Natsu Day 8 – Ones To Watch

Naya Arrives At The Kokugikan

Barn-burner action in the lower divisions on day 7, as a good spread of our “Ones to Watch” engaged in their 4th match. Some results from day 7

RikishiOutcomeScore
WakamotoharuLoss1-3
IchiyamamotoLoss2-2
WakatakamotoLoss1-3
AkuaWin3-1
RogaLoss2-2
WakaichiroWin2-2
KitanowakaLoss3-1
HattorizakuraLoss0-4

Can you say bloodbath for our cohort? Yes, we still have Wakaichiro, who shoved Harimanada around with great effect, picking up his second win of the basho. Akua looked rather sharp as well. I note that Roga lost his second match on day 7, which shows that he has risen to the point where competition is a challenge for him. This is great news as now his training can begin in earnest. I expect him to be a big deal in sumo shortly. We also have news that Kitanowaka lost his match, going down to college man Ito, and taking him off of the yusho pace for Jonokuchi. That first basho is always a big shuffling process for the new rikishi, and we won’t really get a good measure of Kitanowaka until Aki, I would predict.

Off to day 8, the middle day of the tournament, and we will see who can come home with a win. You may see more Tachiai folks at the Kokugikan on Sunday, please stop by and say hello, and feel free to beg for snacks!

Day 8 Matches

Hoshoryu vs Ryuko – The final match of Makushita for day 8 features a 2-1 bracket match up with Hoshoryu, who continues to be attracting an increasing amount of attention. This match is very symmetrical in several ways, my favorite being that Ryuko is another fast rising youngster who missed kachi-koshi in Osaka that would have seen him land in Juryo. That outcome is still on the table for Natsu, for both men, which means this match will be quite a brawl.

Midorifuji vs Asabenkei – Down in the 1-2 bracket, we find a Midorifuji, who has had a less than awesome basho thus far. But like Wakaichiro, if the focus in kachi-koshi, the goal is still well within reach. Asabenkei is a long serving sumo veteran and former Juryo man, who is going to have a distinct advantage in this match.

Naya vs Kaito – In the Makushita 3-0 bracket match is Naya, who has a chance to secure his majority winning record if he can overcome the much higher ranked Kaito. Kaito had a period between Hatsu and Kyushu in 2015 where he was not active in competition, and dropped from lower Makushita to Jonokuchi before fighting his way back up the banzuke. This will be a great test for Naya’s progress as a rikishi.

Musashikuni vs Fukuyama – Also in the 1-2 bracket, the scion of the Musashigawa clan needs to pick up this win against Senshu University rikishi Fukuyama. Fukuyama has been plateaued at lower to mid Makushita, and is looking for the next step in his sumo to progress. Musashikuni has a huge height and weight advantage in this match.

Terunofuji vs Daishosei – A Sandanme 3-0 match, we could see former Ozeki Terunofuji secure kachi-koshi on day 8 if he can get past Daishosei. Daishosei (from Oitekaze heya, naturally) has only been in sumo for 8 basho, and I am sure drawing a match against the former Ozeki is going to be quite an event in his career.

Shoji vs Ebisumaru = 2-1 bracket match from another of the Musashigawa clan we follow, he faces Ebisumaru who has never ranked higher than Sandanme.

Amakaze vs Shinyashiki – Also in the 3-0 bracket is former Juryo mainstay Amakaze, who could secure kachi-koshi and a slot in the yusho playoff bracket with a win on day 8. His opponent, Shinyashiki has 34 tournaments in his sumo career, most of them in Jonidan. We wish Shinyashiki good luck with the large and apparently genki Amakaze.

Haru Day 3 – Ones to Watch

Beneath This Humble Visage Is a Man of Steel…

With day 2 loaded to the rafters with action among our “ones to watch”, it was fantastic to see that time and again, the rikishi we are following won their first matches. Some notable highlights

Wakaichiro looks healthier than he has in a while, and immediately overpowered Kotoito and ran him off the dohyo. We are still looking for sharable video of the match, and will publish it once it’s on YouTube.

Kenho, who looked horrid and lethargic at Hatsu, came out strong and blasted Toshonishiki from the south edge of the dohyo.

Hoshoryu’s match against Tokushinho included a leg trip that was executed with great skill. I have to say its damn exciting to see this young man competing this well at such a high rank. We all hope he can keep it going.

For fans of Musashikuni, maybe it’s time to think he has his injuries under control, and we get to see what this guy is capable of. He looked strong against Okinofuji for day 2.

