Juryo Review: Nagoya 2019
Most sumo conversation is focused on the top Makuuchi division, as it should be. That's where the Emeperor's Cup gets decided, and every wrestler wants to be in Makuuchi, because they get real prize money. Plus, Makuuchi is the only division on NHK World's highlights.
But the second, Juryo, division shouldn't be overlooked. Everyone becomes a sekitori upon reaching Juryo, a status only given to the 70 rikishi in Makuuchi and Juryo. Being a sekitori is more than a title, too. Wrestlers get a salary only as sekitori, plus they get to wear better quality of clothing, colored mawashi, and the fancy kesho-mawashi during the ring entrance ceremony. Also, they can move out of the heya's premises and get married if they want. In order to fund some of these, special supporters' clubs are established. In other words, being in Juryo is a big deal.
This makes Juryo different than elsewhere in sumo. For starters, it's the smallest division in sumo at just 28 wrestlers, and they all have immense pressure. You win enough to get promoted, and you make the big time. You lose too much, and you lose your sekitori privileges with demotion to Makushita. Juryo is a mix of former top-division wrestlers wanting to return to glory and youngsters seeking their first shot at Makuuchi.
Looking at how Juryo went each basho is key to understanding the future of sumo. Some number of Juryo rikishi will be in Makuuchi in Aki. Others are possibly going to be future stars. So, what happened in Juryo in Nagoya 2019?
The Juryo Yusho went to Tsurugisho at Juryo 6 East. His 13 wins should be enough to get into Makuuchi, although Juryo 6 is usually too far away for promotion. On the other hand, there weren't alot of rikishi ranked ahead of him who covered themselves in glory. Tsurugisho also beat all of the wrestlers he faced above him except Yutakayama.
Yutakayama is one of a number of rikishi who did okay enough to warrant promotion, but aren't storming into the lower Maegashira spots. Azumaryu, Ishiura, and Chiyoshoma got kachi-koshi in positions where that often means a trip up to Juryo. Yutakayama got 9 wins against Chiyoshoma's 8 at the same rank, Juryo 3, and Yutakayama won their Day 1 head-to-head matchup. At Juryo 4, Wakatakakage and Takanosho got kachi-koshi, but they'll need to probably do that for one more tournament for Makuuchi promotion.
No one mentioned in the previous two paragraphs is destined for future stardom. 25 year old Yutakayama looked that way about a year ago, but then has fallen down to this spot in the banzuke. Wakatakakage and Takanosho are both 24, but have never looked like future sanyaku regulars. Azumaryu is 32, Ishiura is 29, Chiyoshoma is 28, and Tsurugisho is 27. Tsurugisho has never made Makuuchi before, Azumaryu hasn't been there in six years, and Chiyoshoma and Ishiura have proven to be yo-yo performers going back and forth between the top two divisions.
If you want to identify some wrestlers who might make real noise in Makuuchi over the enxt year, the bottom of Juryo is a better place to look. Ichiyamamoto's 9 wins came in his Juryo debut. Although he is 25, he is a former University competitor who has moved steadily up the divisions. Kotonowaka is 21 and got a kachi-koshi in his first Juryo basho. Takanofuji is another interesting youngster, who had a much better record (11-4) than his twin brother Takagenji did in his Makuuchi debut (4-11). He is behind his brother because he assaulted his tsukebito on his first trip to Juryo last year. He was suspended, and therefore heavily demoted, for a basho and has had to work his way back.
If there is one standout performer who should be watched moving forward it is Kiribayama. He seems to be following the model of his fellow Mongolian Daishoho. Kiribayama is 23, and in three Juryo basho, he has gone 9-6, 8-7, and 10-5. It's not rocketing up the rankings, but it's slow and steady progress towards being a Makuuchi regular.
Before we wrap on Juryo for Nagoya 2019, some aging veterans need to be acknowledged. Ikioi has seemingly always been banged up, but now his injuries are such that he went 5-10 at Juryo 8. He won't fall down to Makushita, and away from sekitori status, but he's close. Fortunately for him, he has an elder position secured, and he will be able to retire and stay in sumo. That is the exact position of Aminishiki. The 40 year old had long been sumo's grand old man, staving off retirement with a mixture of craftiness and experience. After suffering a knee injury against Ryuko on Day 2, Aminishiki officially announced his retirement. He will now be known as Ajigawa Oyakata as a Sumo Elder.