beya has had trouble in recent years establishing anyone not named Abi in the top division, with Oki and Irodori having disastrous promotions to Juryo and veteran Seiro retiring, Mineyaiba (who’s now been joined in the heya by his younger brother) has always seemed the pick of the stable’s prospects after Saitama’s famous kyabakura-bothering jokester.

Ms8W Fukai – It’s hard to gather the headlines at Takasago-beya. Whether it’s the indiscipline of the former oyakata or presumed-Yokozuna-in-waiting heyagashira, the promotion exploits of Asanowaka and his missing rabbit ashes, the abortive attempts at sekitori success from the awkwardly renamed Asagyokusei, or the still beavering away veteran Asabenkei, there’s always someone making news among the top two divisions. Successful collegiate rikishi Fukai entered as a sandanme tsukedashi less than 2 years ago and has collected a couple zensho already in the sport’s middle tiers, and while he has stormed twice to the division’s upper reaches, he actually has a losing record (15-20, 4 makekoshi from 5 basho) while ranked in the top half of makushita. This has seen his star dim somewhat, in spite of Aki’s storming surprise zensho which saw him top new sekitori Kitanowaka in the winner takes all finale. The ability to make the next step is there and at 24 he is entering his prime years, but to claim his “morning” shikona from the nascent stablemaster, he’s going to need to play more than just the spoiler.

Ms7E Roga – The 22 year old Mongolian seemed destined for instant success and was tipped by many – even NHK’s Murray Johnson in an interview on these pages – for makuuchi stardom. Yet, he’s registered a shocking four makekoshi in six trips to the division’s top 10 ranks, and while his reading of matches seems to be sekitori-ready, he simply lacks the ability to dispatch opponents in short order. He was unbeaten through week 1 last time out, and a similar hot start here might finally start the promotion train. He’s too talented not to be in Juryo by the second half of this year and makuuchi by the second half of next year, but it’s clear he might not be the fast mover we originally expected.

Ms6E Dewanoryu – Dewanoumi beya’s 20 year old unit has appeared at times inconsistent, but I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about as he feels his way through the sport from a very young age, finding himself on the verge of reaching a promotable position. He’s another one we’ll learn much from in this basho, because while we already know a bit about his technique and ability, we just haven’t seen him in a whole lot of matches against meaningful names yet.

Ms1W Atamifuji – Age is most certainly an indicator of future success, particularly the age at which one makes it to the top division, as analyses have indicated elsewhere (dive into the recesses of places like Sumo Forum for more on this). Master recruiter and developer Isegahama’s next student to impact the salaried ranks will be Atamifuji, and this absolute beast should have a much higher ceiling than recent graduates Nishikifuji, Midorifuji or Terutsuyoshi based on his career performance to date.

He won’t even turn 20 until this year’s Aki basho, by which point he could well be cemented in the top division. With a 36-6 career record to date, the stat that stands out the most is that his third most common kimarite is yoritaoshi, a move which signals only dominant performance. Very rarely does one accidentally secure such a manoeuvre and it is representative of how he has steamrolled through the lower tiers. I’ve actually found watching his losses to be more instructive and he does seem to look an awful lot like Mitakeumi at times to these eyes, the way that he’s able to often box out his opponents, but can be exposed by up-and-under grapplers in the style of a Takanosho or Meisei. Still, small sample size caveats apply here, as we simply don’t have much to analyse.

Still, anything less than promotion in this basho would register as a real surprise and we should be looking for him to be #2 in the stable behind the Yokozuna by the start of 2023 as Takarafuji declines.

The Veteran Spoilers of Intrigue

Ms15W Kitaharima – The lightweight yoyo man has been immediately relegated on his last three appearances in the second division over 5 years, and automatically you should be thinking his appearance here discredits everything I’ve said above about stodgy no-hoper vets getting in the way of talented youngsters who may or may not exist. But the limber Yamahibiki dude is 4 sekitori basho short of the requirement for retiring as an elder into the sumo association and if it’s going to happen, one must think it will happen this year: he turns 36 in July. Obviously he won’t be bothering the top division, but sumo has form for late career renaissances from rikishi trying to eke out a future in the sport, and with promotion places at a premium, that could turn up the pressure on his younger opponents in the coming months.

