The Japanese Sumo Association has announced that four Makushita wrestlers are being promoted to Juryo for July’s tournament. Kotokuzan from Arashio-beya (apparently NOT from Sadogatake-beya) will make his Juryo debut. Yago, Kaisho, and Abi return to the salaried ranks.
The headline here is that Abi, and his shiko?, will return to Sekitori status after serving a suspension for breaking Covid protocols with Fukushima (then Gokushindo). He has stormed back in the most rapid fashion, scoring 14 straight regulation victories, including a victory over Kaisho. While Abi was away, Ichiyamamoto returned and has established himself as a solid Juryo rikishi with a very successful Natsu. I am eager to see if the two of them go toe-to-toe at some point.
Abi’s redemption comes at an awkward time as current Ozeki Asanoyama is facing down a similar scandal, though the facts in his case are still being investigated and thus a punishment has yet to be determined.
Yago will be eager to finally find a permanent foothold in the division. He is talented but has struggled with injuries, seemingly yo-yoing between Juryo and Makushita. Kaisho reached Juryo briefly in 2019 for two tournaments before falling back into Makushita. For Kotokuzan, his promotion has been a long struggle. He has been in Makushita since the end of 2016, back when Terunofuji was an Ozeki the first time ’round. It will be interesting to see if he’s got a spark in his sumo that can keep him around for a while.
So, here we go again! It’s sumo’s last honbasho of the year, and all eyes will be once again turned to makuuchi’s higher ranks. Can Shodai win back to back yusho, for his ozeki debut? Can fellow ozeki Asanoyama and Takakeisho step up, and win their first yusho as ozeki? Will Hakuho and Kakuryu last fifteen days, or will the yokozuna have to retire?
I’m eager to find this out, but would like to provide you with a preview of sumo’s second division, juryo.
Juryo used to entertain us quite a bit in the recent past. Seeing some pixies’ emergence (Enho, Terutsuyoshi, Wakatakakage) has been a joy to watch. Watching Aminishiki hanging on, and poor Gagamaru being henka’d all over the way has added appreciable folklore, too.
The picture is a bit different today. The first obvious feature is the number of former makuuchi wrestlers. Of the twenty eight juryo candidates, only seven have never entered the dohyo alongside san’yaku elders: Midorifuji, Churanoumi, Wakamotoharu, Hakuyozan, Mitoryu, Nishikifuji and Chiyonoumi. This is more than twice less than two years ago, by Kyushu 2018 – fifteen juryo wrestlers had never discovered makuuchi before.
True, many of these fifteen have successfully knocked on makuuchi’s door (for example Enho, Terutsuyoshi or Tobizaru). Incredibly, some of them have reached sumo’s first division, and then fell down to makushita, or below (Takagenji, Tomokaze)! Though, as makuuchi got older and older, it was quite natural to see new faces coming from below – with mixed success, obviously.
But, precisely, several makuuchi elders have fallen to juryo – so what to expect from them?
Kotoshogiku (J3w) will undoubtedly be the attraction – seeing a former ozeki back in juryo is not a common thing, after all. His lower body condition will be a giant question mark, though, even to get his kashi koshi. Similar concern surround Ikoi (J8w) and Tsurugisho’s (J9e) final appearance of the year. Both certainly have set their sights much higher than their current rankings, but their bodies currently hardly allow such an ambition.
Shohozan (J2w)has recently struggled in makuuchi, four straight make koshi (7-8, 4-11, 5-10, 5-10) eventually proving fatal. He might regain some energy, though, and manage a straight comeback to makuuchi.
What about both juryo ito wrestlers? Akiseyama (J1e) and Chiyonoo (J1e) have not wrestled in makuuchi for quite some time – March 2016 and March 2017 respectively. If Chiyonoo has produced good sumo by late (10-5 and 9-6 records), Akiseyama’s 11-4 record in September came a bit in the middle of nowhere, following two indifferent basho (9-6, 7-8). Though, I believe the Kise heya resident has good chances to climb back to makuuchi.
Other promotions are already a long shot – Midorifuji (J2e) looks like an interesting outsider, but can he secure promotion so early after his juryo debut? I doubt it. For the record, the Isegahama heya resident has just wrestled thrice in juryo so far, and arguably produced just one very good tournament (11-4 in September). Remember, he might find himself a couple times in makuuchi’s torikumi, in November.
The two exchange regulars, Ishiura (J3e) and Chiyomaru (J4e) often prove a bit too good for juryo, but a bit too soft for makuuchi, and don’t really get storming performances in juryo. That means, both usually get their promotion from an already enviable spot, meaning juryo 1 or 2.
Others could aim juryo’s top ranks by January, in order to target promotion in 2021: Nishikigi (J4w), Hidenoumi (J5e), Wakamotoharu (J6w) and Azumaryu (J7w) could be looking for that. I would not entirely exclude direct promotion for Nishikigi, who definitely have the required potential. He hasn’t looked fit enough recently, though.
