Here Comes Gen Z

The previous few years of sumo have been strange, no? Like it or not, we’re in a transitionary period. For the last decade and more, professional sumo has been dominated by wrestlers of the “Millennial” generation, men born in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s been an incredible era, and it is by no means over, but with more and more of these Millennials calling it quits each year, and with the retirement of Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho in particular, fans have started to actively speculate over what our beloved Grand Sumo will look like in the future. With our heroes aging before our eyes, it’s only natural to ask, “What’s next?”

First, a short acknowledgement of the Now generation. Men like Terunofuji, Mitakeumi, Shodai, Daiesho, Ichinojo, Takanosho, and Takayasu continue to be relevant at the top of the sport, and a few, such as Abi and reigning champion Wakatakakage, seem only now to be peaking in their late 20s. Many of them will no doubt continue to compete at a high level for much of the next decade, but that’s not the point. The point is that one day soon, this group will no longer be competing exclusively against their peers. Gen Z is coming of age. They are the future.

Makuuchi

They are also, arguably, the present. It’s easy to forget because he achieved so much so early, but Ozeki Takakeisho is still only 25 years old! He and Onosho (25) shot up the banzuke in their early 20s and established themselves as contenders, but at long last their classmates are catching up. Komusubi Hoshoryu (22), fresh off his first successful campaign in san’yaku, has been an early bright star, and with his electric arsenal of throws and trips he’s already being saddled with high expectations as sumo’s next “chosen one.” So too are we expecting great things from M2w Kotonowaka (24) and M9e Kotoshoho (22), two stablemates with formidable size and strength who are right behind Hoshoryu, making strides up the rankings chart. Last but not least, M14e Oho (21), now a Makuuchi sophomore, completes the quartet of young rivals that fans have been watching eagle-eyed for the last several years. All four have displayed great promise at an early age, and I can’t wait for the many battles between them in the years to come.

Juryo

I’ve always thought of sumo’s second division as something of a waystation, a checkpoint where promising young wrestlers stop off to hone their raw talent until they pass up and through, and where aging veterans get one last hurrah on their way down and, eventually, out of the sport. Recently, Juryo has been flooded with the former kind of wrestler, and I think there are two in particular who should be on everyone’s radar. J5e Kitanowaka (21), a former high school Yokozuna, more than impressed in his second Juryo campaign, and with his size (190cm tall) and already mature yotsu style, we shouldn’t expect him to loiter at the rank. His counterpart, J12w Atamifuji, is only 19(!) years old, but he too seems to have all the physical metrics for success, as well as a maturity and skill level which is hard to reconcile with that baby face. Both young men will be top division players before year’s end, or I’m Hoshoryu’s uncle.

Makushita and Below

Set to join them are a host of budding talents—there are too many to name, but let’s try anyway. Literal giant Ms2e Hokuseiho (20), Hakuho’s protégé, and Ms1w Nishikawa (23), a university standout and ex-Ozeki Goeido’s protégé, will sit in pole position come Natsu. A 4-3 kachi-koshi should be enough to earn them both their salaries (Hokuseiho would likely still have his, if not for a knee injury in his Juryo debut last September). Close on their heels will be several of Nishikawa’s university teammates and rivals who had near misses for promotion in Osaka, including top-heavy Ms6e Kanno (23) and a pair of foreign-born powerhouses, 2020 College Yokozuna Ms8e Oshoma (24), and Kazakhstani sensation Ms4w Kinbozan (24), March’s Makushita champion. These last two are getting started slightly later than the rest in terms of age, but have exceptional university pedigrees and seem to be making light work of the lower divisions so far. Both seem to favor an overpowering oshi style, and both are ranked near Makushita’s pinnacle for May. I for one will be crossing my fingers to see their first professional showdown.

I would be remiss not to mention Ms4e Roga, also in the Makushita joi, who most should remember for besting the one and only Terunofuji in a Jonidan championship playoff during the Yokozuna’s first tournament back from injury. Roga has since stalled out in Makushita, but is still only 23, and shows great potential, if he can put it all together. Finally, watch out for these youngsters: Ms47w Yoshii (18), a former Hakuho Cup winner; Ms59e Kanzaki (22), another college standout who won the Sandanme yusho in his Grand Sumo debut; and a fresh-faced pair of stablemates, Jd21e Kototebakari and Jd21w Kotokenryu (both 18), who needed a playoff between them in March to sort out the Jonokuchi yusho. Kototebakari in particular we should watch with interest—not only did he win that playoff, but he is the kid brother of the aforementioned Kotoshoho, and it may not be long before the siblings are reunited in the top division.

The list goes on and on, but if there’s one thing left to say, it’s that sumo’s future looks bright. These kids are big (you can say that twice for Hokuseiho), strong, skilled, and hungry. So watch out world—here comes Gen Z.

Juryo Promotions Announced (Kyushu 2021)

Some sail to Juryo on a barge from Makuuchi, for others, it’s a luxury cruise

The Japan Sumo Association has set up its banzuke for November and determined there will be three wrestlers promoted to Juryo from Makushita. One wrestler, Kotokuzan, returns to the salaried ranks. His debut in July yielded four wins but eleven losses and quick demotion back to Makushita. Four wins this tournament were all he needed to go back up, indicating that the 3-rank fall may have been a bit soft. Prior instances of 4-11 records from near the bottom rung of the Juryo ladder resulted in drops to the fifth or sixth rank in Makushita* (corrected). From that rank, even Shiba’s 5-2 was insufficient for promotion. I expect him to be at the bottom of Juryo this time with a short leash, meaning that another four-win performance in Kyushu should result in a more significant drop.

