Kyushu 2019 Lower Division Review
Naturally, the focus for most sumo-watchers is on the top Makuuchi division. That's where you get a real title, with the Emperor's Cup, unbelievable amounts of beef, and a giant macaron. If you watch the lower division matches, it's usually a hope for a glimpse at the future.
Except in Kyushu this time, the second Juryo division was much more interesting than Makuuchi. Where Hakuho ran away with the top division, Juryo ended in a four way tie after fifteen matches for everyone, requiring a wild playoff. The fact that the second division was extremely tight didn't totally overshadow excitement in the other divisions either. The bottom two divisions, Jonokuchi and Jonidan, also needed playoffs. Above them, Sandanme and Makushita had their own excitements as well. Let's take a look at everything from the bottom up.
Actually, there was some news in the announcement of the young wrestlers joining sumo in this basho. Only three young men joined Ozumo in Kyushu (it's in November in Fukuoka, so it's never that big for new rikishi), but one of them has a famous lineage. The newly christened Mudoho is the grandson of legendary Yokozuna Taiho, who was widely considered the greatest ever before Hakuho went to destroy the sumo world. He is the second grandson of Taiho to join the professional ranks. His second brother fights under the family name Naya. (More on him later.) The oldest brother is a professional wrestler, while the third brother is in university sumo. Mudoho is coming straight from high school.
The bottom division is always strange. It has a fluctuating number of rikishi, due to being the refuge of everyone who can't be higher. Brand new rikishi fight with those recovering from injury and those who can't win enough to get up the rankings. The variability of Jonokuchi also allows certain rikishi to announce themselves. This basho it was Otsuji, a 16 year old from Takadagawa-beya who has already missed nearly two full tournaments with injury in less than a year in sumo, Yutakanami, an 18 year old Tatsunami-beya man who was in his first full basho, and Tosamidori, a 23 year old from Onomatsu-beya making his third recovery from a major injury. They all went 6-1 and had a three-way playoff. Tosamidori prevailed by beating both of his much younger competitors.
By being second from the bottom, Jonidan at least is entirely made up of wrestlers who have actually done something. There are also 218 wrestlers in Jonidan and it's often a bloodbath. Once again, a playoff was necessary, despite schedulers attempting to always have undefeated rikishi face each other, Murata and Hokutenkai both finished 7-0. Murata is a former University man who is making a comeback after injury and went 7-0 for a yusho in Jonokuchi last time out. Hokutenkai is a 20 year old Mongolian who went 6-1 in Jonokuchi in September, with his only loss against Murata. In the playoff, Hokutenkai successfully avenged that lost.
Another thing of note is the performance of Ura, a former Maegashira who fell to a terrible injury in September 2017. He's on his second attempt at a comeback. He went 6-1. His only loss was to a 16 year old from Kokonoe beya, Chiyotora. That outcome probably makes Chiyotora one to watch for the future.
The story in Sandanme is Motobayashi. Motobayashi is a 23 year old Kinki University graduate recruited to the relatively new Naruto-beya, run by ex-Ozeki Kotooshu. Motobayashi is now 21-0 in the 3 official pro tournaments he has participated in. That's a rather rare feat, only matched by Enho in 2017, Tokitenku in 2002, Kototenzan in 1986, and Itai in 1978-79. None of those men made Yokozuna, but other than Kototenzan, they all were solid Maegashira (and we're still watching Enho.) The Canadian Kototenzan would retire after his 21-0 start, before becoming a professional wrestler. He was best known as 1980s WWF monster Earthquake.
In Motobayashi's wake, plenty of other rikishi went 6-1. He beat Kitanowaka on Day 13 to get his yusho, but Kitanowaka is a 20 year old who has done well in his 4 pro tournaments. Also worth mentioning is Toma, a super-heavyweight at 211 kg recurited by Hakuho to Miyagino stable. His 6-1 is a fourth straight kachi-koshi in his four basho as a 19 year old. On the other end of the age spectrum for Sandanme is Ayanoumi. Ayanoumi is a long serving veteran whose career has mostly been spent in Makushita. He'll return there after a 6-1 at Sandanme 5, proving that there are different levels of rikishi quality all over the divisions.
Also in the realm of comebacks is perhaps the biggest comeback, Makushita yusho winner Terunofuji. In 2017, Terunofuji was looking like the next Yokozuna, getting Jun-Yusho as an Ozeki for both Haru and Natsu. He then underwent knee surgery he hoped could be a quick turnaround. It wasn't. After withdrawing from 2 straight basho, he was demoted from Ozeki. Within 3 basho, he had unsuccessfully completed a tournament and fell all the way to Makushita. He was suffering from diabetes, kidney stones, and continuing knee problems.
In March of this year, he returned at Jonidan 48. Slowly, he kept winning, although never getting a yusho, losing a playoff in March, then going 6-1 in the next three tournaments. That got him to Makushita 10 for Kyushu. Finally, he got his yusho, notching a perfect record and guaranteeing a return to Juryo. For a former Ozeki, a Juryo spot might seem like nothing, but he gets all the privileges of a sekitori once again. This is a comeback to celebrate already, and hopefully it will only continue.
Makushita is in many ways the most difficult division to get through. Guys are literally fighting for their sumo lives, even if not always as dramatically as Terunofuji. The upper portion features young guys wanting to make a mark, Makushita veterans wanting to finally make a break through, and former sekitori looking to return to glory. The two men at Makushita 1, Churanoumi and Chiyootori, went 4-3, which was good enough to guarantee they will be in Juryo again. A little further down at Makushita 10, Naya's 4-3 is nice, because he'll keep rising. On the other hand, he's got the same problem he did this tournament. For someone with a grandson of a Yokozuna with plenty of promise, stalling out at upper Makushita is tough. He also is still just 19, and he can always find his next gear at any time.
One of the odd features of Juryo is that rikishi very rarely dominate the division. It just doesn't see zensho yusho. Kyushu 2019 seemed to be the typical kind of Juryo basho. Going into Day 15, a full 5 rikishi were sitting on 10 wins. They were a mix of Makuuchi mainstays seeking a return, Ikioi and Kaisei, Juryo veterans looking for a boost in their careers, Azumaryu and Kiribayama, and a youngster showing potential, Kotonowaka.
Kaisei beat Kotonowaka on Day 15, and everybody else won, creating a four-way playoff. In that playoff, Kaisei beat Kiribiyama and Azumaryu beat Ikioi. In the final, Azumaryu beat Kaisei. Hopefully, all those men make it to Makuuchi for January, although lots of other men got decent win totals in the upper Juryo ranks.
Also of note in Juryo were two 20 year olds making their Juryo debuts at Juryo 13. Kotoshoho, until this tournament Kototebakari, is a former high school star who is the young gun of Sadogatake beya. Mongolian Hoshoryu is the nephew of controversial former Yokozuna Asashoryu, and he has been an exciting prospect for awhile. Kotoshoho went 9-6, while Hoshoryu got a bare make-koshi at 7-8. Due to injuries and other poor performances, Hoshoryu will likely stay in Juryo. Either way, both young men will be heard from in the future.