The First Eleven Men of Makushita

Enho-Takayasu
… When you can see over the top of the mountain

Instead of a traditional “Ones to Watch” section this basho, we’ll mix things up with a few lower division storylines. We’ll start by taking a look at what’s going on at the top of Makushita.

This division is an absolute slog. There are 120 men in this division fighting for usually 2 to 4 of the 28 slots in Juryo. As described on a recent NHK World sumo preview, the division between Makushita and Juryo is like “heaven and hell,” given the resources and opportunities provided to rikishi once they reach the professional, sekitori level.

If you’re a college rikishi of good pedigree, usually you will cruise through the bottom 2-3 tiers before meeting your tougher matches here. Rikishi who have left school before college often take several years to reach the level as they get acclimated to the sport and the lifestyle. One of the reasons it’s tough to escape the level is because there’s a crush at the top – but Nagoya 2018 is unique. With respect to Natsu whipping boy Amakaze, usually there are a couple rikishi around the top of the division who have departed Juryo due to injury or performance, not soon to return back, and these guys get beat up by the hot young up-and-comers on the upswing of their career.

This time, however, there’s no filler at the top of the division and it’s going to be an all out melee to reach the professional ranks when sumo returns to Tokyo for the Aki tournament in September. Let’s look at who’s jockeying for position:

The Battle Scarred Veterans

I’m going to put 29 year olds Jokoryu (Ms5E) and Asabenkei (Ms4E) in this category, though their careers have taken different routes to the same location. The former Komusubi Jokoryu spent 4 years as sekitori before dropping down the divisions due to serious injury. He’s been stuck in the wilderness for 2 years, but has fought his way back up to striking distance of promotion. Asabenkei, who has been in sumo since 2007, recently made it back to Juryo after an 18 month hiatus. He then suffered a humiliating 3-win tournament in May, which started 0-7, en route to an immediate demotion back to the third tier.

While these guys have a wildly different pedigree and career accomplishments, it’s probably fair to say they have been operating on a similar talent level and with an ambition to scrape back up and re-establish themselves as professionals.

The Hot Shots

Enho (Ms2W) – the first man to open his career 21-0 since Jokoryu – arrived on the scene earlier than predicted in Osaka, but it was clear he was over-promoted before his time and was swiftly demoted back to Makushita. It’s good news for him that he has such an esteemed some-time sparring partner in Hakuho, however, and the hard work he’s put in has seen him rebound after a solid Natsu to the fourth position on the banzuke. We’ve been hot on Enho so long it’s hard to believe it’s still only his 8th tournament. 5 wins should see him back up.

Meanwhile, fellow “Ones to Watch” honorees and college men Murata (Ms1W) and Ichiyamamoto (Ms3E) reach the division’s summit in just their 9th tournaments (though Ichiyamamoto gets bonus points for having got here just as quickly from Jonokuchi). Murata is a big bopper who loves a good ol’ fashioned oshi-fuelled brawl. Ichiyamamoto mixes it up a little more but is still mostly a pusher-thruster.

The Brother

The youngest of Arashio-beya’s three Onami brothers, Wakatakakage not only made it first to Juryo but then stuck at the level, managing a kachi-koshi in his first trip to the pros. Middle brother Wakamotoharu (Ms4W) now finds himself on the brink – with the third and oldest brother Wakatakamoto not so far behind at Ms10. Having only eked out 3 wins from similar positions on the banzuke in the past, he’ll be looking to improve his record in this part of the sumo world this time, to set up a promotion challenge either this time or next. It’s a sprint between the two remaining brothers to catch Wakatakakage now, but Wakamotoharu is in the pole position.

The Cups of Coffee

27 year old Akua (Ms5W) and 23 year old Hakuyozan (Ms1E) both spent years making the long and winding trek through the lower reaches of the banzuke before managing just a “cup of coffee” in the pros, each returning back to Makushita after one tournament where they both clearly looked overmatched. They’ll be wanting to make sure the chance to establish themselves at a higher level does not go begging again.

The Wild Cards

22 year olds Gokushindo (Ms2E) and Kiribayama (Ms3W) have different origin stories and routes to this point, but what they have in common is a certain inconsistency. Kiribayama at times has looked utterly dominant in this division, and is the current yusho holder. Gokushindo has tended to take 2 steps forward followed by one step back as he adjust to the differences in quality in what is a Makushita tier which effectively has divisions within the division, such is the gulf in class between various areas of the ranks. Having posted a 6-1 record last time out, it would seemingly stand to reason he would need an adjustment period again this time, but he will face familiar foes having beaten Ichiyamamoto, Murata and Wakamotoharu in May (the latter two using a style best described as “Ichinojo” – a ponderously lengthy wait-out of a grapple in the centre of the dohyo followed by an escort over the bales and a throw respectively), losing only to Kiribayama.

