Wakamotoharu (L) and Kirishima (R) clash during an all stables practice.(@sumoyokai/Instagram)

Grand Sumo: Five Reasons to Watch the Summer Tournament

Sumo is back this weekend for the 2024 natsu basho (summer tournament). The fifteen day tournament begins this Sunday (May 12) and runs until May 26. As always, Japan’s senior sumo wrestlers will compete each day for a chance to progress up the rankings and, for some, challenge for the Emperor’s Cup.

The summer tournament comes after history was made in the previous tournament. At the spring tournament in March Takerufuji won the makuuchi yusho (top division championship) in his first ever appearance in sumo’s highest division. The last time that happened was over 90 years ago. Sumo fans will be locking in on this tournament with hopes of seeing something just as historic and dramatic unfold.

Here are five storylines I’m most interested in this month, all of which form compelling reasons why you need to check out the 2024 natsu basho.


1. Will Onosato and Takerufuji pick up where they left off?

On his way to claiming his historic championship Takerufuji was being chased by Onosato, who finished runner-up in March. Takarufuji winning the title in his debut top division tournament overshadowed the fact that Onosato came second in only his second ever top division tournament. Onosato was a runner-up in the January tournament, as well. The young pair are rightfully being called the future of sumo, as part of a golden generation that also includes Hakuoho, Atamifuji, Gonoyama and Hiradoumi.

In May all eyes will be on Takerufuji and Onosato, though, to see if they can follow up their sensational showings last time out. 

There are question marks over whether Takerufuji will be able to perform at all. He sustained an ankle injury on the penultimate day of the March tournament (which makes his tournament clinching win on the final day even more impressive). That injury has kept him out of the exhibition circuit and has led to mixed reporting on whether or not he will compete in May.

Onosato appears ready to compete, after being promoted to the rank of komusubi (the lowest of sumo’s special upper-ranks). There is a bit of a dark cloud over Onosato, though. He has been investigated over a bullying incident. That incident, which revolves around a claim he forced a junior wrestler to drink while underage, is not likely to threaten Onosato’s career at this point. However, with promising 25-year-old Hokuseiho recently forced to retire due to bullying, every rikishi in Japan should be looking to stay on their best behaviour.

Onosato displaying his promotion alongside his stable master, the former yokozuna Kisenosato. Credit: (@sumoyokai/Instagram)

2. Can Kirishima bounce back from a dreadful March?

Kirishima had a terrible tournament in March. The ozeki (which is one rank below yokozuna) went 5-10 in that tournament, which is one of his worst showings to date. Kirishima’s March came after a stellar 2023 which saw him lift two championships and receive his promotion to the highly prized ozeki rank.

In March Kirishima looked like a shell of his best self. He appeared distracted, slow and nervous on the dohyo. When he’s at his best Kirishima is the coolest and most creative wrestler in the game, equally likely to push someone out with power or trick them with a trip they never saw coming.

Much of Kirishima’s poor performance can be attributed to the closing of his stable and retirement of his stable-master (the previous Kirishima who gave his old ring name to his student last year). 

Kirishima has now moved on to a new stable, helmed by the former yokozuna Kakuryu. Kakuryu is one of Kirishima’s mentors, so here’s hoping Kirishima will look back to his best in May. 

He’ll have to show a lot of improvement this month if he wants to stay an ozeki. If he gets a losing record here he’ll be demoted from the rank, which would see his chances of becoming the next yokozuna slashed.

3. Can anyone stop the Isegahama World Order?

The Isegahama stable is starting to resemble something like the nWo. Just like that 90s pro wrestling stable, Isegahama is stocked with some of the biggest names in the sport. And they just keep growing.

Isegahama currently boasts the following wrestlers in the makuuchi: Terunofuji, Takerufuji, Atamifuji, Midorifuji, Nishikifuji and Takarafuji.

Isegahama wrestlers have won half of the past six tournaments, with Terunofuji (the sport’s only yokozuna) lifting the Emperor’s Cup in January and the previous May. In the two tournaments between Terunofuji’s May and January wins, Atamifuji was runner-up, losing out on the final days of those tournaments to Takakeisho and then Kirishima.

In May there are Isegahama wrestlers in every section of the top division rankings. This means every wrestler in the division will likely face at least one Isegahama product. 

In March the Miyagino stable was absorbed by Isegahama, due to the Hokuseiho bullying scandal. That brought many more talented wrestlers under the Isegahama banner (many of which were recruited to Miyagino by former yokozuna Hakuho). Among those newest Isegahama members is Hakuoho, Hakuho’s prodigy and someone who is thought to be a future yokozuna in the making.

Caption: Takerufuji celebrates his yusho with his Isegahama teammates.

4. Is Takayasu back? For real this time

Popular former ozeki Takayasu has had a nightmare with injuries over the past few years. Injuries in 2019 sunk his ozeki rank and each time he seemed to get on a good run a new injury would crop up to halt his progress up the banzuke.

That happened most recently in January. After back-to-back 10-5 records to finish off 2023, Takayasu was promoted to komusubi. But he only lasted two days before an injury ruined his new year tournament.

In March he was demoted down to M8, but again showed he’s too good to be ranked that low in the division. In March he quietly put together an 11-4 record and earned a runners-up spot alongside Onosato.

At 34-years-old Takayasu does not have a lot of years left in the sport. Despite that, he still appears dynamic, and incredibly strong, on the dohyo when he’s healthy.

In May, ranked at M3, he just might prove to people he’s still got plenty left in the tank. He also might be a significant factor in determining who wins the tournament.

5. Will Hakuoho or Wakatakakage make it out of juryo

Though at opposite ends of their careers, Hakuoho and Wakatakakage find themselves in the same place – stuck in juryo (the second division).

Both are better than their current division and both are there due to long injury layoffs.

The March tournament marked the one year anniversary of Wakatakakage suffering a major ACL injury versus Kotonowaka (in a bout he still managed To win). The injury, and resulting surgery, sidelined Wakatakakage for three tournaments (other sports would see athletes out for a whole year with this kind of injury).

That lay-off meant Wakatakakage was demoted from his sekiwake rank (two below yokozuna) and then relegated all the way down to the makushita (third division). He returned to action in November and clawed his way back to juryo for the March tournament. A mediocre 9-6 record in that tournament means he failed to get promoted back to makuuchi, though.

Hakuoho ascended to the makuuchi last year after just three senior tournaments. In his debut top division appearance in July he came close to winning an improbable championship at just nineteen years of age.

A nagging shoulder injury hampered his ability that tournament, preventing him from the historic feat Takerufuji would later claim. He then sat out two tournaments, which sent him down to makushita

Like Wakatakakage he returned to juryo in March. Hakuoho had an even less impressive tournament, though, scraping by with a 8-7 record.

Hakuoho, aka The Monster of Reiwa, is viewed as one of the hottest prospects in the sport. He’ll be desperate to win the juryo title this month and get back to the top division, to keep pace with all the other prospects who have since transformed into contenders.

The 2024 natsu basho starts this Sunday. Stay tuned to Combat Press as later this week we will publish a guide on how you can watch this tournament over the coming weeks.

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