Ones to Watch: Kyushu 17 Wrap-up


Above: Enho rounds off his tournament by escorting Akinohana off the dohyo.
Video c/o Asashosakari

Remember way back in September and October when we were shaking our heads in disbelief at “Wacky” Aki? How positively calm those days seem now. We took a week or so to collect ourselves following the conclusion of the unprecedented events of the Kyushu basho, but now it’s time to wrap-up our “Ones to Watch” series for 2017. Thanks to everyone who sent through kind words and their suggestions of future rikishi to follow – I think we’ll have a good list in store for Hatsu.

Results

So, how did our picks do on the whole?

Kachi-koshi: 17
Make-koshi: 3
Yusho: 🏆🏆
Hattorizakura-watch: ⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️

Makushita

Ms4 Mitoryu (Nishikido) – Mitoryu sealed his promotion to Juryo with a fine 6-1 record, justifying our selection as top pick in the Makushita ranks this time out. He’ll be ineligible for the list next time, but the much-vaunted rikishi will continue to be one to watch as he continues his progression and hopefully consolidates his place among the sekitori.

Ms7 Hokaho (Miyagino) – I was somewhat hopeful that Hokaho could continue his run, having scored winning records in every other basho in 2017. However the run stops here as he slumped to a 3-4 make-koshi courtesy of a final match loss against…

Ms11 Takayoshitoshi (Takanohana) – … who sealed his kachi-koshi in the same match. Takagenji’s twin will no doubt be challenged to follow his brother’s (who has managed to hold on to his place in Juryo) progress as he’ll see himself inside the top 10 Makushita ranks for Hatsu. The question is whether he can put together the run of consistency that could see him in promotion contention by mid-2018 – his mental makeup and application have been debated somewhat within the comments section of this site.

Ms12 Wakatakakage (Arashio) vs Ms22 Murata (Takasago) – Despite entering the tournament at a similar pedigree (just the odd loss separating them over their careers), the strength of schedule really told here. Wakatakakage was simply out-shoved against a selection of seasoned vets at this level en route to a 3-4 make-koshi, including the eventual yusho winner Tochihiryu. Murata on the other hand was able to bulldoze his way through the middle of the pack to a very strong 6-1 record that will see him promoted above his contemporary next time out and almost certainly into the top 10 Makushita ranks.

Ms14 Jokoryu (Kise) vs Ms14 Enho (Miyagino) – I felt there was a lot of spice in the Makushita 14 pairing as Jokoryu was the very last rikishi before Enho to achieve 3 consecutive 7-0 records to begin his career. With different goals at stake – Jokoryu’s late career fightback to the pro ranks, Enho’s effort to continue a blistering start to his career – both men valiantly achieved 5-2 records which will see them also placed in the Makushita top 10 in January.

It’s worth noting that Enho’s energy is absolutely remarkable, and currently his speed is the main trait that helps him overcome the massive size gaps that exist between him and most competitors. Additionally, he does a good job of keeping his opponents away from the mawashi, as once he’s locked up he’s fairly easy for larger, stronger rikishi to move around (as somewhat evidenced by his loss to the enormous Akiseyama, albeit a match where his arms rather than his belt were locked up). While he displays at times a composure beyond his years in the manner in which he dispatches much larger opponents, he also has suffered a few wild crashes off the dohyo, so we will hope that he stays healthy as he continues his development.

Ms26 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – I got this one a bit wrong, as I picked Ichiyamamoto as a bit of a sleeper yusho pick owing to the weak strength of schedule and his absolute tear up the banzuke to this point. He will continue his progression after posting a 4-3 kachi-koshi but we will want to see more next time. He displayed some good poise, despite being smaller than many of his opponents.

Ms50 Ryuko (Onoe) – A strong performance in his Makushita debut, putting up a 5-2 kachi-koshi, the odd loss coming to…

Ms52 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – … whose victory over Ryuko (in a match that probably could have gone either way, Nishikifuji slapping down Ryuko on the verge of being pushed out at the edge) sealed a 6-1 tournament in which both men coughed up the other losses to the promising Mongolian Kiribayama. Both Ryuko and Nishikifuji are set for strong promotions upward in January and we will continue to monitor their progress. It’s worth noting that Nishikifuji’s performance at Kyushu was a rare bright spot for the otherwise beleaguered Isegahama stable.

