With the Aki basho just over 2 weeks away (and this being banzuke weekend!), it’s time for the semi-yearly rikishi health checks. The twice a year parade of sumo favorites undergoing the routine provides some excellent opportunities for sighting of missed former stars of the top ranks, and today was no exception
Yes, that’s our dear grumpy badger and stalwart brawler Chiyonokuni reporting for his check up. After dropping out of the Hatsu basho in January, he has been kyujo for knee repair. He was ranked in the Makushita joi-jin for Nagoya, and will likely fall further down the banzuke before he returns. He’s a fearless competitor, so we look forward to his campaign to re-take his place in sumo’s top division.
But the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan was not done, none other than fan favorite, and fellow knee patient Ura was present today as well. We don’t expect him to re-enter competition until next year, and may battle back from the very lowest ranks.
With many of the veterans in the top division approaching the end of their careers, Tachiai is working to raise the visibility of some of the younger, up-and-coming rikishi. In some cases (especially Makushita), the action is faster and more intense than in the salaried ranks. These rikishi are so close to gaining Sekitori status, they will battle to their utmost to win that coveted promotion. Before our coverage begins for Haru, let’s take a look at how our ones to watch fared in January.
Wakamotoharu – With a 7-0 record, he won the Makushita yusho, and earned his promotion to Juryo to join his brother Wakatakakage. The promotion to Juryo brings many privileges, and a test of endurance. In prior tournaments, Wakamotoharu competed on 7 of the 15 days, in Juryo he will be in battle each of the 15 days.
Akua – After his one basho visit to Juryo, Akua could do no better than a 2-5 make koshi, and finds himself demoted from Makushita 4 to Makushita 11. From here it will take 2 winning tournaments or more to challenge for a return to Juryo, unless he has overcome his injuries and can turn in a no-loss record.
Ichiyamamoto – With a 4-3 kachi koshi, he has been promoted from Makushita 19 to Makushita 13. Like Akua, he will need a string of winning records to rise to the top of the Makushita “wall” and attempt to break into Juryo.
Hoshoryu – After a stellar 5-2 record at Hatsu, which included a tragic match with Ura, he finds myself at the threshold of sekitori promotion, ranked at Makushita 7. But it will likely take more than a 4-3 kachi-koshi to win a slot in Juryo for May.
Midorifuji – He finished January with a 4-3 kachi-koshi, and looked fairly good going up against some tough opponents. Midorifuji is now ranked at Makushita 19, and will be in the thick of the brutal competition in the top half of Makushita.
Ura – Fans around the world were thrilled to see Ura back, healthy and climbing the ranks. After a Sandanme yusho in November, he found himself at Makushita 23, and was fighting well. But his pivotal match against Hoshoryu turned tragic as his injured knee gave out when Ura attempted one of his signature “plasticman” bends. Ura was taken to the hospital, and has since undergone surgery to attempt to rebuild the knee. We do not expect to see him return any time soon.
Wakatakamoto – The third Waka brother finished Hatsu with a solid 5-2 kachi-koshi, and earned a promotion from Makushita 40 to Makushita 24. Will the fact that he is the last one of his family not a sekitori drive him to higher levels of performance? Stay tuned…
Musashikuni – The scion of the Mushashigawa stable was fighting hurt during during Hatsu, and while he was not able to secure a kachi-koshi, he was able to bounce back from 3 straight losses at the start. As a result he dropped from Makushita 36 to Makushita 42, and hopefully he is in better physical form. As one of Takayasu’s tsukibeto, we hope some of the big Ozeki’s sumo will take root and help him win.
Naya – A one time rival of Hoshoryu. Taiho’s grandson is taking a slower route through the battleground of Makushita. He was able to achieve a 4-3 kachi-koshi for January, and was promoted from Makushita 60 to Makushita 51. Tachiai still expects great sumo from young Naya, even if it may take him a bit longer to find his strength.
Torakio – The young Bulgarian rikishi from Naruto Heya achieved a 4-3 record, and is now ranked at Sandanme 15, his highest ever. A solid winning record in Osaka could see him join Makushita in May.
Shoji – An up in coming former collegiate rikishi found his sumo in January, after 4 straight make-koshi tournaments. Now back at Sandanme 29, he is looking to return to Makushita this year, and continue is push for higher ranks.
Kenho – Enormous Kenho found himself back in Sandanme for the first time in 2 years, and was promptly handed a 1-6 make-koshi. Now back at Jonidan 28, it will come down to injuries and how mobile a man of that size can be. He was clearly hurt in January, but at his weight, he could injure himself just getting out of bed.
Wakaichiro – The Texan sumotori bounced back from a string of injury plagued tournaments to score a strong 5-2 kachi-koshi. In the process he showed some fierce fighting spirit and greatly improved sumo technique. He returns to Sandanme at the bottom of the division (Sandanme 99), and his fans are looking for him to continue his strong sumo.
Hattorizakura – Sumo’s eternal loss leader, Hattorizakura chalked up a dubious yet humorous distinction in January: He lost the same match twice. He did however manage to get a single win, and will ranked at Jonokuchi 15, his highest rank ever.
Terunofuji – After 4 tournaments kyujo, the former Ozeki finds himself in Jonidan. News reports from Japan cite that he is likely to compete in March, and his fans are thrilled to see him return to the dohyo. Ranked at Jonidan 48, his size and strength may be enough to score 4 wins at this level. We have no idea how his knees are doing, but almost everyone hopes this is the start of his long road back to the top division.
Day 10 action in Tokyo – during the Makushita division matches in the early afternoon, Ura faced off against rising star Hoshoryu in a match that had sumo fans buzzing around the globe. Hoshoryu dominated the match from the opening moments, with Ura reverting to his evasive, high agility defensive sumo. Hoshoryu was able to grab Ura and throw him. In the throw, Ura planted his right leg and fought the throw, and it seems to strain on his knee was more than it could take.
Following the match, Ura could put no weight on that knee, and had to be helped from the dohyo, and once again we saw the horrific sight of Ura being wheeled away in the rikishi-sized wheel chair.
Word has come that he was taken to the hospital for x-rays and scans at once. His opponent Hoshoryu stayed behind after his match, apologizing to Ura repeatedly. For a 19 year old rikishi, it’s a tough burden to think you may have had a part in ending a legend’s career.
We wish Ura a speedy recovery, but we wonder if maybe he should exit the sumo world and preserve whatever knee function remains.
The “Ones to Watch” have a light roster for day 10, but what we lack in bulk we make up in intensity. That’s right, the much hoped for Ura vs Hoshoryu is on the torikumi for day 10.
Shoji vs Kototaiki – Both rikishi have 3-1 records, so this match is for kachi-koshi. Kototaiki had to re-set his sumo career in 2015 when he took an extended leave to treat an injury, and re-entered via maezumo. Now a Sandanme mainstay, he’s fighting at close to his highest career rank.
Naya vs Mitotsukasa – A 2-2 bracket match, Naya (Makushita) is taking on a Sandanme rikishi for his day 10 match. Irumagawa heya’s Mitotsukasa is a former university rikishi, who is working to return to Makushita. Should be a solid match.
Wakatakamoto vs Okinofuji – Another 2-2 bracket match, the lowest rank of the Waka* brothers takes on Makushita mainstay Okinofuji. Okinofuji has spent most of the last 2 years in mid Makushita, and will be a tough competitor.
Ura vs Hoshoryu – Maybe the biggest hype around a Makushita match this basho. We have Ura, who has hit the point of his recovery where he actually is having to work for a win, and we have young dynamo Hoshoryu who has reached a rank where his overwhelming natural ability is no longer enough. I am going to guess this match will only last a blink of an eye, but everyone will be watching.
Ichiyamamoto vs Mugendai – A 3-1 bracket match, with kachi-koshi on the line. Mugendai is a solid fighter who was formerly in Musashigawa heya, whose highest ever rank was Makushita 5.
Akua vs Kaisho – The top Makushita match of day 10, Akua’s bid to return to Juryo for Osaka needs him to win out, and to get there he needs to take down Tomozuna heya’s Kaisho, who is fighting well at his highest ever rank.