The Terunofuji

At the time of writing, it appears to be unclear whether we’re going to see Terunofuji (Ms6E) in Nagoya. The man has undergone plenty of work on both knees, and suffered a less than fruitful spell in Juryo, which was also apparently hindered at times by diabetes related treatment. What his tournament ability is, at this point in the game, is still unclear. While it’s possible and even likely he may drop further (either due to performance or kyujo-status), the very presence of a former Ozeki in this part of the banzuke should give pause to each of the other names listed here – if he does show up, it’s obviously to compete and to win.

Ones to Watch: Hatsu 18 Wrap-up

With the New Years basho having concluded this past weekend with a wonderful and unexpected result, it’s now time to take a look down the banzuke and check on the overall performances of this tournament’s Tachiai Ones to Watch™. Last time out, we posted a 17-3 kachi-koshi record and collected 2 yusho from the 4 lower divisions.

Results

So, how did our picks do this time?

Kachi-koshi: 1️⃣2️⃣
Make-koshi: 8️⃣
Yusho: 🏆
Juryo promotions: 1️⃣
Hattorizakura-watch: ⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️

Makushita

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – One of our dear favorites locked in his kachi-koshi at the last chance, posting a 4-3 record. We are unabashed fans of Enho, he is exciting and amazing to watch. However, that he was even in the promotion conversation with this record at this rank is a testament to the mess at the bottom of Juryo. He has now been receiving (semi) daily stern tests against rikishi of similar pedigree and veterans who have seen the promised land and do not appreciate being exiled from it. On the face of it, the trip to Juryo may be extremely challenging to him so let’s hope he can gain some good pounds in the right places.

Ms6 Wakamotoharu, Ms17 Wakatakakage, Ms34 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The Arashio bros combined for a 15-6 record driven largely by Wakatakakage’s impressive zensho yusho, which should place him at or near the top of the division for Haru. Like Enho, Wakamotoharu found it tough in the insanely congested top of the Makushita division, falling to a 3-4 record, and should find himself near enough to Wakatakamoto whose 5 win basho should propel him near enough the top quarter of the division. Should those two post similar records next time out it might make things interesting for the schedulers! If we’re going to look at areas of improvement, Wakamotoharu may need the opposite plan as Enho going forward as he handled the veterans nicely but tended to struggle against the up and coming rikishi.

Ms8 Murata (Takasago) – Murata, who debuted at the same time with Wakatakakage and who had largely matched his progress, will fall back behind his rival having suffered the narrowest of make-koshi. In fairness, having come through a horrendous start, he recovered nicely in the last couple of matches to ensure his demotion will not be too extreme. If we’re going to look for a highlight, his second bout match against the triple lower division yusho winner and Kokonoe up-and-comer Chiyonoumi might provide a key for future success – he’s able to stand his ground against a composed opponent and use his mass and pushing/thrusting to keep moving forward and move him out (hat tip to One and Only for the video coverage):

Ms21 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – It’s another solid kachi-koshi at 5-2 for Nishonoseki’s university man, who just continues to progress. Ichiyamamoto is an extreme pusher-thruster and it will be interesting to watch his results as he starts now to come up against rikishi with a better plan at the tachiai. Gochozan’s revenge win against him in this tournament was a case of a match that started as a pushing festival and ended up with Ichiyamamoto’s arms getting locked up and not really having much of a plan B. If someone’s going to lock up his arms he may struggle, but if he can establish his pushing attack he’s a difficult rikishi to beat at this level.

Ms23 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – Owing to the flu circulating Isegahama-beya, we’re going to have to give Nishikifuji a pass on an awful 1-5-1 tournament that blighted an otherwise brilliant start to his career. The banzuke makers of course will not be so kind, but the last time that a 1 win tournament at his rank wasn’t enough to keep a rikishi in this division was 1948. He put up 6 wins at Ms52 last time out and that’s probably about where we’ll see him next time and will expect him to restart his progress.

Ms30 Ryuko (Onoe) – Another solid tournament for Ryuko who makes it three consecutive 5-2s to follow the three consecutive 6-1s to open his career. Intriguingly, he used a greater variety of winning techniques here than some of his contemporaries higher up on this post. While he certainly gets his share of oshi- wins, over the last two tournaments he has started mixing in throws. Only one of them seems to have been particularly well executed (in Kyushu against Ikeru) but that also may come down to the quality of opponent. It’s going to be interesting to see how he mixes and matches and whether his strategy will continue to develop as he reaches the higher levels.