Remarkably, I’d certainly put makushita promotee Ura (J13e) in the “looking for more” category! Ura has recovered admirably well from his two terrific knee injuries, and should not spend too much time in juryo – remember the kinboshi he earned against Harumafuji?
The battle against relegation.
Let’s mention one certain demotion: it’ll be Abi’s (J11w) second forced kyujo, following his breach of the Covid rules. He’ll end up 0-0-15, and will start 2021 in makushita.
Both wrestlers ranked juryo 14 unsurprisingly face an uphill task for their survival. Hetouh’s favorite, Chiyonoumi (J14w), did a decent job early on in juryo; he hasn’t managed a single kashi koshi in sumo’s second division since January 2019, however. Fujiazuma (J14e), like Ura, has been as high as maegashira 4, before sliding down all the way back to makushita. He managed one comeback to juryo in 2017, but failed to get his kashi koshi and got demoted straight away. A similar fate might await him here, if he does not better than the 6-9 record he has for his last juryo return, last July.
Nishikifuji’s (J13w) juryo debut ended in frustrating fashion last basho, as he lost his five last bouts to end up make koshi (7-8). He kept exactly the same rank, but will need to gain stamina in order to avoid worse consequences.
Takagenji (J12e) has looked like a ghost on the dohyo since his brother’s dismissal. It took him just over a year to go from maegashira 10 to makushita demotion. He managded to get back to the salaried ranks thanks to a minimal kashi koshi (4-3, being ranked makushita’s top rank). Can he get his career back on track?
Jokoryu (J12w) will certainly be another curiosity, down there. The Tokyo-to born rikishi was promised a bright future, as he won the twenty-seven (!) first bouts of his career (excluding maezumo) and entered the salaried ranks just one year after his sumo debut. He went as high as komusubi; but from there, his career went backwards – he actually returned to sandanme, following an injury. Can he keep a juryo spot, now aged 32?
Finally, I tend to believe Hakuyozan (J10e), as well as Mitoryu’s (J11e) reliable juryo stint – he spent twelwe of the sixteen basho he participating in, in juryo! – in decent positions to keep their ranks.
All in all, this juryo basho promises quite some fun, doesn’t it?
As a bonus, Andy and I tried our luck in guessing full juryo results after 15 days. Let’s hope we’re not too off the mark!
Here’s Andy’s prediction, with commentaries:
“I think Ikioi is closest to retirement of this group. The past few basho he has not looked impressive. I think there are a lot of talented wrestlers here in different shades of banged up. Several of the young guns may take their shots. I hope Kotoshogiku got in some good time to heal and can come out swinging. I’m not sure about Ishiura at all and I’m sure he won’t go kyujo but I kind of hope he does to heal up.”
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.
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!
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!
There was a slew of Juryo promotions this tournament. All five of these wrestlers will find going full time to be a challenge, only Takanofuji has been in Juryo before (we’ll get to that). Are they up for it? Instead of 7 bouts spread over the fortnight, they’ll be battling every day.
Kotokamatani marked the occasion with a new shikona, Kotonowaka. As Herouth mentions below, it’s his father’s shikona. His father reached Sekiwake claiming seven special prizes and eight kinboshi over his career, including Nagoya 1996 with wins over Takanohana AND Akebono.
Matching that legacy requires steady progress, one tournament at a time. From J14W, there’s no room for makekoshi. Kotonowaka the younger began his career in 2016 with the Jonokuchi yusho. He progressed quickly from there, with no makekoshi records until makushita. He’s a balanced wrestler, capable of winning on the belt or with pushing/thrusting techniques though he favors the belt.
Kizakiumi’s amateur success granted him a head start when he decided on the heya life. He started at the bottom of sandanme last year. Like Takakeisho, he’s a strict oshi-battler, winning 80% of his bouts in oshidashi. He’s yet to win a single bout with yorikiri.
Ichiyamamoto debuted in March 2017, and like Kotonowaka, claimed the Jonokuchi yusho in his first tournament, rocketing into makushita by September. He’s an oshi pusher-thruster but has been able to win a few on the belt. I would say that he’d need to perfect that technique to have success beyond this level…but Takakeisho and Abi belie that thought.
Ryuko debuted in the same tournament as Ichiyamamoto. Ryuko failed to pick up the yusho because of his DAY ONE loss to Ichiyamamoto in a dramatic, evenly contested, two minute long endurance bout, shown below in the video from the Japan Sumo channel on YouTube.
Vengeance came, as Herouth covered it late last year, when Ryuko played the old, “I’ve got your leg” trick that Enho’s been playing on people lately. Thus far, only those two bouts in this rivalry but I have a feeling there will be many more, again from the Japan Sumo channel.
Lastly we’ve got Takanofuji, formerly known as Takayoshitoshi, Takagenji’s twin brother. He was briefly in Juryo in March of last year…before he beat his tsukebito. Herouth’s article describes the event…and another describes the punishment. Well, after shedding his old shikona and hopefully the entitled, violent attitude he won last tournament’s Makushita yusho. He’s a straight-forward yotsu grappler without – ironically – his brother’s ability to brawl.