Sumo stomp! Five reasons to watch the haru basho

The Grand Tournament of Sumo's March basho is just days away.

By: Tim Bissell | 3 months ago
Sumo stomp! Five reasons to watch the haru basho
Takakeisho needs a big result at the March tournament. IMAGO / AFLOSPORT

Grand Sumo’s haru basho or Spring/March tournament gets underway this weekend in Osaka. This is the second tournament of 2023 and there is a lot on the line. Sumo fans have been looking forward to this once since a fascinating, and exhilarating, hatsu basho (New Year tournament) wrapped up in January.

The March tournament includes some new faces in the makuuchi (top division) and the chance for one rikishi (wrestler) to make a case for becoming the sports 74th yokozuna. There are lots of reasons to follow this tournament, but here are just five that caught my attention.

1. Will the Angry Hamster be smiling?

Takakeishō Mitsunobu got the yusho (championship) in January with a 12-3 record, defeating his old high school classmate Kotoshōhō Yoshinari on day 15 to lift the Emperor’s Cup. This was Takakeishō’s third yusho. The performance had some wondering if the ozeki would be considered for promotion to the elite rank of yokozuna. However, in the March rankings Takakeishō remained listed as ozeki. Though these things are decided on a case-by-case basis, it’s thought that two yusho in a row is an ironclad qualification for yokozuna. However, there have been rumblings that ‘Keishō might need to do more to prove he deserves ascension to sumo’s hallowed top ranking.

Chris Sumo recently shared how some members of the sumo council weren’t enamoured with what Takakeishō brings to the dohyō (ring). Takakeishō is a pusher with most of his wins coming off the back of hard thrusts to the face and a forceful shove out the ring. Intricate belt-work and jaw-dropping throws aren’t typical facets of the ozeki’s arsenal. Some fans have shared this criticism of the extremely aggressive, and not so graceful, ‘Angry Hamster’.

However, Chris Sumo shared some added criticism of the yokozuna hopeful. Another slight against Takakeishō is apparently his hesitation, and lack of power in in the tachi-ai (opening clash). Furthermore Takakeishō’s manner of losing has also been called out. His aggressive pushing attacks sometimes lead to forceful hatakikomi (slap downs) defeats or incidents where he is flopped off the stage (like versus Kotonowaka Masahiro in January). The sight of Takakeishō losing was even compared to that of a toad that had been run over by a car.

This criticism means Takakeishō heads into March (and his backyard of Osaka) not only looking for a championship victory but with a directive to refine his style and win with a more diverse move-set and lose (if at all) in a more dignified manner. If he manages all this we could see only the second Japanese-born yokozuna since 2000.

2. Mongolian Beef

Mongolians have ruled the upper echelons of sumo for the past two decades. with five of the last six yokozuna all hailing from the steppes. Outside of reigning yokozuna Terunofuji Haruo, who remains on the sidelines after recovering from knee surgery, the highest ranked Mongolians right now are Hōshōryū Tomokatsu and Kiribayama Tetsuo. Both are sekiwake and building a case for ozeki promotion. And both seem to not like the other very much.

Their rivalry isn’t as fierce as the last great Mongolian rivalry, between sumo’s GOAT Hakuhō Shō and his fellow yokozuna Asashōryū Akinori (Hōshōryū’s uncle). Hakuhō and Asashōryū’s rivalry boiled over into seldom seen fits of passion in their matches, filled with staredowns, fist pumps and little shoves after the fact. All of that is pretty common in Western sports, but in sumo a staredown and a terse word might as well be Malice in the Palace.

Hōshōryū and Kiribayama’s rivalry for now is in the soundbite form with both men admitting that they hate losing to each other and that this has been the case ever since they both competed at the same judo club in Mongolia (per World of Sumo). Both men have different accounts of who is the better judoka, too.

Their head-to-head record is 6-5 in favour of Hōshōryū. The last time they met was on the last day of 2022’s November tournament. Hōshōryū went into the bout knowing he needed a win to earn the tournament’s ginō-shō (technique prize). Hōshōryū earned the prize with a yorikiri (frontal force out) in a bout where Kiribayama looked like he pulled up, like you see sprinters do when they know their beat and don’t want to look like they are trying too hard.

