One of my favourite things about a tournament and the few days after is the battle to cross the “heaven and hell” line dividing Juryo and Makushita. It’s often some of the most entertaining sumo, and Bruce doesn’t even have to stay up late on Senshuraku with his special “Yamazaki: The Darwin” whiskey bottle (don’t worry Bruce, I’ll have one made for you) to enjoy it because this high stakes sumo happens every day of the basho.
Let’s take a look at who’s in the promotion zone this time, plus a few other guys further down who might be worth putting a flier on in your fantasy sumo game of choice to do some damage this time out.
Ms1e Tsukahara – I remember when I used to write a regular “Ones to Watch” feature, someone in the comments would always say “what about my guy Tsukahara?” For some reason he was always a bit of a non-prospect to me and it looked like he properly hit the Makushita wall. He’s been in the division for 26 straight basho, now finding himself in the ultimate position. Probably a good bet for the 4-3 he needs to punch his ticket.
Ms1w Terutsuyoshi – He’ll be hoping he’s reached the end of his annus horribilus (ask an older British person, or your parents if they’re into history). The Samurai Blue superfan has had 12 months to forget, going 22-53 over the previous five tournaments and without winning a majority of his matches on the dohyo in a basho since July of 2021. #yikes. He’s had notable health issues, but that’s the kind of form that gets you turfed out of the salaried ranks, and here we are. He has the ability to take a majority of wins from matches against those around him, but the form book says he’s just as likely to notch a 2-5 or go kyujo.
Ms2e Fujiseiun – While Fuijshima oyakata coached a number of sekitori he inherited from the old Musashigawa beya at the start of his career, this is arguably the brightest period of his tenure as shisho, with a handful of intriguing products in the heya. Fujiseiun (a recent member of the 21 Club: rikishi with 3 straight zensho to open their competitive career) has stuttered a bit when the lights have been brightest, but finished strongly last basho. I’d tip him for a 4-3 here given that he’s likely to get at least one crossover match against a Juryo opponent.
Ms2w Chiyosakae – I wouldn’t bet against him “riding the elevator” a few times between Juryo and Makushita like his stablemate Chiyonoumi (and more recently/previously, Chiyoarashi). As far as the eye test is concerned, I didn’t feel like I saw anything notable in his four basho stint in Juryo and this may be a basho that determines whether or not he’s clogging up the banzuke ahead of the more vaunted prospects coming in behind.
Ms3e Tokihayate – Another guy who just feels like he’s been in the division absolutely ages, although he is only 26 and should be in his career prime. He’s fighting for the second time here at his career high rank, but with only two kachikoshi in seven career attempts ranked Makushita 10 and higher, even if he does make the breakthrough it’s tough to bet on him sticking.
Ms3w Kawazoe – It feels totally weird to say this, but could it be that a prospect as hyped as Kawazoe has had his star dimmed a little, just because of the excitement in his own heya? Former Yokozuna Hakuho gets his first top division product as shisho this basho with ponderous giant Hokuseiho entering Makuuchi, while Ochiai obliterated the competition last basho to reach sekitori after only one tournament. Off the back of 3 kachikoshi, the former Makushita tsukedashi entrant Kawazoe will make his debut inside the “promotion zone” with as good a chance as anyone to nail down a third straight 5-2 that would probably see him clinch promotion. I think he’ll do it. And if all this wasn’t terrifying enough to the rest of the sumo world, behind another top prospect in Mukainakano, there is absolute monster Otani making his debut at the bottom of Makushita in this basho. It’s far too soon to call it a Miyagino dynasty, but if Daiki Nakamura rocks up…
Ms4e Mineyaiba – Beleaguered popular oyakata Shikoroyama (former Terao) could always use some good news, and I think Mineyaiba will provide it, although he may need to wait another basho. I’ve long thought the lanky prospect has looked like a sekitori-in-waiting since back when he was going by his family name of Ito (now being used by his brother down in Jonidan). It’s not hard to see how an oyakata known for being a tall guy with a long reach, producer of recent yusho snaffler Abi, would also have additional success with another rikishi of similar (not the same) build. I do rate Mineyaiba, now 23, as more likely to stick in the sekitori ranks however than previous heya products Oki and Itadori.
Ms4w Kaisho – I’m really disappointed to see Kaisho back down here, but six straight makekoshi is not the making of a good run at any level. I felt pretty confident after his fantastic 11 win tournament at Nagoya 2021 that he would make short work of the penultimate division on his second try, but he’s had a fairly horrendous run in Juryo since then, despite showing glimpses of his promise. I think he’s a technically very capable rikishi, although I also do wonder if he’s let down a bit in his development by the lack of suitable training partners in his heya. At 28 he should be in his career prime, but legendary former Ozeki Kaio has not been a prolific recruiter of talent. One wonders if Kaisho should be spending as much time as he can get on degeiko with some of those terrifying monsters in the ichimon over at Hakuho’s place.
Ms5e Chiyonoumi – Veteran of 14 basho in Juryo, his form has been pretty indifferent since his return to Makushita and it seems unlikely he’ll find the 6 wins he likely needs to gain promotion from this tournament.
Ms5w Tochikamiyama – It feels like there are a lot of Kasugano guys in this part of the banzuke. Veteran Tochimaru wasn’t able to make it stick in Juryo, but Tochimusashi probably has a bright future (despite a tough Hatsu), Tsukahara we’ve covered, and Tochikamiyama at 22 looks like he’s positioned well to knock on the door for the next couple of tournaments. To have already been in Makushita for 21 basho at that age is some considerable experience at the level. He stumbled badly last time, losing a potential exchange bout (although it didn’t transpire that way) against Juryo man Hakuyozan, followed by a Darwin shootout against Tomokaze, who ended up himself getting promoted. 4-3 or 5-2 feels like the right outcome here this time.
Vets who could go 7-0 but probably won’t: Shiden (6e) hasn’t been back to Juryo since his scandal suspension wiped out his sekitori debut, and still hasn’t fought at the level. Chiyoarashi (7e) and Tochimaru (9e) were overmatched in Juryo and haven’t shown much in Makushita since coming back. Yago (8w) has zensho’d at this level before and has the ability but has been dismantled by injury. Akiseyama (10e) was on one of the best runs of his career before injury sent him out of Makuuchi and tumbling down two levels, but he’s unlikely to mount a storied promotion.
Prospects who could go 7-0 but probably won’t, but it would be cool if they did: Hayatefuji (6w) is yet another exciting one on the Isegahama production line at just 21, but his progress over the last couple years has been slow and steady. Takasago guy Ishizaki (7w) wants his Asa prefix, but had a rough makekoshi last time out. Mukainakano (8e) is possibly the likeliest of the big prospects to zensho – what price a playoff against Kawazoe, with both going up? Former Sandanme tsukedashi Hatsuyama (11w) and Kanzaki (15e) have to be in the reckoning and will hope to give their respective former Ozeki stablemasters another sekitori before long. Youngster Kiryuko (13w) and Miyagi (14w) have been on decent runs, and Oitekaze’s Hitoshi (14e) has zensho’d three times in his seven lower-division basho so far. Finally, Ukrainian Shishi will make his bow for the new Ikazuchi-beya under the tutelage of former Kakizoe.