Juryo Debuts

The other two wrestlers will be donning kesho mawashi for the first time as professional wrestlers, Asanowaka and Hiradoumi. Asanowaka is the new shikona for Terasawa, who had been competing under his family name until this promotion. Asanowaka seems to have requested the shikona from current Takasago coach Wakamatsu, as back during his fighting days Wakamatsu never had any kyujo, or absences, throughout his career. If that name change helps him stay healthy, succeed, and remain in the paid ranks for at least a few more tournaments, he may well become heyagashira in 2022 as his former senpai, Asanoyama, tumbles into Makushita.

Tachiai readers may remember a feature article on mawashi written by Herouth, inspired by the unsolved mystery of Terasawa’s pilfered cloth, which happened to be imbued with mystical powers from the remains of his late pet rabbit. That article is always worth a read, not just for the bizarre who-done-it, but the wealth of information about practice mawashi and competition mawashi in both amateur and Grand Sumo. There’s a discussion of sagari as well as the difference between the silk shimekomi (which Asanowaka will now wear with stiffened sagari), and the cotton mawashi.

What are you still doing here? Go. Read it. Now. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Fascinating read, no? Hopefully that answered some of the questions you had and likely pointed out some things you never even noticed.

Hiradoumi also joins Asanowaka in Juryo. It’s quite the basho for Sakaigawa beya as Sadanoumi’s 10-wins will lift him back into Makuuchi and Myogiryu’s jun-yusho performance was also rewarded with a special prize. However, both of these veterans are in the latter stages of their careers while Hiradoumi, at 21 years old, is still trying to establish himself. This was his fifth consecutive kachi-koshi record, making a rather determined slog through the grist mill at the top of the third division. Congratulations to all three!

The Intrigue

Not so fast, there Andy, I’ve got another question.

So, does this mean there were supposed to be two promotions and with Hakuho’s retirement Kotokuzan gets the “free pass,” and joins the pack on the lead lap? (I’ll find out who’s here for NASCAR references.) Or does this mean that Hakuho’s announcement was still not done in time for the banzuke committee to remove his name from the banzuke? I think it would be very odd for Hakuho to still appear on the list in Kyushu since he announced his retirement before the banzuke committee drew up their list. So Kyokushuho might still make the cut due to the lack of other promotion candidates among the top makushita ranks. If Shiba had a 6-1 record or a yusho, would he have joined the other three and taken Kyokushuho’s slot? Or will Kyokushuho drop, essentially for nothing?

Given the weak demotion given to Kotokuzan after his 4-11 record in July, I find it hard to demote Kyokushuho from a rank and a half higher on a 6-9 record. We know that 7-8 is often good enough to maintain ones rank and Kyokushuho has already had a couple of recent instances of two-rank drops with 6-9 records. Why not drop him to Juryo-jiri and only demote Takakento after his 3-12 and Asashiyu after his 1-14? This avoids the difficult choice of trying to decide who is the next deserving candidate from Makushita when it’s hard to justify Jokoryu at Ms4 with a 4-3, Shiba at Ms6 with a 5-2, or Tsushimanada at Ms9 with 6-1.

Anyway, my banzuke for Kyushu has Hakuho off and Kyokushuho sitting on the bottom rung of Juryo.

The Addendum

Not so fast, again, Andy! As Leonid rightly points out below, Takagenji’s gone. That’s what you get for removing the Scandal Meter. While his slot was conspicuously vacant in the last tournament, it will certainly be filled this time around. So that means two promotions were “extra” this time around? Will Takakento be saved? No. I think that’s the point that puts Hakuho back on the banzuke. My point above that the Kyokai would have to “go fishing” for a lackluster promotion candidate is only half the story. They need to find two promotion candidates from that field. Kyokushuho was never in danger of demotion.

So let’s turn back to those promotion candidates. A promotion from Ms6 with 5 wins is rare but has happened three times this century, to Baruto and Satoyama. Baruto proceeded to a very successful 12-3 record in that debut tournament, while Satoyama’s makekoshi 7-8 was still safe because he had been promoted to Juryo 12E from Ms6. His case was a highly unusual one, though, as he was one of nine promotions that tournament. The yaocho scandal had claimed many scalps that year. The Ms9 promotion with 6 wins is even more rare, last granted…let’s see here…to some up-and-comer named Hakuho in 2003. There are certainly more promotions from Ms4 with 4 wins, with Akiseyama’s promotion last year being the most recent example.

Without a fourth promotion, Hakuho is on the banzuke and someone’s getting robbed of a position in Juryo, and the victim appears to be Jokoryu.

Juryo Promotions Announced

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.

Updated! Kyushu Basho 2020 – Juryo preview, and prediction

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.

Soon discovering makuuchi’s marvel? Wakamotoharu

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.

Can Chiyonoo (left) join Terutsuyoshi (middle) and Enho (right) in 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.

Another pixie in makuuchi? Midorifuji

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?

Back on track? Takagenji

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.

Hakuyozan (left)

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.”

Andy’s prediction

And here’s mine:

Tim’s prediction