Hatsu Day 2 – Lower Division Ones To Watch

Ura Aki Day 2

Day 2 seems to be when all of the big names get their first match in the divisions below Juryo, and it’s going to be a great night / day of sumo for the fans. Where day 1 only had a handful, day 2 features many eagerly anticipated matches, including fan favorite Ura. Let’s see who is up!

Akua vs Chiyonoo – Oh yeah! Akua wants back in Juryo to light up our screens with that day-glow mawashi, and he’s got to get through Chiyonoo to have any chance. When I talk about the Makushita “wall”, you can think of Chiyonoo as a big, sturdy brick. Himself a de-throned Juryo man, he wants back in the paid ranks. Battles like this are why the top 10 ranks of Makushita may be the most brutal in all of sumo.

Hoshoryu vs Kizakiumi – Taking to the dohyo just after Ura’s match the crowd won’t quiet down in the least. Hoshoryu is climbing steadily up to the Makushita “wall” to test his mettle. His opponent, Kizakiumi, has had a meteoric rise after entering professional sumo from the college ranks, and has already bounced off the wall during Aki.

Ura vs Takakento – Are you ready to hear the Kokugikan go nuts for a Makushita match? Ura is just a bit short of “the wall” group, but the competition is going to be brutal. A former Takanohan deshi, Takakento made the move with Takakeisho and Takagengi to Chiganoura. He has been in Makushita for the past 10 tournaments.

Musashikuni vs Kototsubasa – The Musashigawa scion takes his first match of the new year against Sadogatake’s Kototsubasa. Both men are near their top ever rank, both are on an upward trend. Both need wins to advance into the elite group just a bit father up the banzuke.

Wakatakamoto vs Ryuseio – Another of the Waka* brothers, his posting at Makushita 40 keeps him in thick competition of rikishi battling to challenge for the top 10 ranks. He faces 32 year old veteran and Sandanme veteran Ryuseio for his first bout.

Shoji vs Hikarugenji – Only in his 9th tournament, Musashigawa’s Shoji is battling his way through Sandanme in a bid to return to Makushita, and faces division mainstay Hikarugenji. Shoji is looking to reverse a series of make-koshi tournaments, including a disastrous 1-6 in Kyushu.

Kenho vs Sumanoumi – Big, friendly Kenho went 6-1 at Kyushu, one of his best tournaments in a while. Now he finds himself in lower Sandanme, and frankly we hope this gentle giant knocks a few competitors into next Sunday. His opponent, Sumanoumi, is a long serving Sandanme veteran.

With this many rising stars out on the same day in Makushita, it’s going to be one of the better days of lower division sumo in a while!

Hatsu Day 1 – Lower Division Ones To Watch

naya

As hopeless sumo fans, the crew at Tachiai are following many fine rikishi who are fighting their way through he lower divisions (yes, more than just Wakaichiro!). Out of more than a dozen “ones to watch”, only a handful are in action on day 1. Some notable matches

Wakamotoharu vs. Gokushindo – Another of the Waka* brothers takes on Gokushindo, as he battles to regain Sekitori status. This has the potential to be a real firecracker of a match.
Midorifuji vs. Sakigake – Midorifuji has certainly hit the Makushita “wall” and has found the competition thick and fierce. Today he takes on former Juryo man Sakigake.
Naya vs. Aomihama – Taiho’s grandson returns to Makushita, at the very last slot of the division. This time we look to see if he can hit and hold this highly competitive division. He faces off against veteran Aomihama, who suffered a disappointing 1-6 tournament in November.
Torakio vs. Taichiyama – Torakio is still working hard to escape Sandanme, and he starts Hatsu near his all time high rank of Sandanme 28. He seems to be an even match for Taichiyama, who is still struggling to recover from injuries.
Hattorizakura vs. Denpoya – In spite of his cringe worthy career record of 2-130 (no, not a typo), people love this skinny little guy, and always hope he can find enough genki to win something. His opponent, Denpoya, who is in his first tournament as a professional rikishi, is likely happy to have a nearly assured win for his first match as a pro.

Some notables that are not on the day 1 fight card: Kenho, Musashikuni, Ura, Shoji Hoshoryu and Akua.

A reminder that NHK World Japan will have the final hour of the top division live over their streaming service overnight US time. Work has it that Gunning will be doing the color commentary, and it’s never dull with him in the booth.

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.

Ones to Watch: Natsu 18 Midpoint

kokugikan

As we wrap up the first week of the May 2018 basho, let’s check in with some of our up-and-comers to see whether or not they’ve got good chances of moving up the banzuke after the tournament.