Ms5W Kyokutaisei, Ms3W Jokoryu & Ms1E Kyokushuho – These veterans maybe more than any ranked around them have the ability to disrupt the progress of the young guns, but have been disrupted recently by chronic injury (Kyokutaisei), consistently poor form (Kyokushuho) and age (Jokoryu). All of them qualify for elder status in the Sumo Association by virtue of their career achievements, but it’s unclear whether they have the intention (Kyokutaisei, Jokoryu) or citizenship requirements (Kyokushuho) to do so, and they may need to battle it out a bit longer until their futures become clear… two of them in a stable where Asahisho has already taken a myoseki on loan and another will likely be needed soon for Kaisei.

Ms5E Ryuden – No longer sumo’s most recent bad boy, the former heyagashira of Takadagawa beya has followed in the footsteps of Abi by running roughshod over the third division in his comeback to the dohyo. This basho might be a tougher ask but he should be in position to deny a talented youngster a spot in the salaried ranks.

Others

For sure there are other intriguing names in the makushita-joi and environs, names who should be expected to make their Juryo debuts over the next year (Tochimaru, Kotodaigo, etc), but I don’t rate any of them as having a makuuchi ceiling – at least not one more meaningful than the names mentioned here.

Lower Division Yusho Roundup

Jonokuchi

In the end, the Jonokuchi title came down to one bout: undefeated Inoue against Tsukubayama, a Jonidan-ranked wrestler with one-loss. I was a bit puzzled by the pairing, frankly. Inoue had faced both Chiyoshishi and Goseiryu on his path to the yusho, so I had assumed he would face Raiho. Instead, Inoue faced Tsukubayama, a young man from…you guessed it…Tsukuba city in Ibaraki prefecture. He’s another young’un who started his sumo career last summer and has remained in Jonidan but at Jonidan 91, even a 6th win would likely not be enough to secure a promotion to Sandanme.

Inoue pressed forward and defeated Tsukubayama, without breaking a sweat. Tsukabayama half-heartedly tried a henka, shifting to his right at the tachiai. Inoue’s coming off an injury, so he’s not going to be charging headlong into the crowd. Inoue just pivoted left and bulled forward, shoving Tsukubayama out. Congratulations, Inoue, on the yusho!

Chiyoshishi tossed Takabaho for a dominant ouchie-ta-ouchie win. And lastly, Raiho defeated Goseiryu. Raiho latched on quickly to Goseiryu’s belt with his left-hand, and then came down hard with his right, throwing Goseiryu to the ground.

Jonidan

The Jonidan yusho race came down to three wrestlers with 6 wins; Chiyoyamato, Yurikisho, and Kaiho. Higher-ranked Kaiho was paired against Sandanme yusho contender, Taiyo. Chiyoyamato faced Yurikisho in the bout from the tweet below.

With Yurikisho’s victory assured, he still had to wait for the Kaiho bout to know whether he won outright or would need to fight in a playoff. Kaiho won, meaning there would be a Jonidan playoff.

Sandanme

In Sandanme, the Kaiho victory meant Taiyo was out of the race and the winner would be one of two men. You’ll remember Arauma as the Jonokuchi yusho contender from January, who beat Atamifuji on their first meeting but then lost in their playoff rematch. This tournament, he faced the Kinbozan, who debuts in sandanme because of his success at the university level. Kinbozan was 10cm taller, and 30kg heavier and used all of that mass to overpower Arauma. Atamifuji awaits both, as they will be promoted to Makushita but Atamifuji is already nearing the precipice to Juryo.

Makushita

Ryuden won the Makushita yusho with straight-forward oshi-zumo against former Juryo wrestler, Chiyonoumi. This victory marks his return to action after serving a suspension. Along the way he did face several former sekitori, including Chiyonoumi, so his path to yusho was not easy.

He will need to do it again in January for promotion to Juryo, but that will be even more difficult with many wrestlers, including Atamifuji, fighting for the few slots which open up.

Juryo

Lastly, Ichiyamamoto claimed the Juryo yusho with an impressive 13-2 record. He’s virtually assured a slot in Makuuchi with Hakuho’s retirement, Asanoyama’s suspension, Shohozan’s demotion, and possible demotions for Kaisei and Kagayaki.

I couldn’t get all of the bouts into the video, so I supplemented with some of these clips from YouTube. I did manage to get the yusho ceremony so that’s tacked onto the end of the video at the top.