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It’s time for more grades for wrestlers who suffered through the Nagoya heat to contribute to one of the most memorable basho we’ve seen lately. This time I’m finishing up those who make up the maegashira ranks. There are many disappointing records to discuss and diagnose from this cohort (which is directly connected to the impressive form of the lower half of the rankings). However, this group did produce our two kinboshi winners, too. There’s lots to talk about so let’s dive in!
Rank: Maegashira 8 West
Another poor performance from Nishikifuji here and more questions as to whether he is cut out for the upper echelon of the top division. This year he has a combined record of 22-38 after what is now his third tournament with double digit losses. This is the seventh tournament in makuuchi for the 27-year-old, who looked great in his debut in the summer of 2022.
He was 10-5 at that basho and followed it up with another 10-5 record and then a 9-6 after he was promoted all the way up to M5. Getting kachi-koshi while that high ranked is now looking like a bit of a fluke, with heavy losing records now coming from the M4, M3 and M8 positions. This March he did score a 10-5 record again, but only when down at M10.
It’s still a small sample size, but it does seem like the Isegahama product is showing us where he can, and can’t compete, in the top division.
In Nagoya, the highest ranked opponent he beat was Oho (M6), though his best win was a Day 3 hatakikomi over Hokutofuji. Any praise for that win is overshadowed by a five day losing streak to finish the tournament where he was steamrolled by lower ranked fighters who looked like they were competing with far more eagerness and motivation than he was (Ryuden, Shonannoumi, Aoiyama, Endo). Check out how the aging Aoiyama was able to push him back and then down, with relative ease.
Rank: Maegashira 8 East
Sadanoumi was also underwhelming this basho. His make-koshi was his fourth in a row and is a sign that, at 36-years-old, we’ve probably already seen the best we’re ever going to see out of him. He didn’t lack for aggression and intensity this tournament, something you expect from the Sakaigawa stable. Instead he lacked strength and reaction time. See how easily Kotoeko was able to throw him here, despite not having deep position with his legs.
His only decent win was a yorikiri against an improved Takanosho. The other victories came against a perennially injured Takayasu, the struggling and inexperienced Bushozan and Daishoho and the justifiably distracted Mitakeumi (more on that later).
Eight of the ten losses Sadanoumi suffered in Nagoya featured him hitting the dirt, which I think speaks to how often he just isn’t reacting fast enough to transitions in his bouts and how he’s not strong enough, anymore, to reverse a bad position when he finds himself in one.
Rank: Maegashira 7 West
Back to winning ways for the oldest man in the division. Tamawashi scored his eighth win on Day 13, though his most impressive win came the day prior. That’s when he beat Daieisho by hatakikomi. That was the only upper ranked fighter he faced in the tournament.
He got to eight wins mostly through his patented nodowa attack, which he used to back opponents up to the straw before clinching and finishing with a yorikiri. He was able to pull this off against much younger and more athletic opponents, like Hiradoumi, Hokuseiho and Nishikifuji.
His game is pretty obvious by now, but in Nagoya he was able to execute it well enough that this didn’t matter. Executing well for Tamawashi means being energetic and accurate with that thrust right from the get go and then moving his feet to capitalize on how off balanced he makes his opponent. Here he is executing perfectly against the struggling Hokuseiho.
The winning record here is his first since January (where he went 9-6). His next basho will mark the year anniversary of his first ever yusho.
Rank: Maegashira 7 East
I think we have to assume Takayasu fought in Nagoya while not fully fit. He got off to a hot start, going 4-0 with wins over Tamawashi and Takanosho, but then lost his next seven in a row.
It certainly feels like he may have been carrying, and feeling, an injury during that later stretch. If that’s the case, though, at least it’s not something that took him out of the tournament (like it did in May). This time he was able to hang in there just miss out on a kachi-koshi.
He was a real Jekyll & Hyde this basho, initially looking like he was back to his powerful self before appearing as though he wanted to avoid contact and didn’t have the strength to keep himself in bounds. Again, this all speaks to him babying an injury while still trying to scrape through the basho with a winning record.
Here’s Takayasu on Day 5, looking strong as he holds up Hiradoumi before pulling the rug out from underneath him.
Here he is on Day 12, trying to henka the rookie Gonoyama because he clearly wanted to avoid as much contact as possible in the remaining days of the tournament. It looks like he quit on the boundary here, too. And that little shuffle looks to me like he was feeling something in his ankle.
Rank: Maegashira 6 West
The young Oho was operating at his highest ever position on the banzuke this tournament and it was a tough experience for him. He didn’t look totally overwhelmed, like we saw with Kinbozan and Midorifuji early this year. I think that’s a decent victory for the 23-year-old.
When you look at the quality of the opponents he faced in Nagoya, I think you can forgive the make-kochi here. He took a Day 1 loss to the best version of Takayasu we saw this tournament. His future losses were against Tamawashi, Ura, Asanoyama, Hiradoumi, Hokutofuji, Nishikifuji, Meisei and Shodai. Most of those guys were heavy favourites to beat Oho, on past performances and current form.
I feel like Oho is still trying to find his style. Right now it looks like he could be a pretty boring pusher, but his physical profile leads me to think he might have the potential to develop a more dynamic offence, like an Asanoyama or Kotonowaka. His nifty last ditch throw on Hokuseiho (below) also gives me hope.
Rank: Maegashira 6 East
Hokuseiho looked pretty bad this tournament. In May I criticized him for being very predictable in his offence. And clearly I’m not a genius, because it seems the entire division has also seen exactly what Hokuseiho is trying to do each bout; lock onto your belt, lean on you, let you gas out and then walk you over the straw.