Ms31 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – It’s another really solid start to Tomokaze’s career, and after 4 basho he should find himself placed solidly in the upper part of the division after putting up 5 more wins here. Had he not run into Wakatakamoto in the middle of the tournament, it would have been interesting to see if he could challenge for yet another yusho, but as it stands the Oguruma man (who dealt with Ryuko for the first time in the early stages of Hatsu) will be pleased with his progress as he develops into a large and physical rikishi. What happens to his mobility as his size increases will be an interesting watch.

Ms49 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I had picked Musashikuni almost more as a “draft and follow” kind of guy than an immediate one to watch. I thought he had a good chance this time out at handling the opposition at this rank, but it never really came together until the end of a 3-4 tournament that will leave him as very much an edge case for remaining in the division for Osaka. This is more of a long term choice and we’re going to stick with him next time out and, like his stablemate Wakaichiro, continue to bet on his potential.

Ms55 Tanabe (Kise) – Tanabe had absolutely coasted through the bottom 3 divisions and even started here with 2 wins from 3 but in truth I could tell after seeing him in person on Day 2 that this was not going to be his basho, and from the midway point he completely unraveled with 4 straight losses (to end 2-5), the lowlight of which was a shocking ashitori from Amanoshima on Day 11. He has “bouncebackability” to be sure, but he’s going to need some serious keiko to right the ship and prepare for another assault on promotion back to Makushita.

Sandanme

Sd2 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – Fukuyama pulls out a last ditch kachi-koshi which will secure his promotion up to Makushita. While he started his career strong with 3 straight 6 win tournaments, his progress has slowed and it will be interesting to see if he can better the results of his rival Tanabe, who he has never beaten, in his debut at the next level.

Sd21 Shoji (Musashigawa) – We doubted Shoji’s ability to pull off the third consecutive yusho on his Sandanme debut and that hesitation proved to be well-founded as he finished with his first career make-koshi at 3-4. That all being said, he improved in the latter half of the basho and won’t fall so far down that a good tournament next time won’t propel him forward, so the Musashigawa man will hope this is a minor setback. This is the first tournament where it could be argued Shoji didn’t face anyone of a similar pedigree or level of progression (and that may continue to be the case) so how he deals with more of a mixed bag of veteran opponents will determine his future.

Sd47 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Kotokumazoe’s hot comeback run was stopped dead in its tracks with 3 straight losses, but the Sadogatake man did well over the last week to finish 3-1 and end with a narrow make-koshi at what was his highest career posting to date. His thrust-heavy attack didn’t look especially inspired in either of the matches for which there is video footage but his persistence in his day 15 win against Tochikasuga at least gives some reason for optimism.

Sd83 Torakio (Naruto) – A tournament to forget for Torakio who started strong and ended injured. We thought he’d fare better than Shoji this time out, and he started strong at 2-0 but dropped 4 straight before going kyujo, the final two of which culminated in injury-inspiring and frankly very painful looking throws. However before this, what was clear from all 4 losses was that despite how strong we have seen Torakio to be, he suffered from a very weak tachiai which was beginning to be exploited even at the bottom of Sandanme. After his make-koshi clinching under-arm throw inflicted by Ryuki on day 12, he remained on the floor for a very long time. Obviously we wish the strong Torakio the best of health, and hope he can make a comeback in the upper reaches of Jonidan next time out.

Jonidan

Jd23 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – As has been covered extensively already on the site, Wakaichiro had a fantastic return to form at 5-2 (winning his first four) and one that will see him almost certainly repromoted to Sandanme for his second crack at the division in Osaka. The last time this record at this rank wasn’t good enough for a promotion was 1958, so it’s as close to a banker as you can get.

Jd41 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – The Amatsu comeback story continues as his 5-2 record keeps him on pace to return to the higher divisions after his years long layoff!

Jd42 Hayashi (Fujishima) – “Mike” Hayashi opened his Jonidan account with 4 straight wins, looking to grab the yusho that eluded him at the first time of asking on his banzuke debut at Kyushu. Despite nursing a heavily bandaged right knee, Hayashi looked pretty composed most of the time here en route to a 5-2 result that will place him alongside Amatsu in the top 10 ranks of Jonidan in Osaka as they continue their unlikely rivalry which Hayashi leads 2-0.

Jonokuchi

Jk18 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – The pre-tournament projections of the hyped Yoshoyama and his mae-zumo results made him feel like a bona-fide yusho challenger to us but we whiffed on that as he had to rally to secure a 4-3 kachi-koshi in which he did not particularly impress.

Jk19 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – As noted in our mid-basho roundup, the Sadogatake debutant was winning with little effort owing to his size and strength differential. He ran into some trouble when pulled up to Jonidan for a match and ended up losing the playoff to finish with the jun-yusho, but it’s an encouraging start and one which should portend decent results in the bottom half of Jonidan next time out.