Sandanme

Sd13 Fukuyama (Fujishima) vs Sd16 Tanabe (Kise) – I’ve rated Tanabe as the better of these two for a while, having only lost to Enho in his career entering the basho (in fairness to Fukuyama, he’d only lost to Tanabe, but he wasn’t running into Enho). This time, Enho was in another division and Tanabe repaid this faith with a solid 5-2 record that bested Fukuyama’s narrow 4 win kachi-koshi. Tanabe’s showing should be good enough to earn him a promotion, while Fukuyama will likely need to take another crack from the top of Sandanme next time out. As an aside, this is the part of the banzuke where an awful lot of rikishi’s successes are dependent about how they do against the squad from Sadogatake-beya. Both of these guys ended up facing 3 Koto-men – as did Tomokaze and Wakaichiro.

Sd53 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – Tomokaze comes up one loss short of “doing an Enho” from his first three tournaments – he dropped one match in Aki, but stormed back with a zensho (via playoff) here that solidified his credentials as a bona fide prospect. His relatively low ranking in the Sandanme division means he should end up somewhere around the magical Makushita 30 mark at which another unprecedented zensho might clinch another promotion, but it is likely based on past precedent that he’ll fall just short of this mark.

Sd84 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Talking of the myriad prospects of Sadogatake-beya, Kotokumazoe reinforces his credentials after his lengthy absence from the banzuke with a third straight solid tournament. His 5 win record should fire him up another 30-35 positions next time out.

Sd85 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – There’s no getting around that it was a disappointing debut at Sandanme level for the Texan, who has vowed to do better next time out. While his 1 win performance in the final basho of the year was not what he or his fans were hoping for, we are excited to see him continue his progression and hopefully solidify his credentials upon his return to Jonidan where he has already shown solid skill in several previous tournaments this year.

Jonidan

Jd15 Shoji (Musashigawa) – It’s a second straight yusho for Wakaichiro’s stablemate, who will swap places with the Tachiai-favorite in January as he earns an automatic promotion that will see him placed somewhere between Sd20-30. As we noted in our lower division yusho wrap-up, Shoji sealed the deal with a final match win over Torakio with whom he is developing a nice little rivalry.

Jd49 Torakio (Naruto) vs Jd49 Sumidagawa (Naruto) – Torakio may yet get another chance to avenge his second straight yusho race defeat to Shoji at Hatsu, as his 6 win record will more than likely be enough to get him up to Sandanme (the last time it wasn’t from his level was 1975). So while they’ll likely work from opposite ends of the division, one wouldn’t bet against the big and strong Bulgarian getting matched up with Shoji again should both men dominate in their step up.

For Sumidagawa, Torakio’s massive stablemate, the goal at Hatsu will be consolidation and further progression after he netted a 4-3 kachi-koshi which some Tachiai commenters mentioned might be the height of his ambition with respect to his more esteemed aforementioned colleague.

Jonokuchi

Jk20 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – 27 year old Amatsu turned in a fine performance on his comeback to the dohyo after nearly 3 years away. He only suffered one blemish, with a 6 win record that will see him comfortably promoted in his effort to make it back to the Makushita ranks. As I remarked last time, it was disappointing not to see him matched up with the yusho winner Kotoseigo given they were only placed 2 spots apart on the banzuke.

Jk20 Hayashi (Fujishima) – Speaking of solid performances, top debutant “Mike” Hayashi turned in a 6-1 record, his sole loss coming to the yusho winner Kotoseigo. He will be promoted at Hatsu and we will continue to monitor his progress. He will likely be replaced as our “top debutant to watch” at Hatsu by much vaunted Mongolian Yoshoyama of Tokitsukaze-beya.

