Happy Birthday, Wakamotoharu!

Today is Wakamotoharu’s 27th birthday. Happy birthday, Wakamotoharu!

He was born in Fukushima, and belongs to Arashio stable.

For the record, the juryo rikishi is one of the Onami brothers – his real name is Onami Minato.

Last basho left me quite disappointed, as I wished him to break through makuuchi. After several years spent in makushita, Wakamotoharu finally reached the sekitori ranks, got relegated twice, and eventually looked to establish himself for good in sumo’s second highest division. He actually got his highest rank in Aki 2020, namely juryo 3. Unfortunately, he could not make it – for now – to the highest division, failing to reach makuuchi with a 6-9 make koshi.

Wakamotoharu Minato

Hopefully, he’ll do it in 2021!

I spoke about the Onami brothers – Wakamotoharu actually has one older brother, and one younger bro.

The oldest Onami brother is argubly the least known of the three, namely Wakatakamoto – Onami Wataru is his real name, and will turn 29 in December the 29th. The family’s oldest bro couldn’t reach the sekitori ranks, even if he came quite close in 2018: then ranked at his best, makushita 7, Wakatakamoto couldn’t follow with a kachi koshi, and ended up 2-5 instead. He is currently ranked makushita 22, from where he will slightly slide down the banzuke, following a 3-4 make koshi.

The youngest Onami brother is also the most successful one, and the most famous: Wakatakakage Atsushi!

Establishing himself as a new makuuchi force? Wakatakakage Atsushi

Wakatakakage is notably known for his paradoxical makuuchi debut, back in November 2019. The youngest Onami brother was actually the only rikishi to compete in makuuchi and not to lose one single bout on the dohyo! Sadly, an injury prevented him from competing from day 5, and he ended 4-1-10 – after having won his four first bouts.

He showed glimpses of his talent during the first days, and it was clear it was not the only time we would see him causing headhaches in sumo’s first division. Indeed, he came back in makuuchi after two basho, and got back to back double digit wins: 10-5 in July, 11-4 in September! He’ll turn 26 also in December, the 6th.

But today’s attention is focused on the family’s second born child: once again, happy birthday, Onami Minato!

New stars rising on the sumo horizon!

While having the privilege to witness the East Japan University sumo championships, it’s tempting to try to guess tomorrow’s stars. Doubtlessly, some of them have a bright future before them.

I’m grabbing the opportunity to set my eyes elsewhere, mainly in the upper makushita ranks. Which sekitori hopefuls are on their way to juryo, if not higher ? Who are our best hopes ? Who can match Shodai’s achievement ?

Let’s try to figure this out.

1. Shiraishi Masahito

Shiraishi is the first name that springs to my mind. Alongside Azumaryu and Fujiazuma, his situation has been highlighted last month, as the whole Tamanoi beya was prevented from competing at the Aki basho, due to Covid concerns. The question was, of course, if being kyujo the whole fifteen days would result in a huge demotion. Luckily for them, it was decided the rikishi would just keep their current rankings.

That means Shiraishi will have another shot to enter the sekitori ranks, currently holding the fourth highest makushita rank (makushita 2 West). He entered sumo being sandamne tsukedashi 100, won 7-0 outright, then went 5-2, 4-3, 6-1, 2-5 (his only make koshi), 6-1 and 6-1!

Shiraishi (right) being brought down by Terunofuji in July 2019

Prior to that forced break, the Tokyo-to born wrestler’s rise seemed inevitable. Aged 24, he’s doubtlessly one guy to follow.

2. Suzuki Yuto

The second wrestler I’d think of would undoubtedly Suzuki. He’s from quite a small heya, Fujishima, where’s he’s actually the second highest ranked sumo wrestler, after Bushozan (who I also could have included in that list, by the way!). He’s a nice baby – 181 cm for 145 kgs at his beginning.