Before we start, a few items that might be of note to lower-division watchers:

Toyonoshima and Toyohibiki have both got off the mark to perfect records in upper-Makushita. Many sumo fans will be rooting for Toyonoshima to make it back to sekitori status, but that’s not the extent of his ambitions: despite turning 35 in a few weeks, he’s trying to come all the way back up to Makuuchi. Hiro Morita noted on today’s NHK broadcast that Toyonoshima made Kotoshogiku promise he wouldn’t retire until he made it back to makuuchi, so that the two could resume their long-standing rivalry!

Next, Chiyootori has come back into the dohyo down in Sandanme-land. The big man was heavily bandaged and looked awful on Day 3 when I saw him, but somehow won his other two matches and sits with a decent chance of a promotion back to the third tier. He gets called up to face Shikihide’s Baraki next, a smaller man making his debut at the Makushita level this time, a man whose chances of making the top divisions John Gunning poured cold water on in our Tachiai interview earlier this year. So, that might be a match to look out for on Day 8.

Now, onto the young guns:

Makushita

Ms1 Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe) – The 25 year old is a win away from clinching a debut in Juryo, as he sits 3-1 so far. His sole loss has come to a desperate Tsurugisho when called up to Juryo for a day to make up the numbers following Terunofuji’s kyujo. He’s not in action day 8 but it’s likely his next match will be against Ichiyamamoto thereafter. He’s knocked off a couple ex-Juryo guys already in Amakaze and Tochihiryu. I saw him unleash an unstoppable oshi-attack on day 3 against the latter to win by tsukidashi.

Ms5 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – The pusher-thruster is the only other rikishi in the top 5 Makushita slots to post 3 wins thus far, so if he does in fact get drawn against Chiyonoumi, he’s got a bit more riding on it. 4 wins should be enough to get Chiyonoumi up whatever the outcome, but at this rank Ichiyamamoto may need as many as 6 wins depending what happens up in Juryo and above him throughout the second week. He too has knocked off two ex-sekitori in Jokoryu of Kise-beya and Kizenryu. When I saw him Day 3 against the latter, he was absolutely flawless against the more experienced rikishi, winning by oshitaoshi.

Ms6 Enho (Miyagino) – Mixed results so far for the “Next Generation” star, who finds himself 2-2. While he beat Akua, his losses came against Kizaki of Kise-beya and Murata – two guys who may well make it to Juryo before he gets back and the exactly the kinds of rikishi he needs to be beat to show he’s ready for the next level after his overpromotion last time. He too won’t be in action until at least Day 9.

Ms7 Murata (Takasago) – His second go in the Makushita joi is going a bit better than the first, as he’s adjusted to the higher level of opposition en route to a 3-1 start. His next match is likely to be against Wakamotoharu (the middle of the Arashio-beya brothers), so hopefully the big bopper brought his Onami code to the basho (… I’ll get my coat).

Ms13 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – As I said at the outset this is the first time Tomokaze’s been put up against strong opposition and it shows in his 1-2 record. He gets Makushita lifer Tsurubayashi of Kise-beya on Day 8 in what will likely be a bellwether this tournament for his current ability to compete at this part of the banzuke.

Ms13 Wakatakamoto (Arashio) – The elder Onami brother came into this tournament on fire (not literally), which was quickly doused by first match loss to Toyonoshima. There’s no shame in that, but he now finds himself at 2-2 and so will need a strong second week to keep up the progress.

Ms20 Midorifuji (Isegahama) – The small man from Kinki U has come out 1-2 to start the tournament, and Tokushinho of Kise-beya now stands in his way on Day 8. It used to be that your route to a yusho in makuuchi ran through Isegahama-beya, and while that’s no longer the case, you will have noticed by this point in the post it’s impossible to make progress in the Makushita division without a good record against Kise-beya.

Ms26 Ryuko (Onoe) – I said it was “all about the rebound” this time up, but the man has been pushed, shoved and crushed out en route to 1-3 start. Big second week on the cards.

Ms30 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – One of the men doing the business to Ryuko is this man, who beat him on Day 7 by yoritaoshi. He’s 2-2 in his proper debut in this part of the banzuke after flu-enforced absence last time, so I’ll be looking for that 4th win so that he can resume his good progress. He’s another guy I caught in Day 3 action and despite his heavily strapped knees, he delivered a professional performance, moving forward against Asakoki and depositing him out via yorikiri with minimum fuss.

Ms36 Tanabe (Kise) – He’s looking to get it right in his second go at the division and looks to be off to a good start at 2-1. On day 3 I saw him take on Ichiki and my word, he absolutely tossed him out of the dohyo. He has immense strength. Also he’s still in zanbara in tournament number 7. His only loss came to the as yet perfect Kiribayama who blows hot and cold (currently very hot), and he’ll take on Aomihama on Day 8.