Finally, while we don’t technically list Hattorizakura of Shikihide-beya as “one to watch,” we certainly will continue to look for his results, and unfortunately he put up his ninth straight 0-7 tournament at Kyushu. This tournament saw him do what I guess we can call a reverse Futabayama, as he has passed the legendary Yokozuna’s run of 63 and run his loss streak now to 67 consecutive losses (his second loss this time out, against the debutant Takita, was particularly heartbreaking as it looked like a sure win until he got Aminishiki’d at the edge). Here’s an interesting stat if you’re a Hattorizakura fan: only 16 other rikishi have managed to stay on the banzuke while not winning for seven consecutive tournaments (without going banzuke-gai). All of the other 16 were kyujo at some point, though a few did put up legitimate winless tournaments over that period. The great Yokozuna Takanohana II is a member of that list in the injury-addled latter stages of his career, so I guess Hattorizakura can at least say they have that in common!

Comparing the Great Ones: The Lasting Impact of Generational Athletes


Hakuho-Gretzky Final

Today marks one week since the end of the 2017 Kyushu basho, and while most of the post-tournament media has centered around the unfortunate retirement of Harumafuji, there are still several stories to be covered as we move on from Fukuoka. One such story is the milestone 40th yusho win by Yokozuna Hakuho Sho. In a post last week, Bruce summarized Hakuho’s decorated career by comparing him to several of the worlds most talented athletes. While all of these comparisons are accurate, when I explain the Dai-Yokozuna to my non-sumo friends and family, there is only one man whose achievements in his respective sport are equal to those of Hakuho: The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

While sumo and hockey couldn’t be more different, there are striking similarities between the careers of Hakuho and Gretzky. For starters, both men began their professional careers in their late teens, with Hakuho having his maezumo tournament at 16, while Gretzky made his first WHA appearance at the age of 17. It took less than seven years for each of them to achieve the top prize in their respective sports, with Hakuho earning his first yusho six years after his debut and Gretzky winning The Stanley Cup in his fifth season. But the most comparable characteristic Hakuho and Gretzky share is the lasting impact they have had on their sports. As the most dominant athletes to ever compete in sumo and hockey respectively, Hakuho and Gretzky have accumulated an impressive array of achievements and accolades. While Gretzky holds the records for points, goals, and assists in hockey, sumo’s records for most yusho (40), zensho yusho (13), career wins (1064), and top division wins (970) belong to Hakuho. With such colossal records as these, and with no athlete past or present coming close to equaling them, the legacies of these two men may never be surpassed. As the Wayne Gretzky of sumo, Hakuho’s impact on Japan’s national sport will be felt for decades to come.

So what does this all mean to sumo fans moving forward? Well, as a hockey enthusiast, I’ve learned of several realities one must come to terms with when their favourite sport is dominated by generational athletes such as Hakuho and Gretzky.

1. Hakuho’s records will go unbroken for a very long time
The majority of Gretzky’s records were set in the 1980’s, and since then no player has come close to breaking them. They have stood for over 30 years, and sumo fans could see Hakuho’s records stand just as long, if not longer. Hakuho may be a once in a lifetime athlete, but a bit of luck also played a part in his success. He has remained relatively injury-free for much of his career and staying in fighting form for so long allowed him to set the bar to such a high degree. It will take another generational athlete with a similar set of circumstances to come close to rivaling Hakuho’s legacy.

2. Second is the new first
Since Gretzky’s time, there have been a select few who have made runs at his records. The only active player within sight of these lofty achievements is Jaromir Jagr, who despite playing well into his forties, still trails Gretzky by a staggering 937 points. Despite being the ultimate second fiddle, Jagr is considered one of the all-time greats of the sport. Much in the same vein, as Hakuho’s achievements rise further and further out of reach, many a Yokozuna’s career will be defined by how close they can get to his records. Sumo’s future legends will be those who can surpass Taiho’s 32 yusho mark, or Kaio’s 1047 career wins, and end their careers nearest to Hakuho.