Suzuki enterd mae zumo recently, in January 2019, and was ranked jonokuchi 20 in March. For the record – and the comparison is interesting, Terunofuji started his renaissance the same basho, ranked jonidan 48. Suzuki seemed to follow the Mongolian’s path, not conceding a single make koshi along the way (4-3, 5-2, 6-1, 6-1, 4-3, 4-3, 4-3, 6-1, 5-2)! Terunofuji’s last basho – so far – outside the salaried ranks took place in November 2019, then ranked makushita 10. At that time, Suzuki was sitting in the banzuke ranked sandanme 10.  

Aged only 20, he’ll find himself in the upper makushita ranks, and I’m eager to see him show his fledging skills.

3. Kitanowaka Daisuke

I could replicate much of what I said concerning Suzuki – in a slightly improved way, in fact. As heavy as Suzuki, but eight centimeters lighter at his start, he, too, has not conceded a single make koshi. His meteoric rise started two months later – maezumo in March 2019, jonokuchi 16 in May. He conceded just fifteen  losses overall, and will already compete in the upper makushita ranks in November, after a 4-3 winning record in Aki.

Kitanowaka Daisuke

He belonjgs to Hakkaku beya, alongside Okinoumi and Hokutofuji. Without doubt, he’ll benefit from both sekitori’s experience, in order to break through sumo’s highest ranks.

4. Yoshii Ko

Just a bit further down the banzuke, is sitting Yoshii. He belongs to the Tokitsukaze stable, which has recently been on the spotlights – the Shodai – Yutakayama also belongs to that stable.

By the way, it seems I’m not the first one to dedicate some of my time to him – credit to Chris Sumo for that video :

His measurements reminds me a bit of Takakeisho – 177 cm for 150 kg at his beginning.

His overall record is also spotless – no make koshi. He finished the Aki basho with a 4-3 record, ranked makushita 44. What’s more impressive, he’s only 17 !

His elders may be one step forward, but it’s fair to say he’s undoubtedly one of tomorrow’s talents. Good luck, Yoshii !

5. Murata Ryo

Murata sadly allows me to open a consequent chapters on young hopes being hit by injuries. Indeed, wounds are inherent to sumo, and can stop any rikishi’s career at any time. Thinking of Terunofuji, Ura and others is straightforward, but many brillant young guys are easily forgotten, without having been able to show their skills at the highest level. These sad circumstances prevent me from mentionning the likes of Ryuko (currently makushita 20) and many others, as having more successful futures – but who knows.

Going back to Murata, the path he followed is kinda impressing. Propelled to sumo as sandanme tsukedashi 100, he quickly rose to the very first makushita rank, before sustaining grave injuries. As a consequence, he fell right to jonokuchi – after one failed comeback – a division he never met !

That was too little to scare the Mie-ken born wrestler, though : a little bit more than a year later, he’s back to the upper makushita ranks (Ms 16 during the Aki basho), thanks to 7-0, 7-0 (that helps), 5-2, 6-1, 4-3 and 4-3 records.

He’s 26, but obviously still has a lot to offer.

Of course, my list isn’t exhaustive, and we might well see another breakthrough during the coming months.

I’m also keeping an eye on Kamito Daiki, who recently celebrated his 25th birthday.

Finally, I’d mention…

6. Onosho Fumiya

Wait, Onosho ? THE Onosho ?

Absolutely !

Emulating Shodai’s remarkable rise? Onosho Fumiya

As a complement on my last article about Shodai’s ozeki promotion, I’d like to add a few lines about Onosho. I feel these lines were missing.

Indeed, Shodai and Onosho’s careers have followed quite a similar path – until now. Just like the newly promoted ozeki, Onosho quickly through the ranks from jonokuchi. True, he spent some time in juryo, with one downstep to the non salaried ranks. But it took just three basho from his makuuchi debut, in May 2017, to attain san’yaku! Quite impressively, he performed three double digits records (10-5 thrice), before being propelled to komusubi.

As a matter of fact, Onosho never endured a make koshi over fifteen days, in san’yaku. Here’s the sad part : he seemed to suffer from a serious injury sustained in January 2018, which eventually provoked demotion from makuuchi to juryo. If Onosho bounced back without much trouble, thanks to a 12-3 juryo yusho, he has stayed quite anonymously in the maegashira ranks since, just like Shodai did.

