I had fun with the contest last tournament but I think I learned a few things. For this next tournament, instead of following Asanoyama rise up the banzuke, I want my dear readers to guess the number of wins Ura will have. As a tie-breaker, we’ll look at the phenom, Ochiai. Contest details and the entry form are here.
Once again, get in your entries before the action starts!
At Tachiai, we have a group of talented or unique rikishi we follow each tournament in the lower divisions. Some of them are young up-and-coming potentials who are fighting their way to the top. Some are injured veterans struggling to return to the limelight of the top divisions. We call them the “Ones to Watch”.
The Osaka basho featured intense competition in the lower divisions, with some of our favorites going down in flames, but others rising to the cusp of promotion into the salaried ranks. The Natsu basho looks to have some of the most full-throttle action in a while, with an elite crop of rikishi gathering in the top 10 ranks of Makushita, and a few beloved veterans pushing hard up the ranks to return to their former glory. Lets take a look at who we will be following this May.
Wakamotoharu – After a 1 basho visit to Juryo, Wakamotoharu’s 5-10 record sees him relegated back to the top of Makushita. A simple kachi-koshi should be enough to return him to sekitori status, but in Makushita this is no easy task. He will be in fierce competition against the likes of Kotokamatani, Kizakiumi and Ryuko.
Ichiyamamoto – Returning to his highest ever rank of Ms3e, he will need to maintain a winning record to press for promotion. He has been kachi-koshi in his past 3 basho, and he will be working hard to overcome the same competitor that Wakamotoharu must out-shine to gain a handful of possible promotion spots to Juryo.
Hoshoryu – The young Mongolian powerhouse finds himself inches away from breaking into the salaried ranks, and he has yet to rack up his first make-koshi tournament. But the top 4 ranks of Makushita feature 4 rikishi who are fighting at their highest ever ranks, and a pair who are near their top posting. The competition in this bracket may be some of the toughest in many years.
Wakatakamoto – Just outside the Makushita meat grinder at the top, the lowest ranked Oanmi brother will be looking to pick up his 4 wins and inch closer to “the Wall”. His two prior tournaments have resulted in solid 5-2 results, and he looks to have his sumo in good form.
Midorifuji – Competing at his highest ever rank of Ms13e, he will face off day 1 against flagging former Juryo man Gokushindo on day 1. The top half of Makushita is frequently inhabited with former sekitori struggling to find a way back to the top. Note: Gokushindo has since withdrawn from the tournament.
Akua – Speaking of men who bounced out of Juryo and are still trying to find a way home, we find Akua, who I would predict is still suffering from one mechanical injury that saw him go kyujo from the 2018 Aki basho on day 12. If he has his body in good condition, he should be a tough competitor and we will see him start is long climb back upwards.
Naya – Another young rikishi with a lot of promise, Naya has size, his family heritage and all of the training they imparted on him in his favor. He finished Osaka with an impressive 6-1, and will find the competition quite a bit more challenging.
Musashikuni – Two consecutive make-koshi tournaments have put the scion of the Musashigawa heya back into the bottom range of Makushita. Musashikuni has had physical problems with his undercarriage, and his fans are simply waiting for him to get his body in good working order, and return to his normally powerful ways.
Ura – Note that we are unlikely to see Ura any time soon. He has once again had surgery to reconstruct his knee, but both Ura and his Oyakata have stated flatly they are looking for nothing short of perfection in the repair before he begins training again. I would guess no sooner than next year, by which time he will be well down the banzuke.
Roga – After finishing 7-0 in Osaka, and taking the Jonidan yusho, risking Mongolian star Roga finds himself in the top quarter of Sandanme. Given the strength and focus of his sumo thus far, I am guessing he will be a strong contender against the Sandanme regulars.
Terunofuji – The injured Ozeki made his return in Osaka, and finished 7-0 in Jonidan, losing the yusho in a playoff match with Roga. He is subsequently ranked a bit further down the banzuke at Sd49e. Terunofuji looked physically out of sorts in Osaka, and we hope he has been training and working on his conditioning since then. If he’s mechanically well, he should be able to make swift work of most of his opponents.
Torakio – It has been announced that the one time scion of Naruto heya has left sumo. He was struggling quite a bit as of late, and he has decided to pack it in and return to Bulgaria.
Shoji – A one time up and coming rikishi, Shoji peaked at Makushita 52 last year at Natsu, and has been trending lower since. Now near the middle of Sandanme, he has a real opportunity to regroup and get his sumo back on track.
Amakaze – A former Juryo mainstay, Amakaze became injured and took and extended kyujo, re-entering competition in Osaka, and turning in a respectable 6-1 from Jonidan. Now ranked towards the bottom of Sandanme, he should have a fairly easy kachi-koshi if his joints stay healthy.
Wakaichiro – Tachiai favorite Wakaichiro has yet to find the formula to hit and stick in Sandanme. During 2018, he faced a number of physical challenges, and each consecutive match saw him mount the dohyo with an increasing amount of tape on his body. Since then it seems he may have turned a corner on his health, which will delight his fans.
