The long title of this post is Some Juryo Hot Takes That Will Almost Certainly Be Proven Wrong, but that’s not good for formatting, and you get the point anyway.
Sumo Prime Time (in which Hiro Morita is rapidly achieving Cult Icon status of late) has recently done a Juryo spotlight which is worth checking out. It got me thinking about the state of the division at present, if it’s exciting and what makes it exciting.
I concluded that it is exciting and the reason for this is that we actually are seeing the realisation of what should be the next wave of makuuchi mainstays. Juryo has not been very good for the past several years. Lots of old guys have either retired or stopped clogging up the promotion lanes, and as a result we’ve seen an infusion of new, young talent.
I can’t write 6000 more words like I did for makuuchi after the last tournament [edited to add: apparently I can do 2300 though], so please don’t blame me for not writing absolutely comprehensive scouting reports about everyone’s sumo style. With some time you can find that on the web, there are lots of good sumo resources and hopefully we will be able to contribute some in-depth articles as well. But hopefully this can help some folks at least identify some names to watch.
As the name implies, he’s the first sekitori developed by former Ozeki Goeido. If this makes you feel old then you may not enjoy the next year as several of Goeido’s contemporaries will be bringing up their new stars as well. Gonoyama is a former Sandanme tsukedashi (accelerated start in sumo’s fourth tier for a formerly accomplished collegiate star), who picked up a yusho in Makushita and he’s hit the wall a bit in his first two Juryo tournaments. At 24 he needs a strong basho.
The David Benjamin sumo book starts with a detailing of how newcomers to the sport might give rikishi a silly nickname. Sushi Man is a 29 year old journeyman from Kyushu making his sekitori debut at his home basho, who had come close on several occasions previously before being scuppered by performance or injury. This is the achievement for the Sakaigawa-beya man. The rest from here will be the icing on the cake.
Before the pandemic, I sat down with Murray Johnson and he identified Roga as a lower division one to watch. Murray might well be right, and time is on the 23 year old’s side, but the Russian has made an awfully plodding run through Makushita (19 basho!) to get to his Juryo debut. He’s also the first sekitori produced by Futagoyama oyakata, former Ozeki Miyabiyama.
The 26 year old enters his fifth Juryo tournament and hasn’t been entirely convincing. He’s been slightly better than average over the last several years and looks like he may be stuck in Juryo for a while, if he doesn’t drop out. He’s the first sekitori produced by the new Hanaregoma beya (former Sekiwake Tamanoshima), but in reality is a product of the former Nishonoseki beya and took his shikona later in his career in deference to the old shisho, former Ozeki Wakashimazu.
Continuing the theme, here’s another first, the first sekitori produced by the new Naruto beya, led by former Ozeki Kotooshu. We’ve talked quite a bit about the heya’s comprehensive recruitment and lower division performance on this site but the Mongolian 25 year old is the first to make the breakthrough earlier this year, helped in no small detail by his Makushita tsukedashi debut placement (for the top collegiate champions). His May Makushita yusho (where he knocked off some very notable names) is looking more like an outlier at the moment, so hopefully he can properly bed into the division and find his feet. The expectation on a Makushita tsukedashi is that they will turn into a top division star, with names like Mitakeumi, Ichinojo and Endo achieving titles and notoriety, although in rare cares that doesn’t happen (Mitoryu, Daiamami).
Not going to spend a lot of time here: the storybook champ is on the downswing of an unlikely end of career run. The blue jacket beckons for the man who made Nara proud.
The former Takanohana product is on his third Juryo stint, with only 1 winning record in his first six tournaments at the level before Aki’s 9-6. In the absence of an overpowering skill it may be a struggle to project the 26 year old as a makuuchi talent, especially with a tough crowd of prospects to fight through at the moment.
Injuries and scouting reports have zapped the talented pixie of his mobility and unpredictability, but he is still able to be a chaos agent and others have shown there is still plenty of mileage in that approach, even in the top division. I hope he makes it back. He’s been largely a .500 rikishi over the last year, and while the new Miyagino oyakata (the legendary Hakuho) has been lauded for his recruitment, his coaching of Enho – who at 28 should be in his career prime – will be an intriguing watch.
The first sekitori product of Asakayama oyakata, former Ozeki Kaio, he’s one of those guys that seems to have been around in sumo for absolutely ages. He had a laboured route to the salaried ranks, but despite mixed results (4 kachi-koshi from 10), the eye test does tell me he’s someone who could go a bit further than his Juryo 2 peak, and I feel like his belt work is projectable.
The 32 year old made his debut nearly 14 years ago and now reaches his career high rank in his third Juryo basho, having successfully fought (by slim margins) in his first two. He’s on a wonderful 7 basho kachi-koshi run but is almost certainly due for a course correction sooner or later. It would be very surprising to see him continue his run into the top division.
It’s been three years since the 28 year old last reached the top division, but he’s carved out a decent run for himself in the second tier. The Mongolian’s results have looked like a slightly less successful Azumaryu (albeit, he does have one top division winning basho), as he’s loitered mostly in the division’s bottom half since that top division spell. We shouldn’t expect too much more from the yotsu-zumo enthusiast.
The rare former Makushita tsukedashi man that just doesn’t make the grade, Daiamami’s awkward oshi-zumo style has translated largely to good results in Juryo, but only 2 kachikoshi in 11 top division basho tells us he’s what baseball scouts would call a “AAAA” player – too good for the minors top AAA level, but not quite strong enough to hang in the majors. At 29 he’ll probably return to makuuchi a couple more times for the odd basho.
