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Natsu 2023 Lower Division Review

This site sticks to the top division during the fifteen days of the basho, because that is more than enough to cover. Sumo has six divisions, and there is action up and down the Banzuke. With the Natsu basho done, here is a look at what happened below Makuuchi.


JURYO

While Makuuchi’s Yusho race was decided on Day Fourteen, and everyone fell back from Terunofuji in the end, Juryo was exciting from start to finish. On Day One, Gonoyama beat Shonnanoumi in the Juryo #1 clash. Ochiai beat Atamifuji in a matchup of Juryo #8 wrestlers. From there, Gonoyama, Ochiai, and Atamifuji kept winning. Then Atamifuji lost to Tomokaze on Day Nine, but turned around and beat Gonoyama on Day Ten. Day Eleven saw Gonoyama hand Ochiai his first loss. They all won the rest of their matches, leaving the final records at 14-1 for Gonoyama and Ochiai and 13-2 for Atamifuji.


Gonoyama once again topped Ochiai in their playoff for the Yusho, and he will reach far into Makuuchi in July. What’s really notable is how dominant this trio were. Juryo has often been a place where no one dominates. Broadly speaking, the second division has recently been somewhere for rikishi who were trying to make headway as a sekitori or reestablish their Makuuchi presence. No one was really bossing the division, but using it to climb into the Maegashira ranks. That meant 11 or even 10 wins could be a Juryo yusho winning total in the last few years.


Gonoyama, Atamifuji, and Ochiai all blew past those win totals. Even more excitingly, they are all young. Gonoyama is a 25 year old college champ who is the first wrestler from Takekuma stable (led by former Ozeki Goeido) to become a Sekitori. He’s had exactly one real losing record in 14 career basho, and he’s won 25 matches in his last two Juryo basho. Expect him to make some noise immediately as a Maegashira. He’s got a good future in Makuuchi, but he’s also an old man compared to the other two.


Atamifuji wont be 21 until September, and he’s got an impressive lower division record. His one basho at Makuuchi in November was a bit disastrous, but he’s also still younger than anyone currently in Maegashira. He has returned to winning ways, showing his future promise. Once you factor in his ideal size and fundamentals, he has as high a ceiling as almost any rikishi.


Except for maybe Ochiai. He is 19, a former amateur Yokozuna, and now holds a career 31-6 record in three basho. As a Makushifa Tsukedashi, he also has only faced high-Makushita or Juryo caliber rikishi. Almost a year younger than Atamifuji, what he is doing is unprecedented. Whether or not he gets a Maegashira rank for July is uncertain because the promotion picture is complicated. What will happen is he will receive a new Shikona. His stablemaster Miyagino (better known as former Yokozuna and still greatest ever Hakuho) has decided to christen him “ “伯桜鵬” Hakuoho. The first kanji is different from the oyakata’s, but the tribute is clear.


Shonannoumi went 11-4 from Juryo #1 West. Bushozan was ranked at Juryo #3 East. At Juryo #4 West, Roga delivered a 9-6. Those are all rikishi with arguably better promotion cases than either Atamifuji or the soon-to-be Hakuoho based on winning records at a higher rank. Or maybe the Banzuke committee decides to value the eye-popping win totals. Either way, there’s a clutch of rikishi in sumo’s second division who could quickly make a mark in Makuuchi.


On the sadder end of things, former Ozeki Tochinoshin announced his retirement during the basho. He had been suffering an injury-induced slow decline and slide down the rankings. A knee injury hit him on Day Five, causing him to withdraw and retire. Other veterans with Makuuchi histories also battled injuries and withdrew early. Enho and Chiyonokuni both went kyujo with 0 wins on Day Ten. Even if they avoid likely demotions, their status beyond July is difficult to figure out.


MAKUSHITA

The Makushita yusho was won on Day Thirteen, when Kiryuko achieved his seventh win over until-then undefeated former Maegashira Daishomaru. Kiryuko and Daishomaru are an interesting comparison that reveals some of the strangeness of Makushita. Daishomaru is 31 years old, a Makushita Tsukedashi wrestler in 2014. He made Makuuchi by 2016, but mostly hung around lower Maegashira and last appeared in the top division in 2019. He has spent the last year toiling in Makushita.


Kiryuko is 20 years old and has yet to make Sekitori status. He reached his career high rank of Makushita 13 in March, and he fell back to Makushita 26. Although he began sumo as a teenager straight from high school, he has a nice sumo pedigree. His father was the former Tokitsuumi, a Maegashira who became Tokitsukaze oyakata. However, Kiryuko and his younger brother Shunrai joined Tatsunami stable because their father was kicked out of the Sumo Association for violating COVID protocols.


Apart from background, Kiryuko and Daishomaru are also just plain different rikishi on the dohyo. Daishomaru is a big-bellied pusher-thruster who is tough when he gets his match. Kiryuko is relatively small for sumo (175 cm and 129 kg or 5’9” and 284 lbs, because sumo is different.) He is also strikingly versatile, with 20 career wins by yorikiri and 19 by oshidashi. The younger chameleon won, but the challenges stack up in Makushita and everyone presents something different. There are rising stars, early career veterans trying to establish themselves, and older veterans seeking a chance to get back to previous glory.