That tactic mostly worked for him in his first two makuuchi tournaments, with him only faltering when a super skilled grappler or strong athlete tripped or dumped him out (see Kirishima and Wakamotoharu). However, in Nagoya, lots of rikishi were stifling Hokuseiho’s go-to moves. And when they did, he looked like a lost little boy in there (despite being 6’7”).
The much smaller Kotoeko demonstrated the blueprint for beating this version of Hokuseiho. Kotoeko harassed Hokuseiho from the jump, bashing his arms away to prevent the grip and moving his hips in and out of range. While doing this Kotoeko artfully shepherded Hokuseiho to the edge of the ring. That’s when Kotoeko pounced on his big target and was able to send him off the doyho, twisting in free fall to ensure he landed last.
Here’s another loss, this time to Kotoshoho, who just bullied him. When someone goes chest-to-chest with Hokuseiho, he struggles mightily and finds himself too upright. That paired with his slow foot speed makes it easy to push him out early in a bout.
Another loss that is branded in my mind is his final day match with Midorifuji. This bout really looked like Hokuseiho was going through the motions. He looked like he was fighting without conviction in a lot of his matches, but in this one, he seemed to just assume that he would lock up with the tiny Midorifuji and they would push back and forth until he got the yorikiri. He seemed completely ignorant to the fact his very tall legs means there’s a lot of real estate to play with when it comes to finding a pivot point needed to send his heavier upper body careening over.
Hokuseiho, at 22, still has bags of potential. This next tournament is going to be crucial to see if he can actually realize it. If his game looks identical to the previous tournaments from this year, then he might be one of those kids who just does enough to get by and be a wrestler who hangs around the top division for years, never threatening for a title, but also too good (or too big) to get demoted.
However, if he comes into the aki basho and shows us some aggression off the tachiai, an uwatenage from an early clinch (not after a minute of leaning) or the ability to evade along the straw and get a sneaky okuridashi, then he could be a real problem for the rest of makuuchi.
Rank: Maegashira 5 West
6-9 isn’t a terrible record, but Onosho’s overall performance this basho was rather uninspiring. He looked pretty bad in a lot of his losses, showing either a lack of reaction speed or lack of strength.
Below is his henka loss to Daieisho, which came after Daieisho seemed to get a little frustrated at waiting for Onosho to get into position. When I was learning to drive my wife would tell me “look where you want to go” and in this clip you can see that Onosho looks at the ground and that’s where he ends up. That trait, plus how easy it is to time his opening charge thanks to his silly hand waving ritual, makes him easy to henka.
Below is an example of him losing due to a lack of strength, with Takanosho doing a great job of side stepping the brunt of Onosho’s opening charge and then driving him back and out.
At this stage in his career Onosho’s record seems to go up and down as he travels in the opposite directions on the banzuke. He’ll get demoted on the next banzuke and will probably get 8-7 in the next basho.
Rank: Maegashira 5 East
Hiradoumi is another one of the young guns who went into Nagoya with his highest ever ranking. However, he struggled to keep up with the opponents he found there. And, unlike Oho, he finished with a big losing record. Hiradoumi’s truculent style is pleasing on the eye, though he does stick his head in there on the tachiai and I worry for his health in doing that. I wonder how dazed he feels in these bouts after that opening clash.
Check him out here, smashing his noggin against Tamawashi’s Easter Island sized head. He reels back and seems to be unable to get any kind of meaningful offense off. Though, a lot of that is due to the relentless and energetic performance put in by the old man here.
Some of his other losses this basho came to Asanoyama, Hoshoryu, Daieisho and Abi. He’s now 0-9 against that specific group. All of his wins this tournament came against rikishi who would finish with a losing record. It might be back to the drawing board for Hiraodumi when it comes to finding a style that makes him competitive against the wide array of foes he can meet in the upper half of the rankings.
Rank: Maegashira 4 West
Bit of a disappointing tournament for Ura. He had some fun matches, but didn’t give us many of the highlight reel moments we come to expect from him. He faced some very good opponents in Nagoya, taking losses to three sekiwake, a komusubi and the ozeki. He also came up short against Asanoyama and Tobizaru. There’s no shame in those losses for the 31-year-old with two bum knees.
Against Tobizaru you can see how he struggled to generate power from those knees.
The loss against Hoshoryu showed how Ura goes in low off the tachiai, which he always has. But as he gets older, and those knees get creakier, it’s getting harder for him to bounce up to a secure footing after those lower attacks, leaving him open for slap and thrust downs.
Rank: Maegashira 4 East
Asanoyama is a beast. When he goes chest-to-chest with you, he’s always going to be the favourite to win. He’s so good at wrapping guys up and using both lateral quickness to prevent opponents escaping out the side and forward motion to take away space opponents need to lean in and push back. Look how he marshals Hiradoumi around the ring below, preventing the young wrestler any opportunity to get forward momentum.
Here he is doing the same thing to the stronger and more experienced Shodai.
And here he is doing something similar against Kirishima, only instead of getting him back and out over the straw, Asanoyama lets Kirishima bring forward pressure so he can turn and sling him over.
The fact Asanoyama scored these wins over Shodai and Kirishima (and Tobizaru and Wakamotoharu) after sitting out four days with a reported bicep injury is amazing to me. Asanoyama has shown a lot of character in battling back from the wilderness of the lower divisions and he did that again in Nagoya, re-entering the tournament with a 4-4-3 record and going 4-0 to secure kachi-koshi.
Rank: Maegashira 3 West
An under-the-radar kachi-koshi for Meisei this time around, coming off his very loud 8-7 in May (where he was the only man to defeat Terunofuji). …
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