The Arashio-beya vet has been a real success story for the new oyakata, finally making the breakthrough to Juryo in 2021 after years of near misses, and then making short work of the division en route to his makuuchi debut. But since getting absolutely leathered at Natsu where his pushing-thrusting style lacked power, he’s found the second division a bit tougher on the second go.
It’s awful to say, but Shimanoumi has looked absolutely wretched and listless on the dohyo since his wedding earlier in the year. Hopefully it’s a coincidence. Assuming he doesn’t free fall right out of Juryo this time, he’ll reach 30 sekitori tournaments in January and become eligible to eventually take up the name he (allegedly) picked up the rights to upon marrying the daughter of the sadly deceased former Izutsu. He’s meant to be one of sumo’s nice guys, so hopefully he can turn it around.
Sumo’s lone Kazakh debuted a year ago as Sandanme tsukedashi and has rattled off six consecutive dominant performances including a pair of yusho. Entering Juryo at Aki, he posted double digit wins cementing his place in the prolific Kimura Sehei production line. Unlike many of his stablemates however, putting technique and experience aside he’ll be hoping to make Kyushu his second and final Juryo basho en route to a 2023 that could take him up to the san’yaku ranks at his current rate of progress.
The top recruit formerly known as Kanno has blitzed his way from his Sandanme tsukedashi entrance to the middle of Juryo with just one make-koshi in ten appearances, and a very timely first yusho in his Aki debut in Juryo. He should easily chart the course to Makuuchi by early next year. And there are reasons why he draws comparisons to his stablemate Aoiyama…
Tipped for big, big things for a long, long time, his star has dimmed a bit after experiencing a fairly indifferent couple years in Makushita. At 190cm he’s a tall drink of water and, although there are other talents in the heya, he may eventually represent one of 60 year old riji-cho Hakkaku’s last products to challenge in the top division.
Derailed by injury and covid kyujo, the enormous Hokuseiho (21 years old as of basho-time) will look to continue his impressive development. Questions still remain about his ultimate ceiling: he has the physicality and apparently the determination to reach the top, but his sumo is a bit slow and lumbering. Still, with a career record of 74-21 heading into his third Juryo tournament, it’s hard not to dream on him.
Riddled by injury and with all of his former epic brawling opponents having ridden off into the sunset, it’s tough to see a path forward for the 32 year old energetic street fighter. He may well make his way back to Makuuchi for the odd appearance as he is still competitive at this level, but even being only 18 months removed from the joi-jin, it seems his best days are behind him.
I never thought he’d make it to makuuchi, so I think it’s a great credit that he’s been able to hang tough and carve out a solid career in the second tier. Now 32, I think the realistic goal is to make it to the middle of 2024 in the salaried ranks to try and qualify for elder status.
While it feels fairly shocking to see him ranked here, such have been the disappointing results from the former top prospect that it’s hard to make a case that he belongs even at the back end of the top division right now. While it’s easy to argue he might benefit from a couple confidence boosting 9-6s to keep expectations in check, that’s more or less what’s happened on his last few Juryo demotions. He may be playing yo-yo for the next couple years, but at 29 and with 26 sekitori basho under his belt, he at least looks a lock to secure the 30 basho required to qualify for a kabu.
While his brother is getting all the plaudits right now, 33 year old Hidenoumi continues to solidly motor along. Demoted due to suspension, he was making a decent go of it in makuuchi and probably belongs somewhere at the bottom division at the moment. Although, with the wave of new talent pushing upwards, his comfortability slugging it out in Juryo bodes well for the final stage of his career.
The former Makushita tsukedashi took forever and a day (27 basho) to make it out of Juryo and his debut Makuuchi performance was… not good. Overpowered and short of mobility, he was sent packing with double-digit losses. At 28, the Mongolian is looking like another for whom Azumaryu’s career (lots of Juryo time with the odd Makuuchi make-koshi thrown in) looks like a reasonable ambition.
Another Juryo lifer who benefitted massively from the reduction in top division quality, Tsurugisho has been pretty OK at doing a whole lot of things on the dohyo and not particularly incredible at any one. The jack of all trades dropped down for this latest spell after a pair of 5 win tournaments and may yet yo-yo some more, but he surely reached his ultimate ceiling 3 years ago.
Former Ozeki Musoyama’s starlet performed admirably in his first year in Juryo after spending an eternity (six whole years) in the third tier. This year though, he’s hit a bit of a wall. He’s been in promotion range several times before and not been able to get the job done, but after the basho he’ll be 27 and should be firmly arriving soon into the peak of his powers.
Churanoumi reaches his career high-to-date at Kyushu, and it’s not been a straightforward ride for him to navigate the penultimate division. He’s has several promotions and demotions back to Makushita, and while his current span in the salaried ranks has only been disrupted for a single basho since the start of 2020, he’s spent very little time in the top reaches of the division or fighting against the occasional top division opponent. This basho, then, is a real test for a guy who somewhat notably once defeated the likes of Kiribayama and Oho in title-clinching bouts in the lower divisions.
This lovable character has made a career out of jostling at the top end of Juryo and lower end of Makuuchi and will go again as he enters his 10th year as a sekitori. He is what he is.
I often lament the lack of creativity in shikona assembly, and while the characters in play for Tohakuryu are fairly common, the order and reading is a little less so. I enjoy that. He’s yet another former Sandanme tsukedashi who made more or less quick work of the lower divisions (with one blip). But he’s not the biggest, and his run through Juryo has been plodding, steady if unspectacular. Here he arrives at his career high rank, in his prime at 26, at the position from which a kachi-koshi will certainly deliver him a promotion. However, should it be tight going into the second week, he’ll find many of these aforementioned talents breathing right down his neck…