3. Future greats of the sport will be compared to Hakuho
It is no secret that a changing of the guard is poised to take place in the world of Sumo. Many veterans will soon begin to leave the fighting to younger generations, and new stars will emerge to take their place. Much like every standout NHL rookie has been called the next Gretzky, sumo’s great rikishi of tomorrow will undoubtedly be compared to Hakuho at every milestone. Hakuho will be the measuring stick upon which every future Yokozuna will be judged, for better or for worse.

Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Hakuho’s achievements will remain a part of sumo’s rich tapestry for years, if not decades, to come. He is The Great One of sumo, the Gretzky of rikishi, and the most dominant Yokozuna of all time. Hakuho has climbed to the top of the mountain, and it will take a hell of a man to knock him down.

Lower Division Yusho Watch


torakio
Torakio: Foiled again

As we head into the final day’s action, here’s a quick update as to where the yusho results in the bottom four divisions sit:

Makushita

30 year old Tochihiryu of Kasugano-beya has clinched his first yusho at this level by way of a 7-0 record that took him past several veteran and upcoming names: a split of 4 former sekitori looking to make their way back and 3 hot shot up and comers (Wakatakakage, Kiribayama and Chiyonoumi). After 2 years in the wilderness from the professional ranks, he will return to Juryo looking for a 2nd kachi-koshi at the 9th attempt.

Given what was at stake, it was a little disappointing to see his clinching win come by way of a henka against Kiribayama (hat tip once again to Tachiai commenter Asashosakari for the video).

Sandanme

Tachiai “One to Watch” Tomokaze of Oguruma-beya will feature in a playoff against Tsuyukusa of Otake-beya. This will be Tsuyukusa’s second playoff having lost the first in Jonidan earlier this year. Tomokaze, meanwhile, is off to a blistering 20-1 start to his career. He’s one Jonidan loss short of having “done an Enho.”

Jonidan

Shoji of Musashigawa-beya continues his perfect career start by way of another final match victory over the big Bulgarian Torakio (pictured above). Their bout was yet another epic between the two, who are really establishing some rivalry early on. Check it out here (thanks again to Asashosakari!). Unlike the title decider from Makushita, it is a match worthy of deciding the championship, although Torakio’s visibly disappointed demeanor after the match is going to need to improve. But as we saw in the NHK World Preview, he’s putting in the long hours in sumo school.

Happily, both of these men were featured as part of our “Ones to Watch” series and we will continue tracking both of their progress. Also happily, Jonidan is a great division if you’re a fan of awkward sumo hairstyles.

Jonokuchi

23 year old Kotoseigo of Sadogatake-beya smashed the competition en route to a zensho. Admittedly we’re a little disappointed, given that he is another rikishi to have been on and off the dohyo for long stretches over the past few years, that he was not matched up at all with another comeback success story in Amatsu. He did however take on much vaunted new boy Hayashi and blasted him off the dohyo (after a matta).

Hattorizakura did not compete for the yusho this time out, however we will cover his travails further of course in the end of basho “Ones to Watch” roundup.

Meet Enho (炎鵬), Sumo Rising Star


As Josh pointed out before Nagoya, Miyagino heya has a few other interesting rikishi in addition to the mighty Hakuho. One person of great and growing fascination is Enho (炎鵬).

When you bag a yusho, they interview you on NHK! So above is Enho looking very happy and delighted to ace his second basho.

Enho has been in sumo for really 2 basho, plus one where he was doing the introductory Maezumo “lets make sure you know what sumo is” sessions. He has won the junior league yusho for each division he has faced. That translates into the Jonokuchi yusho in May, and the Jonidan yusho in Nagoya. Yes, thus far, Enho is undefeated.

Of course this won’t last, but it’s quite an amazing start to his life in grand sumo. Although he attended Kanazawa Gakuin University, he entered sumo at the bottom, rather than at a higher division as is common for some university rikishi.

For an example of his sumo, we have a video below from sumo media saint, One and Only, where Enho faces a much taller and heavier Masunoyama on the final day in Nagoya. It was not even close.

It’s likely that this guy will be in Sandanme as soon as Aki. We will continue to watch his progress and wish him good fortune and good health.