Ones To Watch – Post Haru Round Up (Makushita)

Why is this man smiling? Ah yes, kachi-koshi in Makushita joi can feel like winning a Powerball jackpot.

With the glorious Haru basho in the record books, we can now examine how our up-an-coming, and well loved rikishi fared in the lower divisions. While we remarked at length at how brutal the competition was in the top division, the carnage carried down the banzuke to a surprising degree, with many of our “Ones to Watch” going down to make-koshi or squeaking out their final win with their last match.

Today we are looking at the Makushita rikishi, with lower divisions following soon.

Wakamotoharu – The second Onami brother to break into the salaried ranks, he had a disastrous record for Osaka, with only 5 wins against 10 losses. Ranked at Juryo 10, this is quite possibly enough certain to return him to the Makushita joi for May, where he will once again face some of the most difficult matches in sumo.

Hoshoryu – The rising star from Mongolia faced a 3 match cold streak in the first half of Haru, and closed with 3 straight wins to end 4-3. Prior to this tournament, Hoshoryu had been able to dominate the bulk of his matches, and may have found the competition a bit sedate. Ranked at Makusihta 7 in Osaka, he came up against some of the highly motivated rikishi, seeking to mangle each other in search of the final step into Sekitori status. While all of his fans are happy for his kachi-koshi, we expect him to have to repeat this kind of brutal slog at least a few more times before he can make his Juryo debut.

Akua – Electric green Akua went down to his second make-koshi in Osaka, putting his 3rd trip to Juryo further out of reach. Akua has been nursing nagging injuries after being forced to withdraw from the Aki basho on day 12. He has drive, speed and talent, but like so many hopefuls, his body suffers from the brutal pounding that is the top ¼ of Makushita.

Ichiyamamoto – Ichiyamamoto blazed a 6-1 record from Makushita 11, earning him a solid berth in the Makushita joi-jin for Natsu, and possibly a shot at Juryo if he can excel one more time. This will be no easy feat given how many strong rikishi had winning records in the top 10 Makushita ranks, who did not end up making the Juryo cut. He’s made one trip to these elevated ranks last summer, but suffered a brutal 1-6 at Aki 2018, and has been pushing to recover ever since.

Midorifuji – Midorifuji came to Osaka at his highest ever rank, and looking to do one thing – bring home 4 shiroboshi and a kachi-koshi. He closed the deal on this proposition on the final day, and assured himself a modest move higher. We will likely see him test his sumo against some of the joi-jin in May, and this might present him his biggest challenge yet. Midorifuji has shown an impressive range of sumo this year, and it’s only March…

Wakatakamoto – The lowest ranking of the three Onami brothers, Wakatakamoto excelled in Osaka, ending with a 5-2 record. Its likely this score will see him in the teens of the Makushita division, and he may find the level of competition a degree more intense than Osaka.

Ura – After a crippling re-injury to his right knee at Hatsu, Ura wasted no time returning to an orthopedic surgical theater, and undergoing a second surgery. He is not likely to return to the dohyo this year, and his Oyakata has indicated to the press that they are in “no rush” and want his recovery to be “perfect”. We could not agree more.

Musashikuni – The scion of the Mushashigawa clan went into the final day of the Haru basho already with 4 losses, but took his third win from Kotodairyu, to ease his fall down the banzuke for Natsu. We know the big Hawaiian has been nursing numerous mechanical injuries, and may have been at less than full health. He is also one of Takayasu’s tsukibeto.

Naya – One of the great stories of Haru was Naya’s bold run to within arm’s reach of the Makushita yusho from Ms51e. He was toe to toe with rikishi ranking well above him in many cases, but continued to dominated his matches. After a less than spectacular result from Hatsu, fans hopeful that Naya may be driving for higher ranks were delighted with his effort.

For a complementary take on the state of Makushita, see Chris Gould’s video below. -lksumo

Hatsu Day 7 – Lower Division Ones To Watch

A smaller lineup of our “Ones to Watch” for Saturday, but there are some find Makushita matches to track, as we get towards the half way point for many of these rikishi. The competition for what may be just a handful of Juryo slots will be increasingly brutal as we near the conclusion of Hatsu, and we will be watching with interest.

Kenho vs Kirizakura – Kenho is winless, and another loss today would mean a make-koshi, and a demotion back down to Jonidan. Compared to Kenho’s amazing bulk, 100kg Kirizakura is a light-weight, but I am sure we will see some high-agility small-man sumo tonight.

Naya vs Terao – Naya is looking fairly solid thus far, and comes into this 2-1 bracket looking for his next win. Terao has been knocking around Makushita for the bulk of the last several years, and bring a serious challenge to Kaio’s grandson.

Wakatakamoto vs Ohata – Another 2-1 bracket match we see the lower ranked Waka brother up against a fairly young opponent in Ohata. Ohata, from Tokitsukaze heya, is near his highest ever rank, and seems to be competing well. Should be a good match.

Wakamotoharu vs Fujiazuma – Near the half way point, only a handful of Makushita rikishi are still unbeaten, and these two are the highest ranked. This is a Darwin match, and may have a direct impact on if Wakamotoharu has a shot at breaking in Juryo. With this much on the line, it’s going to be a flat out battle!

Akua vs Kiribayama – Both rikishi enter this match with 2-1 records, but Akua has beaten Kiribayama in both of their prior matches. Both are ranked high enough that its possible they could be considered for elevation to Sekitori, so there is a lot on the line for them both.

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!