All eyes will be on Onosato at Grand Sumo’s 2024 Nagoya basho (@sumokyokai/Instagram)

Grand Sumo: Five Reasons to Watch the 2024 Nagoya Basho

Sumo is back

This weekend Grand Sumo rolls back into action with the 2024 Nagoya Basho. The 15-day tournament begins on July 14 and wraps up on Jul. 28. It will be held at the Dolphins Arena in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

The Nagoya tournament is notorious for heat. This annual event happens during one of the hottest months in Japan in one of the hottest places in Japan. And Dolphins Arena doesn’t have air conditioning. The heat provides a big obstacle for the rikishi who compete here, for both endurance reasons and for traction. The clay ring, which is built fresh for each tournament, gets very slippery in Nagoya due to all the sweat.

Aside from the climate, the 15-day tournament will be a fascinating watch for myriad of reasons. Below are five things that I’m especially watching out for this time around.  


Onosato’s quest for back-to-back titles

Onosato is sumo’s main character right now. The 24-year-old, who dominated amateur and collegiate sumo, will be competing in just his fourth makuuchi (top division) tournament this month. Last time out, at the natsu basho (summer tournament) in May, Onosato won his first top division championship. That came after back-to-back runner-up finishes.

Onosato won his first title due to marked improvement in his sumo. In his first two top division tournaments, Onosato ran through most of his opponents due to his size and athleticism. However, in May he added grappling, defense and fight IQ to his arsenal and that was more than enough to push him over the top.

You can read my in-depth technical analysis of Onosato’s championship win here.

The young man has been promoted up to sekiwake for this tournament (two spots below yokozuna). If he scores double digit wins here he might be fast tracked to the rank of ozeki. That would be unprecedented, but so has Onosato’s run to begin his career.

In order for a promotion debate to happen, though, Onosato will need to go out and win in Nagoya. His field in Nagoya will likely be without our lone yokozuna Terunofuji (he pulled out with injury in the last tournament and has taken a long break from training). However, Onosato will need to face a hungry class of current ozeki in the form of Kotozakura, Hoshoryu and Takakeisho. Onosato is 1-5 against those two and has never beaten Hoshoryu. He’s never faced Takakeisho. ‘The Angry Hamster’ pulled out of the last tournament due to injury, but needs to win at least eight bouts in Nagoya to avoid being demoted down to sekiwake.

Demoted Kirishima looking to rebound

Takakeisho will be looking to avoid the same fate that befall Kirishima in the last tournament. Kirishima went into the May tournament on the back of a losing record and needed to win at least eight to save his skin as an ozeki. However, after a number of early losses he pulled out off the tournament, accepting the demotion.

Kirishima was the best rikishi on the planet in 2023, earning two championships and a boat load of special prizes as he rose to the ozeki rank. However, this year he has struggled with a nagging neck injury and the retirement of his beloved stablemaster.

Currently Kirishima is reportedly happier and healthier than he was in March and May. If he can earn double-digit wins in Nagoya he will be able to jump right back up to ozeki

When Kirishima is in top shape he is the most creative wrestler in the division, who is equally adept at outmuscling opponents for a force out or out-foxing them with a nifty trip or judo throw. He’s been a lot of fun to watch over his career. However, in the last two tournaments it has been clear that he’s not enjoying his sumo. Hopefully we’ll see the best version of Kirishima in Nagoya. If we do, he becomes a problem for the rest of the san’yaku (upper ranked wrestlers).

Machine-gun arm on an ozeki run

Abi is one of the more divisive characters in sumo. His style is one-note, but highly aggressive. It’s characterised by repeated thrusts to an opponent’s head, neck and chest (think E. Honda). Some sumo fans think his style lacks grace. Others think it’s fun and a good challenge for those around him. Abi is usually a .500 wrestler, seemingly content to lurk around the high rankings and see how far his style (which he won’t compromise) gets him. 

Lately, his machine-gun arm has been on point, earning him 9-6 and 10-5 records. Those records have seen Abi entrenched as a sekiwake and within a shot of the prized promotion to ozeki.

Generally, you become an ozeki if you can win 33 bouts in three consecutive tournaments as a sekiwake. Last time out, as sekiwake, Abi scored 10. So he needs another double digit win record this time around to stand a realistic chance of getting that 33rd win in the following tournament (which will be in Kyushu, the place he won his first, and so far only, top division championship).

Abi was brutally effective in the last tournament and almost got himself into a play-off for the title. If things go well for him in Nagoya he might get a few more than the 10 wins he needs to keep his ozeki dream alive.

The return of Wakatakakage

Wakatakakage (the most fun name to say in sumo) was working on an ozeki run of his own back in March 2023. However, that run was crushed when he and Kotonowaka (who was since promoted to ozeki and renamed Kotozakura) sailed into the seats during their match. In that bout, Wakatakakage tore his MCL and ACL. However, despite being hurt, he needed to fight an immediate rematch with Kotonowaka (the first bout had been called a draw). On a severely injured knee Wakatakakage beat Kotonowaka (currently the second highest ranked wrestler in the sport). 

Surgery and a three tournament lay-off followed. In most sports ACL surgery would rule you out for a year, but with injury absences counting as losses in sumo Wakatakakage returned to action after just eight months. 

Due to all the ‘losses’ he was credited with during his injury lay-off, Wakatakakage was demoted to the third division. After four months battling in the third and second division, Wakatakakage was promoted back to makuuchi for this tournament.

He is ranked maegashira 14 for this tournament. The last time he was ranked that low in the top division was 2020. Back then he scored 10-5 to kick start his ascent up to the san’yaku.

At 29-years-old Wakatakakage still has plenty of time to mount a charge up the rankings, so long as his knee holds up. The small man who is known for his grappling and dogged aggression will be a fascinating watch on his return to top division sumo.

Miracle man Takerufuji needs to escape juryo

My fifth and final storyline also includes an injury. Takerufuji made history in March when he won a makuuchi title in his top division debut (something which hadn’t been done in over 90 years). The then 24-year-old earned the Emperor’s Cup with a 13-2 victory. He won the cup despite injuring his ankle on the penultimate day of the competition.

Takerufuji could have sat out the last day of the tournament and still won the yusho (championship) if results had gone his way. But he decided, against the advice of his stablemaster, to suit up and try and win the cup on a bum ankle. And he did just that.

Takerufuji’s historic win came at a cost, though. His ankle injury was severe enough to force him to sit out of the entire May tournament. That decision meant he was given a 0-0-15 (0 wins, 0 losses, 15 absences) record. That record meant a demotion from the top division.

For the Nagoya tournament Takerufuji has been ranked J2 in the juryo (second division). The pressure will be on him to quickly get out of the second division and return to makuuchi, where he can start to prove whether or not his debut win was a fluke or a sign that he is a generational talent.

His path out of juryo won’t be easy, though. Down there he will also have to contend with young phenom Onokatsu and the formerly hyped up Hakuoho. Hakuoho was the most exciting prospect in the sport this time last year and almost did what Takerufuji did when he made his top division debut in the 2023 Nagoya tournament. However, shoulder injuries forced Hakuoho out of action and caused him to slide to the makushita (third division). Since returning from injury Hakuoho has struggled to escape juryo and a lot of his hype has ebbed away.

Takerufuji and Hakuoho are now stablemates (due to some controversial JSA business), so they won’t face each other in regular competition. However, they will be permitted to fight each other if a play-off is required to determine a champion.

More Sumo Coverage on Combat Press

Keep it locked on Combat Press for more coverage of the 2024 Nagoya basho. Next up from us will be a guide telling you how you can watch the 15-day tournament.

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