As for Hattorizakura… as Herouth noted he did show some improvement and some fight early on in the tournament before returning to his usual ways. The match he really should have won was his (actually quite lengthy) Day 8 match against the tiny Takita, whose two career victories to date both came against Hattorizakura. If he can at least be less afraid of the tachiai, he might be able to sneak one or two. We shall cheer for a victory in Osaka!

Ones to Watch: Hatsu 2018 Midpoint

While much of the conversation of the past week has been about how the Kakuryu-meter runneth over, the basho has been in full swing for the folks that we don’t get to see on the highlights every day, so let’s catch up on the Ones to Watch for Hatsu and see how we’re doing. As a reminder, we picked up 17 kachi-koshi and 2 yusho from our Kyushu picks, and well, that might be a bit of a challenge this time.

As some of you will know, I was at Day 2 of the basho earlier this past week and so, for this first time, we’ve got some of our own video to add as well. I had a great vantage point but was surrounded by some elderly friends of the site who walked in front of the camera a few times, so please don’t mind them. They were having a great time too, and newcomers to sumo have much to learn from seasoned fans who like to get there early and cheer enthusiastically for the good matches that they can take in at the lower levels.

Makushita

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – We’re now at the stage, with so many of our picks involved in similar areas of the banzuke, that success here is going to look like 4 and 5 win records rather than 6 and 7. And that’s ok, as I suspect Enho would be happy with a kachi-koshi at this stage where he sits at 2-2 after 8 days. He exacted revenge over Jokoryu on Day 1 and picked off another of our picks, Murata on Day 8, but a disappointing loss to the inelegant (no matter which way you look at it) Akiseyama leaves him in somewhat precarious territory as he looks to continue his advancement.

Ms6 Wakamotoharu, Ms17 Wakatakakage, Ms34 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – These guys should all be very happy with their performances. Wakamotoharu sits on 2-2 having run into some tough traffic at the top end of the division, but both his brothers are 4-0 and cruising. Let’s not waste any more words on this and instead check out some VT:

 

Here’s Wakamotoharu’s Day 2 match against our friend Takayoshitoshi. A good old fashioned grapple before he gets dumped out at the end to much cheer from the crowd, with a guest appearance from a gift-bag delivering usher.

Ms8 Murata (Takasago) – The schedule is not kind at this level and Murata has been faced with 3 talented up and comers and a rikishi who’s just been unceremoniously dumped out of Juryo in Daisedo, with a 1-3 record to show for it. He faces the equally monovictorious Jokoryu on Day 9, as he attempts to stave off a make-koshi.

Ms21 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – I feel good about this guy and caught the end of his Day 2 bought against Kiribayama (a win) and he is looking good. He sits at 3-1 and is poised for another steady move upward if he can finish the job in the next few days.

Ms23 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – If anyone knows what on earth is going on at Isegahama-beya please let us know in the comments (EDIT: a bunch of folks have got the flu. Thank you to commenter Sakura for the tip-off). We all know about what has beset the top end of their roster but a number of their lower division rikishi pulled out for a couple days in week 1, so the very promising Nishikifuji sits with a 1-2-1 record that is going to make further promotion difficult for him this time out. He gets to face Kise-beya’s one-time Juryo man Takaryu on Day 9.

Ms30 Ryuko (Onoe) – Now we get to a nicer part of the division where 3 of our picks (Ryuko, Tomokaze and Wakatakamoto) have only lost to each other. So that’s cool and makes us look smart. He’s 3-1.

Ms31 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – See above. Tomokaze’s having a very good time of it on his debut in the division and gets matched up with Tokitsukaze’s 22 year old Hamayutaka on Day 9, who like Tomokaze is 3-1.

Ms49 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – Oh boy. Well, we were right about the pedigree being there, but sadly the Musashigawa man is off to a rough 1-3 start. I got to see him in action in person earlier this week and after two mattas it was clear there was something a little wrong with his timing and composure. He had a good old match against Mugendai though, and unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of history. Let’s take a look:

 

Ms55 Tanabe (Kise) – Tanabe is the 15th rikishi from Kise-beya in the Makushita division – that’s more than Miyagino has in their whole stable and even more than Isegahama have had go kyujo in this tournament! Tanabe has built a bit of a rivalry with Fukuyama but must be missing him as he has only been able to muster a 2-2 start. He gets 21 year old Nakazono from Nishonoseki-beya on Day 9.

Sandanme

Sd2 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – Fukuyama is on the brink of promotion and he’s got 3 chances to find the 2 wins to do it and join Tanabe in the next division as he’s 2-2. He’s had the misfortune to run into the streaking Aonosho who looks like he may contend for the yusho here.

Sd21 Shoji (Musashigawa) – A few commenters mentioned that Torakio would be more likely than Shoji to compete for the yusho at this level, despite Shoji going 2 for 2. His hopes of matching Enho’s hot 3-yusho start have been thoroughly quashed with a rude awakening and a 1-3 start. He needs to be perfect from here on out if he is to continue progressing.

Sd47 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Kotokumazoe had been on a hot comeback run but he seems to have hit an icy patch as well, as he is also 1-3. We won’t see him in action again until at least Day 10.

Sd83 Torakio (Naruto) – As Herouth has covered elsewhere in the past few days, something seems not right about Torakio at the moment and after a couple wins he’s cooled off to a 2-2 start. Hopefully he can recapture his spark and give himself a nice boost up a division that’s proving difficult for our picks.

Jonidan

Jd23 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – Well this is more like it. The Tachiai favorite has shown some much developed sumo to start 2018 and that in itself fills us with much encouragement for his progress. Then you look at his 4-0 start and wonder how far he can go. As Bruce has covered, he gets Tomozuna’s Kaiho on Day 9.

Jd41 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – The Amatsu comeback continues apace as only Hayashi has been able to stop him so far. He’s 3-1 and in action Day 9 against 22 year old Nakao of Onoe-beya. The only question seems at the moment to be whether we will stick or twist next time out and continue to follow the comeback story of a veteran of relatively advanced age.

Jd42 Hayashi (Fujishima) – “Mike” Hayashi’s off to a 4-0 flyer this time and looking good. He gets Fujihisashi on Day 9 and should he and Wakaichiro win, it’s not out of the question we may see them in action against each other yet in this basho. But hopefully they can both pull it off and we can go from there.

Jonokuchi

Jk18 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – We loved the projections of the “beastly” Yoshoyama but he’s having a really rough debut tournament. I thought it would not be a shock for him to grab the yusho but he’s been getting handled and his second match loss to Shinfuji was ugly. He may do well to repeat the level.

Jk19 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – At least we got one pick to click at this level! The Sadogatake man is winning with very little effort right now and so as he gets matched up with stronger rikishi, we’ll see if he can carry on and win the title. It’s difficult to say if he actually looks good because he really hasn’t been pushed.

And of course there’s Hattorizakura – winless, but managing to put up more of a fight. Will his first win in over 70 matches come before the end of Hatsu 2018?

Ones to Watch: Hatsu 2018

Enho

Real sumo starts back up again on Sunday, and while we wait with anticipation to see what will happen on the return of some of the premiere stars of the sport, there will be a whole lot of rikishi mounting the dohyo early on in the day, and some of them belong to the next generation of superstars. With that, it’s the return of our Ones to Watch series where we highlight 20 upcoming rikishi from the bottom 4 divisions (and one other special friend of Tachiai).

This time, a slot opens up due to the promotion of Ones to Watch alum Mitoryu of Nishikido-beya, who makes his Juryo debut amid much fanfare. Descriptions here may be somewhat abbreviated as your humble correspondent needs to get on with the business of boarding a plane and going to the basho, but we’ll continue to check in with these guys throughout the tournament and see how they’re getting on, with further analysis.

Finally, as we’ve been following some of these guys for several tournaments now and they’ve repaid our faith by performing well, this month’s set of picks is very Makushita-heavy.

Makushita

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – There’s only one place to start. Miyagino-beya has been involved in some strange controversies in the last few weeks but the good news is that this man continues his trajectory. After acing his first 3 tournaments, he put up a solid 5 win record in November and finds himself nearer the cusp of the sekitori ranks.

However, here’s where things start to get really interesting: his match-ups this time will likely come from a combination of yo-yo rikishi who have bounced up and down from Juryo, grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time and fellow members of the next huge wave of up-and-comers (more of whom, imminently). Not that he didn’t have solid rivals last time out at Ms14, but I anticipate this tournament will be his first real test.

Ms6 Wakamotoharu, Ms17 Wakatakakage, Ms34 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The three brothers Onami and stablemates (who also all took/changed shikona in the last year presumably in tribute to their grandfather Wakabayama) have all taken up places for the first time towards the upper reaches of the Makushita division. We’ve put Wakatakakage under the spotlight as the university man with some pedigree has flown up the divisions, but he suffered his first make-koshi last time out. Will any of these men reach the next level – and if so, who will reach it first?