For example, Kiryuko fought Tosamidori (a veteran who has restarted his career after injury three times), Wakanosho (a 19 year old rising star from Tokiwayama), Hokaho (a 33 year old who has never made it out of Makushita), Kototebakari (the new young starlet from Sadogatake-beya), Hitoshi (a 25 year old University wrestler who has been good when healthy), Shishi (a Ukrainian giant who is coming into his own), and Daishomaru. Kiryuko has a bright future, as exemplified by his tournament win. Taking a Makushita yusho requires fighting a variety of rikishi and winning every time.


Something similar is true for anyone who makes it through Makushita to get promoted to Juryo. For Nagoya, that will be 4-3 Makushita #1 East Shiden, 5-2 Makushita #1 West Kawazoe, the aforementioned 6-1 Makushita #2 West Shishi, 4-3 Makushita #3 West Chiyonoumi, and 5-2 Makushita #5 East Yuma. The retirements of Ichinojo and Tochinoshin have opened more promotion spots than usual.


6-1 Onosato could have been elevated. Although the 22 year old was making his pro debut, he was at Makushita #10. That’s because he was the most heralded amateur sumo champion in history and this was his debut basho. He certainly has a claim, but so do half a dozen other rikishi in upper Makushita. That’s what makes the division so interesting.


SANDANME

The Sandanme yusho came down to Sazanami and Yutakasho. This might be the most notoriety either rikishi will ever have. Sazanami is 23 and could have a future in theory, but he’s also been a Sandanme mainstay for years. Yutakasho is 28 and has spent most of his career in Makushita, but he had an injury that knocked him down in July 2022. He seems on his way back to Makushita. Sazanami got the win on Day Thirteen and the yusho, so credit to him.


Sandanme did have a few young up-and-comers that had strong bashos, they just weren’t in the Yusho race until the end. Hanafusa, a 20 year old at Nishonoseki-beya, went 5-2 from Sandanme #4 after struggling in his Makushita debut in March. Kotokenryu is Sadogatake’s designated foreigner (he is Mongolian), and at Sandanme #6 he similarly notched a 5-2 record after coming out of an unsuccessful Makushita debut. From the other end of Sandanme, 18 year old Gohakuun went 6-1 to up his career record to 17-4. These are all young rikishi who could shoot through Sandanme and make a mark in Makushita.


That’s kind of the nature of Sandanme. The really good young rikishi don’t stay long. 6-1 or 5-2 can jump a wrestler 20 or 30 ranks. Some superstars spend one, maybe two basho in Sandanme. Takakeisho and Hoshoryu, for example, just spent one tournament in the fourth division. Terunofuji had four, but two were kyujo basho on his way down after his 2018 injury absence.


Sazanami and Yutakasho may make noise in the future, but Hanafusa, Kotokenryu, and Gohakuun are much more likely to be the future of sumo.


JONIDAN

The Jonidan yusho went down to a playoff between Naruto-beya’s Oshoryu and Isegahama-beya’s Satorufuji. Satorufuji won with the uwatenage, and he just turned 19 after the basho, has gone 12-2 in his first two career tournaments, and has good size. He should be zooming up the rankings over the next year, and is certainly one to watch.


Oshoryu might be a cautionary tale. Under his birth name of Motobayashi, he entered sumo and joined the vaunted 21 Club after going 7-0 in his first three career basho. A University man who entered at the lowest level, he was rocketing through sumo’s lower ranks. He struggled a bit in Makushita, but still seemed poised for a Makuuchi career. Instead, in 2021, he battled injuries to the point where he missed the last three basho. He returned down in Jonidan in May, but he has a long road ahead.


Satorufuji is not the only youngster who shined in Jonidan in May. Kazeeidai is 18 and from Oshiogawa-beya; his 5-2 at Jonidan 28 gives him a 14-7 career record after three basho.

Gonoumi went 6-1, duplicating his debut in March in Jonokuchi. The 19 year old is another feather in the cap of Takekuma-oyakata. Kobayashi also matched his debut in March, with a 5-2, fighting at Jonidan 63. Kise stable’s Nagamura went 6-1, as a not yet 19 year old, at Jonidan 69.


JONOKUCHI

Sumo’s lowest division is usually a mashup of guys who haven’t gotten their careers going and debutants who are about to leave Jonokuchi in the rear view mirror. The yusho winner for Natsu was Haruyama, a 22 year old University grad making his debut for Onoe-beya. He also has great size and could be in Makushita in a matter of months. To take the yusho, he beat Reonmaru on Day Thirteen. Reonmaru has been in sumo since 2016, and has had a rough ride. He returned to the dohyo after six missed basho, the second time he has had to restart from the bottom division.


There were other young standouts in sumo’s bottom division. Kise-beya man Higonomaru went 6-1 in his first basho as an 18 year old. Soma, a Futagoyama wrestler, handed Higonomaru his only loss and ended on 5-2. Ryuji, an Onomatsu recruit, finished on 5 wins as well. Maybe they’ll all make it to the Sanyaku ranks. Or maybe they’ll all flame out by Sandanme.


That’s some of the fun of looking at the lower divisions. The future possibilities are endless.


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