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

Sumo debates for 2020 – 3/3

10. Will a rikishi win a yusho for the first time in 2020 ?

Last years showed us we’re not immune to great upsets, during a troubled period where top ranks are ageing and youngsters are struggling to meet up expectations. Indeed, 2018 and 2019 saw a maegashira lifting the Emperor’s Cup (Tochinoshin in 2018 and Asanoyama in 2019).

Anyone up for another surprise in 2020 ? At the risk of being a party spoiler, I’m not !

11. Will Hoshoryu reach maku’uchi ?

Lower divisions have seen the emergence in 2019 of Hoshoryu. Often called “nephew of…”, I’m sure he’ll want to prove his own strengh, in order to me remembered, not just as Asashoryu’s nephew.

A future star ? Hoshoryu Tomokatsu

His rise from jonokuchi has been pretty fast, although it took several honbasho for Hoshoryu to break the glass and reach the salaried ranks : from March of last year at makushita 7, 4-3, 4-3, 3-4 and 4-3 records saw him finally reach juryo. His first stint there did not bring much joy either, as he barely managed to save his rank, thanks to a senshuraku victory – he ended the tournament with a 7-8 make kochi.

Can he raise up his lever in 2020 ?

My prediction: Asashoryu has had harsh words towards him last year. I’m sure he will be a major help towards maku’uchi promotion in 2020.

12. Will Kotoshogiku stay in maku’uchi ?

Lots of words have been written about the way Kotoshogiku failed to regain his ozeki status, as an ozekiwake in March 2017. Since then, much less has been said about Kotoshogiku’s rather anonymous, albeit decent later career in maku’uchi – he even defeated Hakuho in Nagoya.

Former ozeki Kotoshogiku Kazuhiro (left)

Lately, his form has plunged, however. The former ozeki is on an unfortunate four make kochi streak (6-9, 7-8, 6-9, 6-9). He’ll turn 36 this month.

Can he find the winning formula again ? I’m afraid not.

13. Will Ishiura stay in maku’uchi ?

What about Ishiura ? Interestingly, he already spent six basho in a row in maku’uchi (from Kyushu 2016 to Aki 2017), but never during a full calendar year (he got demoted in Kyushu 2017 and Kyushu 2018). He spent four tournaments in the top division in 2019.

From hatakikomi to mitokorozeme : Ishiura Masakatsu

He is known for using the henka technique quite often during his bouts. Lately, however, his form seemed to improve, with combative 8-7 and 9-6 records at the end of the year. Last basho saw him use more raffined techniques, including one of the rarest techniques of the sport, mitokorozeme. It had not been used since Mainoumi, back in 1993 !

Can Ishiura’s sudden feisty sumo grant him a spot in maku’uchi during the whole year 2020 ? Unfortunately, I tend to say no.

14. Will Ura produce the greatest comeback ever ?

We spoke about Terunofuji’s remarkable return to juryo, and, possibly, to maku’uchi. What if Ura does the same ?

The greatest comeback ever ? Ura Kazuki

To put that question into context, Ura had a breakthrough in 2017, starting his first two honbasho in maku’uchi with two winning records. He even defeated former yokozuna Harumafuji in Nagoya, before seeing knee injuries totally stopping his rise. After almost a year without participating in a competitive bout, Ura started his comeback with 6-1 and 7-0 records in sandanme, before reinjuring his knees at the beginning of 2019. At the bottom of jonidan, Ura started his career again, producing a 6-1 record.

Is it on once and for all ? Can Ura produce six kachi koshi in 2020 ? Once again, I tend to say no, but wish him, as well as all other wrestlers and our readers, a successful year 2020 !

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