Ms8 Murata (Takasago) – We’ve been measuring Murata against Wakatakakage who debuted at the same time and more or less matched his records over several basho, but now it’s time to split them up. I was impressed with how Murata rebounded from a narrow make-koshi last time out to post a sterling 6-1 record and bound into the division’s top 10, but even more impressive was how he easily despatched the much heralded Shonannoumi in so doing.

Ms21 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – He had been blitzing his way up the banzuke and I had even tipped him as a sleeper yusho candidate last time out before he came a little unstuck and scraped a narrow 4-3. His match against Kiribayama is going to be interesting, and he’ll likely come up against our next man as well. This part of the banzuke always has an odd collection of mostly declining veterans and rikishi whose peak will be this level with the odd talented youngster thrown in and I’d like to see a more emphatic kachi-koshi here this time out.

Ms23 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – Here’s one of the bright spots for Isegahama-oyakata, as this man just continues his fast progress and the 21 year old put up his best record in 5 tournaments as he cruised to a 6 win basho last time out. As with Ichiyamamoto, how he navigates a mixed bag of opponents will determine how quickly he can join a pretty solid collection of rikishi in challenging for Juryo.

Ms30 Ryuko (Onoe) – Ryuko celebrates his anniversary in sumo here having never put up less than 5 wins. I think he will be challenged to continue this impressive feat this time out, as actually this area of the ranking sheet looks a bit tougher to me than where Ichiyamamoto and Nishikifuji find themselves. The 19 year old is off to a great, solid start to his career.

Ms31 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – An almost spotless opening to Tomokaze’s career has him 20-1 with two yusho. Now he takes on the 3rd division and will face some challenging rikishi (I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t run into Ryuko) in his bid to further clog up the Juryo promotion queue.

Ms49 Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I really hemmed and hawed about whether I wanted to include him, and his heavy oshi- attack is a little rough around the edges, but I just have a good feeling here. The rank feels good for him and while the results by the numbers haven’t been especially spectacular, I think he’s a good follow for a few tournaments. Obviously, the pedigree is there.

Ms55 Tanabe (Kise) – Kise-beya needs some good news and it’s possible that Tanabe’s promotion to Makushita might be the start of it. Obviously there are an enormous number of rikishi ahead of him just within the stable both inside and outside of this division but I like his match ups at this level. He has done exceptionally well so far and has managed to break apart from Fukuyama who had managed to stay ranked in front of him despite what I saw as slightly poorer performance.

Sandanme

Sd2 Fukuyama (Fujishima) – Fukuyama gets his third crack at a division where he’s finally unlikely to have to face his bogeyman Tanabe any longer (Tanabe won all 3 of their match-ups). Only promotion will do this time out.

Sd21 Shoji (Musashigawa) – He’s 2 for 2 so far with a perfect record, despite the fact that rival Torakio has really pushed him to the max. Now he competes to match Enho’s stellar 3 straight yusho achievement from last year. This will be a tougher challenge. Also I’m interested to see what state his hair is in when he turns up this time.

Sd47 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – There are so many Sadogatake rikishi in this division including the fabulously named Kotozensho, but this man repaid our faith as he continued his comeback from a long injury layoff last time off and again the rank here feels good for success.

Sd83 Torakio (Naruto) – Oh boy. Torakio is a fireball with massive strength and even a bit of a temper as we saw last time out after his match with Shoji, and now he takes a crack at a new division at the bottom end where anything can happen. The big question for me is whether he can run his record to 6-0 and end up running into Shoji again, though this time I expect that will depend more on Shoji. If he has been performing well in training and continuing his progress, then I think we’re going to see a BIG tournament from the Bulgarian this time.

 

Jonidan

Jd23 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – The debut in Sandanme wasn’t what we all hoped at Tachiai, but a strong tournament here may reverse his fortunes and send him back up – or close to it.

Jd41 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – The 27 year old’s comeback after an extremely long layoff started well last time out as he notched 6 wins and earned a promotion. How far can he go?

Jd42 Hayashi (Fujishima) – The debut basho was mostly a success for the half-Filipino “Mike” Hayashi. His utter dismantling of the also promoted Bando (one of Izutsu’s few rikishi) was a fun watch but he won multiple matches in similar fashion and it’ll be interesting to see him come up against hopefully stronger competition.

 

Jonokuchi

Jk18 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – If you liked the way that Hayashi manhandled most of the opposition in his debut, then you’re going to love Yoshoyama, who makes his bow here and has been described as “enormous” and “a beast.” He makes his debut presumably a tournament ahead of fellow hotly tipped Mongolian Byambasuren and by all accounts it’s going to be fun to watch these two climb the banzuke. I’m going to be very surprised not to see a yusho here.

