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Haru 2023 Storylines & Predictions
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The Haru basho is almost here, and we know about one major story going in: Terunofuji is out for the basho. But as we wait for the matches, it's worth it to consider the big storylines for Haru to know what to watch for.
And at the bottom are predictions for each rikishi's win total.
Will Takakeisho make Yokozuna?
Throughout the Hatsu basho, the dominant storyline was whether Takakeisho would do enough to earn Yokozuna promotion. He obviously needed a Yusho, but the Yokozuna Deliberation Council indicated he had to win an impressive yusho. It turned out his 12-3 championship was not enough.
Now a yusho means consecutive yusho, not just a yusho and “yusho-equivalent.” Terunofuji is out of the basho, and the Sekiwake are good but not threatening Ozeki runs quite yet (see below.) Takakeisho will almost certainly never have an easier time to leap up to the top rank. This is his moment.
That doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. He’s been here before, in January 2021. He was an Ozeki who just won a yusho the basho before, and he needed another yusho to earn the rope. He lost his first four matches, then withdrew with an ankle injury and a 2-7 record on Day Nine. If Takakeisho is undefeated through the first week, this storyline will be THE storyline of Haru. If he gets injured, this storyline crumbles after a few days.
Can Hoshoryu and Kiribayama make progress toward an Ozeki run?
The likelihood anyone would earn an Ozeki promotion after this basho is extremely low. The rule of thumb is that a Sekiwake needs to have 33 wins over 3 basho to make Ozeki. Only Hoshoryu and Kiribayama can do that right now. Both have an 8-7 and an 11-4 jun-yusho in their two previous tournaments. Hoshoryu got his jun-yusho in November, while Kiribayama got his in January. A 14-1 or 13-2 by either man would probably make a strong claim for Ozeki, especially as that is almost certainly a yusho or jun-yusho.
Of course, there is also just one Ozeki right now, and the last two Ozeki promotions did not come from 33 wins over 3 basho. Shodai did earn his after a 13-2 yusho, while Asanoyama had 32 wins over 3 basho but double-digits in 4 consecutive basho. Hoshoryu and Kiribayama would both be another atypical promotion with 12 wins.
But 10 or 11 wins by either one would keep an Ozeki run alive, even if not guaranteeing an immediate promotion. To make and stay at Ozeki, they both need to level up their sumo to getting 10 or more wins consistently. Kiribayama is 26 and Hoshoryu is 23, so the possibility is certainly there.
Can Kotoshoho follow-up his jun-yusho with a similar performance?
In January 2021, Kotoshoho was a 21 year old who had made it to Maegashira 3. Considering his ideal size and above-average athleticism, the Sadogatake-beya man looked like a blossoming star. Then he went 2-13, got injured the next basho, and had a 5 basho sojourn back to Juryo. He was still big and athletic, but extremely rough on the dohyo.
In January 2023, Kotoshoho won 11 matches from Maegashira 13. He even had a chance to win the yusho on the final day, if he beat Takakeisho in the final match. He didn’t, and got the jun-yusho. Now he’s at Maegashira 5 and likely to face stiffer competition in his opening week of matches. He did manage to avoid the joi-jin line, so he doesn’t have to face all of the top rankers. Another jun-yusho is a big ask, but a simple kachi-koshi would go a long way to solidifying himself as a Makuuchi mainstay. He definitely has the talent to do more if he has figured out his sumo.
How will the shin-Makuuchi rikishi do?
Excitingly, there are three rikishi making their debuts in the top division this basho. Bushozan is a 27 year old who has been in sumo for 9 years. For the past 12 basho, he has been hanging out in Juryo. This was a slow climb to Makuuchi, but he has had winning records for six straight tournaments. The pushing specialist (168 oshidashi and 11 yorikiri in 250 career wins) should be able to hold his own in lower Maegashira.
Perhaps a little more intriguing is Kinbozan. He is a 25 year old Kazakh, making him the first wrestler from Kazakhstan to get to Makuuchi. After attending high school in Japan and Nihon University, he entered sumo at a relatively advanced age. He is also well-sized (192 cm and 174 kg) and has gone 59-21 in his brief professional career. He is near his peak, but his peak could be pretty good.
Most interesting of the three debutants is Hokuseiho. Two things immediately leap off the page with Hokuseiho. He stands 204 cm (6’7”) tall and has a career record of 93-32-35. He has a yusho in every division below Juryo, and he has never notched a losing record. Oh, and he won’t turn 22 until November. The eye test isn’t as kind to Hokuseiho. He has an upright style, where he absorbs a tachiai more than delivers an initial charge. But he keeps winning and he is now the youngest rikishi in Makuuchi by over a year. He could do a lot of damage real soon.
Who will be the surprising yusho contender?
In the last 7 basho, 7 different rikishi have won a yusho. Obviously, we are in a time of surprising contenders. It is also not that unusual overall for a mid or lower-maegashira to be in the yusho race. Someone tends to dominate the first week as everyone below Maegashira 10 faces each other. A rikishi is also likely to get hot from any rank.
So who will that be for Haru? Well, maybe the predictions below will give a sense of who could be our surprise contender. Hatsu's predictions nailed the win total for Kotoshoho, last time's surprise, as well as Takakeisho's wins. It did say Kotonowaka would be the yusho winner, and missed on Kiribayama's excellent performance. But we'll see about these: