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.
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.