Jk19 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – Another debutant rolls off the Sadogatake production line. This isn’t a pick made looking massively down the line but rather one specifically for this tournament – Kototebakari has a sizeable mass advantage over most of his twig-like competitors at the level and having breezed through maezumo, it will be interesting to see how his match with Yoshoyama goes as it will maybe even give somewhat of an indication to how the Mongolian can deal with more developed rikishi at higher levels.

Our bonus is the man at Jk24, Hattorizakura, who enters the tournament again ranked above two rikishi and looking to avoid what would be a tenth consecutive winless tournament.

Ones to Watch: Kyushu 17 Wrap-up

Above: Enho rounds off his tournament by escorting Akinohana off the dohyo.
Video c/o Asashosakari

Remember way back in September and October when we were shaking our heads in disbelief at “Wacky” Aki? How positively calm those days seem now. We took a week or so to collect ourselves following the conclusion of the unprecedented events of the Kyushu basho, but now it’s time to wrap-up our “Ones to Watch” series for 2017. Thanks to everyone who sent through kind words and their suggestions of future rikishi to follow – I think we’ll have a good list in store for Hatsu.

Results

So, how did our picks do on the whole?

Kachi-koshi: 17
Make-koshi: 3
Yusho: 🏆🏆
Hattorizakura-watch: ⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️

Makushita

Ms4 Mitoryu (Nishikido) – Mitoryu sealed his promotion to Juryo with a fine 6-1 record, justifying our selection as top pick in the Makushita ranks this time out. He’ll be ineligible for the list next time, but the much-vaunted rikishi will continue to be one to watch as he continues his progression and hopefully consolidates his place among the sekitori.

Ms7 Hokaho (Miyagino) – I was somewhat hopeful that Hokaho could continue his run, having scored winning records in every other basho in 2017. However the run stops here as he slumped to a 3-4 make-koshi courtesy of a final match loss against…

Ms11 Takayoshitoshi (Takanohana) – … who sealed his kachi-koshi in the same match. Takagenji’s twin will no doubt be challenged to follow his brother’s (who has managed to hold on to his place in Juryo) progress as he’ll see himself inside the top 10 Makushita ranks for Hatsu. The question is whether he can put together the run of consistency that could see him in promotion contention by mid-2018 – his mental makeup and application have been debated somewhat within the comments section of this site.

Ms12 Wakatakakage (Arashio) vs Ms22 Murata (Takasago) – Despite entering the tournament at a similar pedigree (just the odd loss separating them over their careers), the strength of schedule really told here. Wakatakakage was simply out-shoved against a selection of seasoned vets at this level en route to a 3-4 make-koshi, including the eventual yusho winner Tochihiryu. Murata on the other hand was able to bulldoze his way through the middle of the pack to a very strong 6-1 record that will see him promoted above his contemporary next time out and almost certainly into the top 10 Makushita ranks.

Ms14 Jokoryu (Kise) vs Ms14 Enho (Miyagino) – I felt there was a lot of spice in the Makushita 14 pairing as Jokoryu was the very last rikishi before Enho to achieve 3 consecutive 7-0 records to begin his career. With different goals at stake – Jokoryu’s late career fightback to the pro ranks, Enho’s effort to continue a blistering start to his career – both men valiantly achieved 5-2 records which will see them also placed in the Makushita top 10 in January.

It’s worth noting that Enho’s energy is absolutely remarkable, and currently his speed is the main trait that helps him overcome the massive size gaps that exist between him and most competitors. Additionally, he does a good job of keeping his opponents away from the mawashi, as once he’s locked up he’s fairly easy for larger, stronger rikishi to move around (as somewhat evidenced by his loss to the enormous Akiseyama, albeit a match where his arms rather than his belt were locked up). While he displays at times a composure beyond his years in the manner in which he dispatches much larger opponents, he also has suffered a few wild crashes off the dohyo, so we will hope that he stays healthy as he continues his development.

Ms26 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – I got this one a bit wrong, as I picked Ichiyamamoto as a bit of a sleeper yusho pick owing to the weak strength of schedule and his absolute tear up the banzuke to this point. He will continue his progression after posting a 4-3 kachi-koshi but we will want to see more next time. He displayed some good poise, despite being smaller than many of his opponents.

Ms50 Ryuko (Onoe) – A strong performance in his Makushita debut, putting up a 5-2 kachi-koshi, the odd loss coming to…

Ms52 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – … whose victory over Ryuko (in a match that probably could have gone either way, Nishikifuji slapping down Ryuko on the verge of being pushed out at the edge) sealed a 6-1 tournament in which both men coughed up the other losses to the promising Mongolian Kiribayama. Both Ryuko and Nishikifuji are set for strong promotions upward in January and we will continue to monitor their progress. It’s worth noting that Nishikifuji’s performance at Kyushu was a rare bright spot for the otherwise beleaguered Isegahama stable.