If the Tokitsukaze resident suddenly saw his sumo quality improve dramatically, we can only wish similar fortunes to Onosho.

Hakkeyoi !

Wait a minute, Amazumo is back? And there’s video?

So, um…last night I’m chilling on the couch half-watching Mexican soccer (Go Pumas!) when a Twitter account that I follow posted the results of an amateur sumo tournament from Saturday. “Whaaaaaa?” I’ve been tracking the Japan Sumo Federation (日本相撲連盟) and the raft of canceled and postponed tournaments all spring and summer. Apparently, I’d not been following it closely enough because they decided to hold a big one. Journalism 101, Andy-man. Stay on top of things. Oops.

So…it turns out they hosted the Eastern Japan University Sumo Championships this weekend. The tweet had been the results of B and C squads the day before. Sunday was the A Team. A total of twelve schools participated, including many of the top Japanese Universities. From previous coverage of amazumo tournaments, you may be familiar with some of the bigger schools already. However, since this is an Eastern Japan thing, Kinki Daigaku, alma mater of Ozeki Asanoyama, was not participating. They’re in the Western part of Japan. Herouth has found the results of the Western version which happened this weekend, too.

So, which schools were participating in the East? Let’s see…Shodai’s Tokyo University of Agriculture, Mitakeumi’s Toyo University, Endo’s Nihon University (AKA, Nichidai), Shohozan’s Komazawa University, Yago’s Chuo University, and Nippon Sports Science University which produced the likes of Hokutofuji, Chiyotairyu, and Myogiryu. Other schools, like Meiji, Keio, and Waseda are more well-known for their academics rather than their athletics, but still participate. To round out the twelve, we’ve got Takushoku, Senshu, and Hosei. Waseda and Keio seem to be pretty big rivals, so that match-up was nice to see in the third round. Even more athletes from these schools are currently battling their way through the lower divisions, like Mitoryu or up-and-comer Hagiwara from Takushoku University.

These tournaments will lead up to the Major championships later this year. Those who do well in those tournaments are rewarded with advanced placement in the banzuke if they go pro, in either Sandanme or Makushita. Win a major amateur title and get placed in Makushita, like Endo. Runner-ups don’t go home empty handeded as they get slotted in Sandanme. But if you miss out, you start at the bottom like Shodai. So there’s a lot on the line for those who want to go pro.

I posted a bit of a teaser yesterday for an article and data viz tool that I’m working on. It turns out that it will be related. Now, I’m going to need to see if I can get university affiliation into my data. But what I’m hoping for is to build a vizualization that will allow us fans to visually track the progress of maezumo cohorts. As we see from the graph below, despite the relatively low numbers of debutantes lately, there’s still more than 60 new guys to follow each year and that can be a bit overwhelming to see which of these guys will be up-and-comers, grinders, or flame-outs. There are SO MANY stories in here, many of which we read up on thanks to Herouth, Josh, Tim and the rest of the team.

So, how’d the schools do at this tournament? Well, it’s no real surprise that Keio did not make it to the next phase. They had a real tough schedule and got swept in the first two rounds, and only picked off one win against rivals Waseda. Since Waseda finished in the top 8, they were able to move on to the elimination phase. Toyo University swept their opponents in all three rounds, qualifying at the top of the elimination bracket. They were followed by Nichidai, Chuo, Takushoku, and Nitaidai for the Top 5. Shodai’s Tokyo University of Agriculture finished sixth with 9 wins. Komazawa and Waseda rounded out the eight.

Well, the great thing about the tournament in the East is that for the second day, the Class A bouts — team and individual competitions — are all online. I encourage any fan of sumo to watch. The bouts happen very quickly. But if you want to skip forward to the elimination phase of the team competition, fast-forward to the 2 hour, 22 minute mark.

