- Fantasy Basho
Hatsu 2023 Lower Division Review
The focus of Fantasy Basho is sumo’s top, Makuuchi division, and for good reason. The Fantasy Basho game only includes Makuuchi rikishi, and tracking the ups and downs of those 42 wrestlers is complex enough. But there are six divisions in sumo, and wrestlers are fighting for a yusho in all of them. With the basho behind us, let’s look at what happened across the lower divisions, starting with the second Juryo division and going all the way down to Jonokuchi.
The story of Juryo was the return of Asanoyama. The former Ozeki was suspended in May 2021 for violating the Sumo Association’s COVID protocols and lying to them about it. He was visiting nightclubs and restaurants when it was banned, and was found to have covered up his outings. He then lied to the JSA when the Shunkan Bunshun magazine wrote a story about the outings. He was subsequently barred from competing for six basho, and returned to Sandanme in July 2022.
The question was always whether he could return to his consistent double-digit win performances he had as an Ozeki. Going 19-2 across three lower division tournaments got him to Juryo, but didn’t settle how he’d do against sekitori. As a sekitori once again for 2023, Asanoyama dominated the second division. He went 14-1, only losing to Daishoho on Day 11. He was so far ahead of every other Juryo wrestler that he wrapped up his second-division yusho on Day 13 with a win over rival Kinbozan. Asanoyama has now won a championship in every division he has competed in as a professional.
Whether he makes it to Makuuchi for March is uncertain. He was at Juryo #12 West, a position which rarely sees promotions. Yet he also went 14-1 and there may be quite a few Makuuchi demotions along with one retirement. Worst case scenario, he is at Juryo #1 and ready to make it to Makuuchi in May. How Asanoyama will do there is unclear. His left-hand grip is still lethal, and he looked like he was still ahead of most rikishi. He’ll turn 29 on March 4th, and he is on the downward end of his career prime even if he should have a few more years. But Abi, whose previous track record before suspension was not as strong as Asanoyama’s, has been very strong in Makuuchi since he had to sit out multiple basho. Asanoyama should definitely be knocking on Sanyaku’s door soon, and could possibly go further.
Juryo was exciting for reasons beyond Asanoyam’s return. The aforementioned Kinbozan performed best among a group of Juryo rikishi looking for a Makuuchi debut. The 25 year old Kazakh is a giant University graduate who has a 59-21 record in 8 basho. He’ll likely be a shin-Maegashira in March, along with the even bigger Hokuseiho. Hokuseiho is 21, absolutely massive, and a Miyagino stable wrestler. And even though he went 9-6 at Juryo #2 East, that’s not the most impressive performance by a Miyagino youngster.
If you have not gotten excited about Ochiai, start now before the bandwagon takes off. Ochiai was a High School Yokozuna at Tottori Johoku High School, where former Maegashira Ishiura’s father is the coach. Instead of turning pro right after high school, he worked for a year at his father’s company and won the Corporate Yokozuna title. After that, he joined Miyagino stable to work under the tutelage of the former Hakuho. The double amateur championship combo also meant he could start his career at Makushita 15 thanks to the tsukedashi system.
And then he did something even that rare group of tsukedashi wrestlers almost never do. He won every single match. He did win his first professional match by fusen, but then he legitimately won five in a row with a variety of techniques. On Day 13, Ochiai faced fellow 6-0 rikishi Kazekeno in what was the deciding match for the Makushita yusho. Kazekeno is a University man with good size who has made quick work of the lower divisions, making a habit of going 6-1. Ochiai beat him after shifting a mawashi battle and executing a solid thrust down. This was veteran, professional sumo from a guy who has legitimately short hair. Ochiai will be in Juryo in March, so soon he will have neither a topknot nor a shikona and know he is coming to Makuuchi before too long.
If Miyagino-beya didn’t recently recruit Ochiai, they would still have two exciting rikishi who did well in Makuuchi in Hatsu. Kawazoe is a 23 year old out of Nihon University who was Makushita Tsukedashi in September. He merely went 5-2 at Makushita #7 in his third pro basho. At Makushita #13, Mukainakano went 5-2 in his first basho wearing a top-knot. Miyagino’s future looks as bright as any stable’s now.
At the very top of Makushita, Tamashoho, Tomokaze, and Tokushoryu all got winning records to take them to Juryo. Tamashoho will take sekitori status for the first time at the age of 29 and after a decade in sumo. He joins stablemate Tamawashi as one of two sekitori in the small Kataonami-beya. Tomokaze is on a comeback from a terrible injury he suffered in Makuuchi in 2019. He is possibly making his way back to sumo’s top division in a great comeback story. Tokushoryu is a 36 year old former Maegashira who gets a return to the salaried ranks.
In the fourth Sandanme division, the yusho went to Kaizen. He is a former Makushita man who is recovering from an injury. At 29, Kaizen isn’t likely to make many waves into the future, but he is a good demonstration of why the lower divisions are not a cakewalk for even the most talented youngsters. His final bout to clinch the championship was against Wakanosho, a 19 year old from Tokiwayama-beya who has a career 31-11 record. Wakanosho has clearly been too good for Sandanme, but he went 2-5 at Makushita in November and couldn’t overcome Kaizen,
Among the other 6-1 Sandanme wrestlers this time were interesting youngsters Hanafusa, Kotokenryu, and Tendozan, who are all making their way up. Also in the one-loss Sandanme group was Otani. Otani is, and this should sound familiar, a recent Miyagino-beya recruit who has shown great promise. He is a Nihon University graduate who received no tsukedashi status, so he’s been making his way up as a 23 year old from Jonokuchi. In three basho, he has gone 7-0, 6-1, and 6-1. He is yet another Miyagino wrestler who will be making waves in Makushita without a top knot.
The Jonidan winner is Takerufuji, a Nihon University grad with ideal size and a 14-0 career record. Like many University men who have to go through the lowest divisions, he has been too much for opponents in the lowest divisions. As the -fuji in his name suggests, he is a member of Isegahama stable. He’ll have very challenging practice bouts even if he’s still finding the where he’ll be uncomfortable in official competition.
Another name to note in Jonidan is Chiyoshishi. He went 6-1 from Jonidan 1, finally making some waves after joining sumo two years ago and having to go back down to Maezumo. He has also made it to Sandanme and crashed back. Despite that, he is still just 17. Maybe he’s rounding into a real form. Really, it’s hard to say what’s the case in the lowest divisions.
At least Jonokuchi provided real excitement at Hatsu on the final day. Three wrestlers finished 6-1 with two more days in the basho. So Kazenoumi, Okano, and Kotosato had a three-way playoff on Day Fifteen. Kazenoumi is a Mongolian at Oshiogawa-beya who turned 19 just after the basho, fighting in his first real basho. Okano is 17 and also just joined professional sumo. Katosato is, as the name suggests, a Sadogatake wrestler who is in his first basho, but is 21.
Kazenoumi beat Okano with a yorikiri in the first playoff match, just like in the first time they had squared off on Day Thirteen. That setup a rematch between Kazenoumi and Kotosato, who had met on Day Four. Kazenoumi got the uwatenage win in the first meeting. In the second, he got the win again but with a yoritaoshi. Kazenoumi gets the yusho in his first basho.