They were due to meet in January. However, they were matched up a day after Hōshōryū turned his ankle in a loss. Instead of meeting Kiribayama on a compromised leg Hōshōryū pulled out for the day, giving his rival a win by default. After that, though, Hōshōryū would compete for the remainder of the tournament salvaging a winning 8-7 record. Kiribayama excelled in January going 11-4 and earning the technique prize and promotion to sekiwake for this tournament.

So now it’s all eyes on this pair when they hopefully meet in Osaka and hopefully give it their all to beat one another.

3. The Giant in the GOAT’s shadow

Hokuseihō Osamu is the most intriguing wrestler to make his top division debut this month. The 21-year-old, who was born in Mongolia and moved to Japan at five-years-old, towers over the division at 6’8”. He made his senior debut in 2000 and won each lower division championship to earn his way to the jūryō (second division), one of only two salaried divisions in the sport. He had three impressive showings in the second division last year and in January he put together another winning record to earn his call-up to the top division.

Hokuseihō is part of the powerhouse Miyagino heya (stable) which is now lead by legendary former yokozuna Hakuhō (now officially referred to as Miyagino-oyakata), who had his official retirement ceremony last month. Hokuseihō is the first of Hakuhō’s charges to be promoted to the top division and the expectations are high for the youngster.

Many will be fascinated to see how his incredible size (he’s recorded as the tallest wrestler in makuuchi history) will translate to bouts with the best wrestlers in the world. In the lower division’s Hokuseihō had succeeded by using his superior reach to easily grab his opponents’ mawashi (belts) and use that to force or sling them out the ring. However, in the top division there are plenty of smaller wrestlers who have survived for years on being able to trip and topple larger foes.

4. A Stacked Jūryō

Hokuseihō may have left the jūryō, but this month the second division is still stacked with talent. The ranks include are both up-and-comers and established names eager to the top division. When it comes to the latter, there’s two former ozeki listed in the second division this month: Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi and Asanoyama Hiroki. There’s also former sekiwake Ichinojō Takashi.

Tochinoshin, the ever popular Georgian wrestler, falls to the second division because of a shoulder injury he suffered early in the January tournament, which forced him to an absence riddled losing record. Asanoyama is in the second division after a year long suspension (for COVID-19 quarantine violations and an attempted cover-up) saw him demoted to one of the lowest divisions in the sport.

He’s clawed his way back through the divisions since his suspension ended and won the second division championship in January. Another impressive showing here could see him finally back in the top division. Ichinojo was also demoted due to a suspension, for a mix of COVID violations, an allegation of assaulting the wife of his stable-master and general claims of being drunk and belligerent.

The new blood in the second division are spearheaded by Ochiai Tetsuya, the 19-year-old prodigy who was recruited by Hakuhō last year. The teenager, who has been dubbed ‘Monster’, was able to enter senior sumo at the level below jūryō due to his success as a student wrestler. He dominated all he met there and won the third division title with a 7-0 record. He is the first wrestler to achieve promotion to the salaried divisions after his first ever tournament in 90 years.

Other jūryō wrestlers of note include the diminutive, and wildly popular, Enho Akira (also of Hakuhō’s stable) who is coming off an orbital bone fracture in January and has promised to make adjustments to his exciting giant-slaying style to preserve his health. There’s also the always meme-able Chiyomaru Kazuki, impressive Russian wrestler Roga Tokiyoshi and debuting Tamashoho Manpei (protege of former yusho winner Tamawashi Ichiro — who happens to be my wife’s favourite wrestler)

5. Kazakhstan has entered the chat

Kinbōzan Haruki excelled in the jūryō in January. His 11-4 record, off the back of two previous winning records in the division, was enough to earn him his first promotion to the top division. Kinbōzan was born Baltagul Yersin in Amaty, Kazakhstan. He will be the first wrestler from Kazakhstan to ever compete in the top division.

The 25-year-old made his senior debut in 2021, winning a fourth division championship with a 7-0 record. A year later he won a third division championship, again with a 7-0 record.

Kinbōzan was told to pursue sumo by former yokozuna Asashōryū when he was 18-years-old judo practitioner. On his advise he transferred to a Japanese high school and started competing in amatuer sumo. After school he joined the Kise stable, which is home to popular top division talent Ura Kazuki.

Since this is an MMA site, first and foremost, I should also let you know that he’s buds with former UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.


As you can see there are lots of reasons worth tuning to watch this month’s haru basho. You’ll be able to catch all the news, upadates and whatever highlights NHK let’s slip through the net here on Bloody Elbow.

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

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