 

Nihon Sports Science University won the yusho. They defeated Toyo University in the semi-finals. The team, pictured below will be strong contenders for the National Championship later this year. However, I think Nichidai will have a better chance and they’re probably very disappointed to walk away tied for third with Toyo. Nichidai’s entire squad qualified for the individual finals and as Herouth points out, one of their team, Yersin Batagul from Kazakhstan, picked up the individual yusho.

The tweet below has pictures of the teams from the Final Four. Last is the yusho picture. I get the feeling Takushoku was just happy to be there. Nichidai seem disappointed and I expect they’ll fight hard at Nationals.

Welp, I need to run but I hope to dive into the individual bouts and the Western University tournament later tonight. But I wanted to get these highlights out for you all to enjoy. A real proper introduction to the university-level sumo is in the works and should be ready in the next few weeks, in preparation for the national championships.

Do you speak Shodai ?

There’s obviously been a lot of talks about Shodai’s well deserved promotion to sumo’s second highest rank. Why not taking profit of the occasion to take time rediscovering the shin-ozeki ?

Let’s see whether what one might believe is true or not.

1. Shodai entered the banzuke as a makushita tsukedashi.

False. Shodai has been given the opportunity to enter the banzuke avoiding mae zumo, but wished to finish his university graduation. He became a university yokozuna, but failed to attain the amateur yokozuna rank, after a defeat against Endo. By that time, the opportunity to benefit from the makushita tsukedashi system had vanished.

2. He rose quickly through the lower divisions.

Absolutely. Before reaching a then career best maegashira 2, Shodai hadn’t suffered a single make koshi !

3. He was touted as the next big thing and has a bright future ahead of him.

Shodai has surely brought a lot of hope to his fans, after his makuuchi debut in January 2016. Though, he’ll turn 29 next month. True, it’s not that old. However, both other ozeki are quite younger : Asanoyama is 26, Takakeisho is only 24.

4. Shodai seems to have lost his way at some point.

It’s true, isn’t it ? Shodai reached the rank of sekiwake in January 2017, after just six basho in makuuchi, and without having been a komusubi before. For a san’yaku debut, Shodai fared reasonably well with a tight 7-8 make koshi – having beaten Kotoshogiku and Terunofuji, both then ozeki, in the process.

As cool as you can be: Shodai Naoya

The following basho, ranked komusubi, was disastrous, as Shodai managed to grab just four wins.

From there, Shodai spent seventeen straight tournaments down the maegashira ranks – from May 2017 to January 2020. He collected double digit wins twice (both times 10-5), and had another terrible basho, a 3-12 just one year ago ! From there, his sumo improved drastically : 11-4, 13-2, 8-7, 11-4 and 13-2.

5. He is known to be a giant-killer.

False. Shodai has earned just one kinboshi, during that long seventeen basho spent in a row down the maegashira ranks. He got that gold star against former yokozuna Harumafuji, in July of 2017.

His record against Hakuho isn’t so bad : three wins, including a fusensho and no kinboshi involved, and nine defeats.

Overall, Shodai has however struggled against the yokozuna: 1-7 against Kisenosato – he defeated him just once, before Kisenosato’s yokozuna promotion ; 1-6 against Harumafuji, and 0-13 against Kakuryu !

He fared sensibly better against the numerous ozeki he has faced – many of them, though, were far from their best physical condition. Indeed, if he struggled against Goeido (5-13), and trails against Takayasu (4-6), he has a positive balance against Tochinoshin (4-2, one fusen win), Terunofuji (5-4, two fusen win !), and holds 1-2 records against both Kotoshogiku and Asanoyama. All numbers exclude results obtained when his opponents had lost their ozeki rank.

And finally, Shodai is incredibly undefeated against ozeki Takakeisho (3-0) !

6. He’s known for his incredibly slow tachi-ai’s

Of course he is ! It looks like he’s getting blown away at every start, but he eventually absorbs his opponent’s collision, and just produces his sumo. Much to my delight, he’s a yotsu wrestler, by the way.

7. He’ll be the next yokozuna.

Good question. Time will tell…