Sandanme

Sd13 Fukuyama (Fujishima) vs Sd16 Tanabe (Kise) – I’ve rated Tanabe as the better of these two for a while, having only lost to Enho in his career entering the basho (in fairness to Fukuyama, he’d only lost to Tanabe, but he wasn’t running into Enho). This time, Enho was in another division and Tanabe repaid this faith with a solid 5-2 record that bested Fukuyama’s narrow 4 win kachi-koshi. Tanabe’s showing should be good enough to earn him a promotion, while Fukuyama will likely need to take another crack from the top of Sandanme next time out. As an aside, this is the part of the banzuke where an awful lot of rikishi’s successes are dependent about how they do against the squad from Sadogatake-beya. Both of these guys ended up facing 3 Koto-men – as did Tomokaze and Wakaichiro.

Sd53 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – Tomokaze comes up one loss short of “doing an Enho” from his first three tournaments – he dropped one match in Aki, but stormed back with a zensho (via playoff) here that solidified his credentials as a bona fide prospect. His relatively low ranking in the Sandanme division means he should end up somewhere around the magical Makushita 30 mark at which another unprecedented zensho might clinch another promotion, but it is likely based on past precedent that he’ll fall just short of this mark.

Sd84 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Talking of the myriad prospects of Sadogatake-beya, Kotokumazoe reinforces his credentials after his lengthy absence from the banzuke with a third straight solid tournament. His 5 win record should fire him up another 30-35 positions next time out.

Sd85 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – There’s no getting around that it was a disappointing debut at Sandanme level for the Texan, who has vowed to do better next time out. While his 1 win performance in the final basho of the year was not what he or his fans were hoping for, we are excited to see him continue his progression and hopefully solidify his credentials upon his return to Jonidan where he has already shown solid skill in several previous tournaments this year.

Jonidan

Jd15 Shoji (Musashigawa) – It’s a second straight yusho for Wakaichiro’s stablemate, who will swap places with the Tachiai-favorite in January as he earns an automatic promotion that will see him placed somewhere between Sd20-30. As we noted in our lower division yusho wrap-up, Shoji sealed the deal with a final match win over Torakio with whom he is developing a nice little rivalry.

Jd49 Torakio (Naruto) vs Jd49 Sumidagawa (Naruto) – Torakio may yet get another chance to avenge his second straight yusho race defeat to Shoji at Hatsu, as his 6 win record will more than likely be enough to get him up to Sandanme (the last time it wasn’t from his level was 1975). So while they’ll likely work from opposite ends of the division, one wouldn’t bet against the big and strong Bulgarian getting matched up with Shoji again should both men dominate in their step up.

For Sumidagawa, Torakio’s massive stablemate, the goal at Hatsu will be consolidation and further progression after he netted a 4-3 kachi-koshi which some Tachiai commenters mentioned might be the height of his ambition with respect to his more esteemed aforementioned colleague.

Jonokuchi

Jk20 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – 27 year old Amatsu turned in a fine performance on his comeback to the dohyo after nearly 3 years away. He only suffered one blemish, with a 6 win record that will see him comfortably promoted in his effort to make it back to the Makushita ranks. As I remarked last time, it was disappointing not to see him matched up with the yusho winner Kotoseigo given they were only placed 2 spots apart on the banzuke.

Jk20 Hayashi (Fujishima) – Speaking of solid performances, top debutant “Mike” Hayashi turned in a 6-1 record, his sole loss coming to the yusho winner Kotoseigo. He will be promoted at Hatsu and we will continue to monitor his progress. He will likely be replaced as our “top debutant to watch” at Hatsu by much vaunted Mongolian Yoshoyama of Tokitsukaze-beya.

Finally, while we don’t technically list Hattorizakura of Shikihide-beya as “one to watch,” we certainly will continue to look for his results, and unfortunately he put up his ninth straight 0-7 tournament at Kyushu. This tournament saw him do what I guess we can call a reverse Futabayama, as he has passed the legendary Yokozuna’s run of 63 and run his loss streak now to 67 consecutive losses (his second loss this time out, against the debutant Takita, was particularly heartbreaking as it looked like a sure win until he got Aminishiki’d at the edge). Here’s an interesting stat if you’re a Hattorizakura fan: only 16 other rikishi have managed to stay on the banzuke while not winning for seven consecutive tournaments (without going banzuke-gai). All of the other 16 were kyujo at some point, though a few did put up legitimate winless tournaments over that period. The great Yokozuna Takanohana II is a member of that list in the injury-addled latter stages of his career, so I guess Hattorizakura can at least say they have that in common!