By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterHappy New Year! I have some predictions about what kind of hero will appear in the sumo world this year and what kind of drama will emerge.
Last year, one veteran and two up-and-comers set sumo afire. Tochinoshin garnered his first victory as a rank-and-file makuuchi wrestler at age 30 and was promoted to ozeki after the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May. He also pushed past three yokozuna to win the most bouts for the year, delighting people in his home country of Georgia. I hope he aims for an even higher stage this year, but he should probably concentrate first on healing his leg injury.
The two hopefuls were Mitakeumi and Takakeisho. In terms of momentum, Takakeisho is ahead of Mitakeumi now: During the Kyushu basho in November, then komusubi Takakeisho grabbed his first title with his aggressive style of sumo. His strength lies in his sharp, fierce charge after the jump-off, as well as his credo of always advancing forward.
Yokozuna Hakuho and Kakuryu were absent, but Takakeisho never backed down in his bout against Kisenosato to beat the remaining top-ranked wrestler en route to posting an impressive 13-2 record.
Takakeisho will enter the dohyo ring as a sekiwake in the upcoming January tournament, and how he battles Hakuho — who has defeated Takakeisho in all of their past three matches — will be key to his success. Even with his aggressive starts and pressure, Takakeisho is sure to struggle with the sharp-eyed Hakuho. But if he can defeat the yokozuna, promotion to ozeki this year could be within Takakeisho’s reach.
Mitakeumi suffered a makekoshi losing record for the first time in four tournaments, losing sight of his fighting style. His job will be to reclaim his determined attacks and swift moves after the initial clash, tactics that resulted in his first title at the Nagoya basho.
There is a wrestler who could be the eye of a storm in 2019 — the 22-year-old maegashira Onosho. He rebounded from an injury-ridden past to collect 11 wins in November. The achievement of Takakeisho — a rikishi of the same age — could ignite Onosho’s fighting instinct.
The problem now are the yokozuna. It’s not just Kisenosato — this year, all three yokozuna are feared to be in trouble. Hakuho pulls out of tournaments too often, even if it is due to injury. As for ozeki, there are no wrestlers with decisive qualities to be promoted to yokozuna.
Ozeki Takayasu missed a good chance to win the title at the previous tournament. He’s a stable ozeki but not strong enough at decisive times. I expect him to muster strength by practicing outside his own stable.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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