With so many of our Ones to Watch winning day 2, they are now in the 1 win bracket, and are competing again on day 3. This includes what seems to be most of Musashigawa’s clan on the dohyo at some point today. It’s a back to back late night of sumo goodness for those of us in the US! On to the matches.

Hoshoryu vs Kizakiumi – This is a rematch of the Hatsu day 2 bout where Hoshoryu lost. Is it time for him to even the score? Will Hoshoryu peel away those Clark Kent glasses and battle like a son of Krypton? In January Kizakiumi overpowered Hoshoryu, maybe tonight he can return the favor.

Akua vs Tamaki – Akua has won both of their two prior match-ups, and it remains to be seen if Tamaki is going to be much of a challenge. Akua is still trying to get his sumo back together after his September Juryo debut ended in injury and kyujo. He has been struggling since, so don’t count Tamaki out.

Ichiyamamoto vs Asabenkei – Another juicy nugget in the top grouping in Makushita, newcomer Ichiyamamoto takes on the much bulkier veteran Asabenkei. Asabenkei was ranked in Juryo last year, before taking two tournaments off to recover from injury. This one is going to be brutal.

Midorifuji vs Gokushindo – Gokushindo took the Makushita yusho last September, and promptly bombed out of Juryo in Kyushu. Since then he has been trying to regroup, and now he needs to overcome a fairly genki Midorifuji.

Wakatakamoto vs Asahisho – A rematch from Osaka last year, which Wakatakamoto won. Asahisho was a Maegashira in 2012, but has been struggling since then. But we can consider Asahisho representative of the kind of rikishi Wakatakamoto will need to overcome to join his brothers in the salaried ranks.

Musashikuni vs Omoto – The scion of Musashigawa heya looks to improve to 2-0 against former University rikishi Omoto, who has been struggling with injuries for the past year. This has left him drifting between upper Sandanme and lower Makushita.

Torakio vs Musashiumi – Naruto’s Torakio takes on another of the Musashigawa clan, where both are looking to pick up their first win. Musashiumi is a 37 year old veteran, and will bring that experience to bare against youthful Torakio.

Shoji vs Daishozen – A bit further down the Sandanme torikumi we see Shoji taking on Daishozen, who should be considered a Sandanme mainstay. Advantage on mass and reach go to Shoji, so let’s see if he can make it work for him.

Wakaichiro vs Wakakinsho – Coming from a strong day 2 win, Wakaichiro gets a rematch against Wakakinsho. These two last met at Aki 2017, where Wakaichiro, was out-maneuvered and lost. This will be an interesting re-test, as Wakaichiro’s sumo has improved massively since then.

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.

Promotions to Juryo announced

Today, the banzuke meeting took place. The full banzuke will not be published until shortly before the next basho, but as usual, promotions to Juryo are announced ahead of time, to allow new promotees to get ready with their paraphernalia.

Wakatakakage with Arashio oyakata

Newcomers to Juryo:

  • Wakatakakage, Arashio beya
  • Hakuyozan, Takadagawa beya

Returning:

  • Asabenkei, Takasago beya

Wakatakakage hails from Fukushima, and in his promotion interview, he vowed to do his best for the sake of the Fukushima residents who suffered in the great Tohoku disaster. He says he got a kimono and obi from the previous Fukushima “representative”, Sotairyu, who retired in Hatsu 2018, symbolically continuing in his footsteps.

Hakuyozan, when asked about his goal as Sekitori, said he wanted to reach the same rank as his stablemaster, Takadagawa oyakata [That is to say, Sekiwake. –PinkMawashi].

Hakuyozan

The stablemaster himself laughed and said he was aiming too low. Eventually they agreed that he should follow in the steps of Yokozuna Kashiwado, who hailed from Yamagata, Hakuyozan’s home.

With three promoted, three will be demoted. The demoted rikishi have not been announced, but obviously two of them are Enho and Takayoshitoshi. The third one will probably be Amakaze. If, like myself, you are wondering why ranked J7 he will be demoted rather than one of the low rankers with a make koshi (e.g. Tobizaru at J13), well, Amakaze had a very poor performance (3-12), and I’m told he was scheduled on senshuraku against Asabenkei, specifically to determine whether they should trade places. Amakaze lost, Asabenkei got the promotion, thus Amakaze goes.

Congratulations to the new (and returning) sekitori, and personally, if indeed Amakaze is the unlucky ex-sekitori, I hope to see both him and Enho back in their Kesho-mawashi soon.