March 2023 - Who To Watch?
With Terunofuji looking unlikely to compete in Osaka this year, who are the best wrestlers to watch? Let's go through some of the safer bets for high wins in the top 2 divisions.
5 - [Maegashira 7] Takayasu
Takayasu pulled out in January due to a tibia contusion, and may not be back at full strength for March. However, he is fighting at a rank he has historically performed very well at. The last time he was this low on the banzuke was this time last year, a basho in which Takayasu pulled 12 wins off and a jun-yusho to boot.
Prediction: It's a bit of a gamble to include the big bear in this list, but I'm going to say he'll pull off 9 wins this time around against middling competition at the surrounding ranks.
4 - [Sekiwake] Wakatakakage
Wakatakakage has been nothing if not consistent since reaching Sekiwake back in March 2022, and I don't see any reason to doubt him this time around.
Prediction: I think 9 wins is fair. This would see Wakatakakage hit back-to-back 9 wins, and could give him the confidence to push for Ozeki in July or September.
3 - [Maegashira 2] Abi
Recent results seem to show that this should be a fairly comfortable position on the banzuke for Abi. A mid-Makuuchi position sees him piling wins on, such as his 12-win yusho last November from Maegashira 9, and his 12-win jun-yusho from Maegashira 6 last January. However, he's been checked by stiff opposition at Komusubi and above.
Prediction: I find it hard to give Abi more than 9 wins, so I'll stick to it. He likely won't have to fight Terunofuji and has a winning record against Takakeisho, but he struggles against the small, young crop of San'yaku wrestlers, such as Hoshoryu and Kiribayama.
2 - [Sekiwake] Kiribayama
A newly promoted Kiribayama is looking great at the moment. The technical fighter from Mongolia seems to be able to fight in most styles, and despite his new post, he's had plenty of experience fighting the top guys on the banzuke currently. Coming off the back of his first jun-yusho with an incredible 11 wins, Kiribayama may seek to utilise his momentum to further an Ozeki run.
Prediction: I think Kiribayama is hungry for success, and I think he'll net another 11 wins, and will look to Ozeki promotion in May provided he could go for 3 in a row.
1 - [Ozeki] Takakeisho
Of course, the main storyline of March is Takakeisho's Yokozuna bid. Coming from a 12-3 yusho in January, a yusho here would guarantee him the rope. A second place could be arguably enough also - in November, he secured a 12-3 jun-yusho. This isn't a sure thing however - Terunofuji hasn't competed at full strength for the duration of the run and this will count against Takakeisho. 12 wins aren't enough to wow the Yokozuna Deliberation Council either.
Prediction: I believe! I think a 13-2 dominating performance resulting in a yusho, a party, and a new Yokozuna.
5 - [Juryo 9] Tsushimanada
Tsushimanada may have been slow to climb from Makuushita, but his recent 9-6 showed he can hang at this level, and that he may be able to put in another good performance at Juryo 9.
Prediction: I think another 9 wins is on the cards for Tsushimanada. Whether or not he can climb higher still is a conversation for another day.
4 - [Juryo 3] Shonannoumi
Much like Tsushimanada, Shonannoumi took a long time to reach Juryo. He was a Makushita mainstay for 6 years. However, following a 6-1 in July 2022, and then 2 consecutive 5 win bashos, he stormed into Juryo with a 12-3 record!
Prediction: Yes, he's higher up this time and in a stacked Juryo lineup, but I think his momentum may be unstoppable at this point. I'll go with 9 wins for the in-form Takadagawa man.
3 - [Juryo 3] Ichinojo
Ichinojo finds himself in Juryo for the first time since July 2020 due to a suspension. He should dominate at this rank, however does find himself up against the likes of Asanoyama and Tochinoshin in one of the strongest top-end Juryo lineups I've ever seen.
Prediction: 11 wins. I think he'll struggle against some of the more powerful members of Juryo, but ultimately he's a top-tier wrestler, and he'll show that in March.
2 - [Juryo 13] Tomokaze
A bit of a wildcard, but I think Tomokaze is the dark horse for Haru. First reaching top division in March 2019, Tomokaze posted 3 consecutive winning records, faltering only when he reached Maegashira 3. However, a dislocated right knee with associated ligament damage saw him out of the sumo game for over a year. His return began in March 2021, and he rose through Jonidan and Sandanme quickly to achieve the rank of Makushita 37 in November of 2021. Now, he returns to Juryo.
Prediction: 13 wins! I think Tomokaze is a top-tier wrestler, and I believe he'll feel like he has a lot to prove, and coming in at a low Juryo rank he has the potential to challenge for the title, though I don't think he can overcome the likes of Asanoyama or Ichinojo.
1 - [Juryo 1] Asanoyama
Asanoyama's 14-1 yusho last basho should be all I need to show you in order to justify his position on this list. This man was an Ozeki in May of 2021, and often in talks of being the 'next Yokozuna' when a suspension surrounding COVID-19 protocols sent him plummeting to Sandanme. Since his return in July 2022 he's only lost 3 fights, and I don't see him slowing down now.
Prediction: 14 wins. He is fallible, and this crop of Juryo fighters is stiff competition indeed, but I still predict him to pick up the 14-1 yusho without too many problems.
This is an exciting basho when we look at some of the up-and-comers either joining the Sekitori ranks or advancing to Makuuchi in March. Let's take a look at a couple of the most exciting ones:
[Maegashira 14] Kinbozan
Perhaps it's fate that Kinbozan and Hokuseiho will advance to Makuuchi in the same tournament. They've been the talk of many fans since their Juryo debuts. Kinbozan, the sole foreigner in Kise stable, hails from Kazakhstan, and is popping into Makuuchi after only 3 bashos at Juryo. Coming off the back of 3 winning records, Kinbozan will look to extend his success in March.
Prediction: 8 wins. I do think he has a better chance of success than Hokuseiho, although he has a bad record against the giant (0-3).
[Maegashira 15] Hokuseiho
And finally, Hakuho's prodigy rises. Hokuseiho stands 6 foot 5 inches tall, and 164 kg. He's an absolute giant and is fun to watch mainly to see how his opponent of the day will attempt to deal with the mountain of flesh across from them. However, when they figure him out he looks vulnerable. With a near non-existent tachiai, and a strategy that largely involves standing still until the opponent is too tired to continue, I think he'll struggle in the top division.
Prediction: 7 wins. Although he'll struggle, it may take time for the wrestlers in Makuuchi to fully figure him out.
[Juryo 14] Ochiai
The second man from Miyagino stable, run by ex-Yokozuna Hakuho, Ochiai could be the next golden man of sumo, following in his coach's footsteps. After winning the title of High School Yokozuna 2 years running, and placing in the top 8 at the All-Japan Championships, Ochiai went on to win the All Japan Corporate Sumo Championship in September 2022, becoming Corporate Yokozuna.
What does this mean for Ochiai's professional career? Well he became eligible to enter the pro ranks as Makushita Tsukedashi, starting off in January at Makushita 15. A quick 7-0 victory later and here we Juryo 14 Ochiai, in second division in his second basho! Definitely one to watch.
Prediction: This is tough. It could go either way, but I've been optimistic in this post so far, so let's go with... 10 wins!