Kitanowaka – New sumotori Kitanowaka will have his first professional sumo matches in Tokyo this may. An impressive young man from Yamagata, he starts his sumo career at Jonokuchi 16e.
With many of the veterans in the top division approaching the end of their careers, Tachiai is working to raise the visibility of some of the younger, up-and-coming rikishi. In some cases (especially Makushita), the action is faster and more intense than in the salaried ranks. These rikishi are so close to gaining Sekitori status, they will battle to their utmost to win that coveted promotion. Before our coverage begins for Haru, let’s take a look at how our ones to watch fared in January.
Wakamotoharu – With a 7-0 record, he won the Makushita yusho, and earned his promotion to Juryo to join his brother Wakatakakage. The promotion to Juryo brings many privileges, and a test of endurance. In prior tournaments, Wakamotoharu competed on 7 of the 15 days, in Juryo he will be in battle each of the 15 days.
Akua – After his one basho visit to Juryo, Akua could do no better than a 2-5 make koshi, and finds himself demoted from Makushita 4 to Makushita 11. From here it will take 2 winning tournaments or more to challenge for a return to Juryo, unless he has overcome his injuries and can turn in a no-loss record.
Ichiyamamoto – With a 4-3 kachi koshi, he has been promoted from Makushita 19 to Makushita 13. Like Akua, he will need a string of winning records to rise to the top of the Makushita “wall” and attempt to break into Juryo.
Hoshoryu – After a stellar 5-2 record at Hatsu, which included a tragic match with Ura, he finds myself at the threshold of sekitori promotion, ranked at Makushita 7. But it will likely take more than a 4-3 kachi-koshi to win a slot in Juryo for May.
Midorifuji – He finished January with a 4-3 kachi-koshi, and looked fairly good going up against some tough opponents. Midorifuji is now ranked at Makushita 19, and will be in the thick of the brutal competition in the top half of Makushita.
Ura – Fans around the world were thrilled to see Ura back, healthy and climbing the ranks. After a Sandanme yusho in November, he found himself at Makushita 23, and was fighting well. But his pivotal match against Hoshoryu turned tragic as his injured knee gave out when Ura attempted one of his signature “plasticman” bends. Ura was taken to the hospital, and has since undergone surgery to attempt to rebuild the knee. We do not expect to see him return any time soon.
Wakatakamoto – The third Waka brother finished Hatsu with a solid 5-2 kachi-koshi, and earned a promotion from Makushita 40 to Makushita 24. Will the fact that he is the last one of his family not a sekitori drive him to higher levels of performance? Stay tuned…
Musashikuni – The scion of the Mushashigawa stable was fighting hurt during during Hatsu, and while he was not able to secure a kachi-koshi, he was able to bounce back from 3 straight losses at the start. As a result he dropped from Makushita 36 to Makushita 42, and hopefully he is in better physical form. As one of Takayasu’s tsukibeto, we hope some of the big Ozeki’s sumo will take root and help him win.
Naya – A one time rival of Hoshoryu. Taiho’s grandson is taking a slower route through the battleground of Makushita. He was able to achieve a 4-3 kachi-koshi for January, and was promoted from Makushita 60 to Makushita 51. Tachiai still expects great sumo from young Naya, even if it may take him a bit longer to find his strength.
Torakio – The young Bulgarian rikishi from Naruto Heya achieved a 4-3 record, and is now ranked at Sandanme 15, his highest ever. A solid winning record in Osaka could see him join Makushita in May.
Shoji – An up in coming former collegiate rikishi found his sumo in January, after 4 straight make-koshi tournaments. Now back at Sandanme 29, he is looking to return to Makushita this year, and continue is push for higher ranks.
Kenho – Enormous Kenho found himself back in Sandanme for the first time in 2 years, and was promptly handed a 1-6 make-koshi. Now back at Jonidan 28, it will come down to injuries and how mobile a man of that size can be. He was clearly hurt in January, but at his weight, he could injure himself just getting out of bed.
Wakaichiro – The Texan sumotori bounced back from a string of injury plagued tournaments to score a strong 5-2 kachi-koshi. In the process he showed some fierce fighting spirit and greatly improved sumo technique. He returns to Sandanme at the bottom of the division (Sandanme 99), and his fans are looking for him to continue his strong sumo.
Hattorizakura – Sumo’s eternal loss leader, Hattorizakura chalked up a dubious yet humorous distinction in January: He lost the same match twice. He did however manage to get a single win, and will ranked at Jonokuchi 15, his highest rank ever.
Terunofuji – After 4 tournaments kyujo, the former Ozeki finds himself in Jonidan. News reports from Japan cite that he is likely to compete in March, and his fans are thrilled to see him return to the dohyo. Ranked at Jonidan 48, his size and strength may be enough to score 4 wins at this level. We have no idea how his knees are doing, but almost everyone hopes this is the start of his long road back to the top division.