Ms50 Inoue (Kise) – He looked good on Day 3 against Wakanofuji but I must have been his lucky charm as he’s dropped his other two matches in his makushita debut. Lucky for him, I’ll be in attendance on Day 8 when he gets Kokonoe’s fabulously named Chiyonokatsu.

Ms52 Shoji (Musashigawa) & Musashikuni (Musashigawa) – I had the American Musashikuni just shading it among the two promoted stablemates, as he has more experience of the level. So far, both men sit with two losses, though Shoji also has two wins having competed a day more. Both will need a winning record to secure their place in the division, and Musashikuni gets his chance to keep the party going with a Day 8 match against 34 year old Katsunofuji. While I witnessed his loss on Day 3, I did feel that his commitment to always keep going forward was notable and a very good sign.

Sandanme

Sd40 Kizakiumi (Kise) – He steamrolled Jonidan opposition last time out in his debut as Sandanme tsukedashi and he has picked up where he left off, posting 4 from 4 as he looks to get out of the division as quickly as he got into it. It doesn’t look like he’ll get pulled too far up the banzuke by the schedulers in his next match, so we’d look for that to happen by his 6th or 7th match assuming he’s still in the yusho race.

Sd42 Tsukahara (Kasugano) – It won’t be a 3rd yusho from his 3 first tournaments for the Kasugano man, but there are other guys in his stable challenging for honors this time so we’ll give him a pass. He’s 2-1 thus far though and will partake in a battle of the extremes against 39 year old Gorikiyama on Day 8, who is taking in his 145th basho in an example of what makes sumo great.

Sd73 Torakio (Naruto) – The Bulgarian’s first attempt at the division was disrupted by injury and his second attempt has at least started rather better, as he’s at 2-1. He gets lightweight Hamadayama on Day 8, who could be a good candidate for the strong youngster to attempt to dominate.

Sd77 Kototebakari (Sadogatake) – He started with 3 wins but was dropped from the yusho race by Satoyama on Day 7, so the big man will have to be content with another big move up the banzuke if he can regain his form in week 2.

Sd89 Hayashi (Futagoyama – moves from Fujishima) – Mike Hayashi appears to be faring better against callow opponents in his first appearance at Sandanme as he’s beaten a 20 year old while dropping two to much more experienced counterparts. Somewhat more luckily for him, he gets 22 year old (but experienced) Ariake on Day 8.

Jonidan

Jd6 Yoshoyama (Tokitsukaze) – Not the best week for the much vaunted Mongolian as he sits 1-2 and on the verge of having his promotion campaign derailed. 3 wins from his last 4 should still do it, and the challenge begins anew against 23 year old Jonidan sumo addict Masutenryu on Day 8.

Jd11 Naya (Otake) – No problems here. The future superstar and postcard art subject has continued his bulldozing act through the fifth tier and looks to be on course for another yusho. His next opponent is oft-injured 21 year old Wakasenryu, and I can’t imagine Naya – an incredibly developed 18 year old war machine with a young history of winning and a perfect pedigree – is the kind of person that a young rikishi with fitness problems is going to want to be facing.

Jd14 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – We’ve been covering him all week on the site as usual, and he’s back on the winning track, taking a 2-1 record into the midpoint. He’ll get Naya’s 20 year old stablemate Shinyashiki on Sunday, so we’ll be looking to catch that match.

Jd42 Hoshoryu (Tatsunami) – Asashoryu’s Nephew™ is working hard for a rematch date with Naya as he’s also off to a perfect start, at 3-0. He gets youngster Izumigaya on Day 8 and if he can come through that and probably one more match, we’d expect to see the rivalry resume in the sixth match of the basho.

Jonokuchi

Jk16 Terasawa (Takasago) & Jk16 Kawamoto (Kasugano) – Out of all of the new debutants this tournament, it was always going to be tough to come up with the goods, but it looks like I’ve drawn a blank with the obvious choice of taking two college guys to take the division by storm. Terasawa’s already dropped two matches, and Kawamoto sits 2-1 and definitely out of the yusho running. That said, as many as 3 wins may still be enough to move up to Jonidan for the pair.

Jk25 Iwamori (Hakkaku) – The rikishi with zero sumo experience but more of a sumo frame than most, is off to a 1-2 start. We’ll be interested to see where this ends up, as it will still be fun to follow the career of a person who joined sumo after being teased at school for their big frame.

Finally, for fans of Hattorizakura, Herouth posted a great video on Twitter earlier of his latest defeat. Video comes from the “Sumo Samurai Hattorizakura” channel. He gave it an almighty go: