Grand Sumo’s Nagoya Tournament is almost here and it promises to be an exciting event, with both a number of elite wrestlers looking to make an impact and a class of rookies hoping to prove they belong. There are also some young guns in the middle of the pack who may be primed for a big coming out party.
Here are five things I’ll be looking for as I watch the world’s best rikishi go at it under the sweltering sun of Nagoya (from my air conditioned home in Toronto, of course).
5 reasons to watch sumo this month
The Ozeki race continues
The race to become an ozeki is a marathon and not a sprint. Kirishima won the last leg of this sumo subplot with his phenomenal performances in May. His winning record there was enough to secure his promotion to ozeki, helping complete the banzuke for the first time in almost a year.
Now there are three wrestlers hoping to emulate Kirishima by racking up double-digit wins in Nagoya.
Daieisho, Wakamotoharu and Hoshoryu all had mathematical chances of getting to the 33-win threshold that is considered the base level pre-requisite for an ozeki promotion. However, each of them failed to reach that marker.
Daieisho needed 13 wins, just like Kirishima, but he came unstuck due to his rather one-dimensional game, which fell short against tricky and more technical wrestlers. Wakamotoharu needed 14 wins and he fought like hell to try and get them, but was unable to beat a few of his fellow elites. And Hoshoryu needed to be perfect, but a Tobizaru henka blew that chance early on.
The magic number for Daieisho now stands at 11 wins. Wakamotoharu and Hoshoryu both need 12 wins.
Daieisho has scored 11 or more wins six times in his career, most recently in March (where he was runner up to Kirishima with 12 wins). So it feels like ozeki status is firmly in his grasp, especially if he learns from his mistakes this year and decides to mix up his assault.
12 wins would be career bests for Wakamotoharu and Hoshoryu. both have had 11 wins twice before. And both look as though they have what it takes to pull out something special in Nagoya and reach sumo’s second highest rank.
It’s not going to be easy for either of these guys, though. They will probably trade wins and losses with each other and will all find it tough going against Kirishima, Takakeisho and Terunofuji. Additionally, there is a much improved class of rank-and-filers they have to contend with, who I will discuss next.
Youngsters ready to make some noise
Below the san’yaku for this tournament is a developing core of young wrestlers who are starting to find their footing and are singling themselves out as potential upper rank material.
Those rikishi include Onosho (27), Midorifuji (26), Hiradoumi (23), Oho (23) and Hokusieho (21). I’m also going to throw in the 29-year-old Asanoyama to this group. The former ozeki, whose ranking plummeted thanks to a year-long suspension, is M4 for this tournament and will surely lodge another kachi-koshi as he marches back to where he once was.
Onosho and Midorifuji have both had a taste of what it’s like to be higher up on the banzuke. And against stiffer competition they’ve struggled (especially Midorifuji). But both have looked fantastic in isolated moments this year and both have a lot of ability that can make them a tough out for anyone on a given day. If Onosho can stay healthy and Midorifuji has learned from his tough bouts with the elites earlier this year, both could come out of Nagoya with winning records.
Hiradoumi, Hokuseiho and Oho are all competing at their highest ranks to date in Nagoya. So they will be tested like never before. I’m fascinated to see which of them will sink and which will swim. Personally, I think Hokuseiho’s incredible physical attributes will continue to see him win most his bouts, even at this level. I think Hiradoumi has a lot of potential, but his aggressiveness might see him exposed in bouts with smarter opponents. And Oho is very under-the-radar, he could sneak his way to a good record, but I think he might get a bit of a rude awakening against the san’yaku.
Is Takakeisho healthy?
After his yusho in January, it felt like the stars were alligning for the perennial ozeki to finally get over the hump and make a case for becoming the 74th yokozuna. However, injuries plagued his March tournament. And he was still banged up in May. Despite suffering with a knee injury, Takakeisho was able to save his ozeki skin by mixing up his arsenal and showing a willingness to trick an opponent now and then, instead of always trying to bulldoze through them.
His cautious approach in May likely prevented him from aggravating his injury, but was it enough for him to sufficiently heal during the break between that tournament and this one?
We’ll soon find out. I’ll be watching Takakeisho closely on Day 1 to see whether or not we will be watching a tournament where he tries to hobble his way to eight wins or whether he can put his foot back on the gas and try to steal the spotlight from the 73rd yokozuna and the newest ozeki.
Hakuoho is here
Hakuoho, who we knew as Ochiai in all his previous tournaments (a grand total of three!), has arrived in the makuuchi division. The 19-year-old ‘Monster’ is ranked M17 and will be easy to spot with his slicked back hair which is far from being long enough to form the ginko leaf top-knot that all, bar maybe Kinbozan, will be wearing.
Ichinojo and Asanoyama were…
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