Preview of North American Sumo Wrestlers in the Hatsu Basho 2019 – Musashikuni and Wakaichirō

A new year, a new basho!  I hope that everyone had a good holiday, and I know that everyone is ready for sumo action in 2019.  So far, the talk of the upcoming Hatsu Basho is the health of the yokozuna and ōzeki.  The biggest question mark is the health of Kisenosato.  Is he recovered enough to survive another basho?  Or will this be his last performance?  There are also questions surrounding Hakuhō and Kakuryū, as both yokozuna had to sit out the last basho.  Reports claim that they are well, but only time well tell.  Recently, more uncertainty has sprouted around Tochinoshin, as his injury may be acting up again.  If Gōeidō is not recovered from sitting out the final four days of the last basho, then we may have only one fully healthy ōzeki of the top six rikishi – Takayasu. . .But what’s that? Takayasu now has a fever!?  Can he get over it in time and finally get his first yusho?  Or will Takakeishō, Mitakeumi, or someone else entirely snatch one again?

Beyond the top division, I am very happy to see Gagamaru in the jūryō division again.  After dropping down to makushita, he fought hard to go 5-2 and get promoted.  Enho is still the most exciting rikishi to watch – not only in the jūryō division, but maybe in all of sumo.  He was looking dominant for the first 10 days of the Kyūshū Basho, but then he had a 4 match losing streak.  I hope that other rikishi haven’t figured the little guy out.  Others to keep an eye on are: Ura, and his climb back to makuuchi after injury; the dominant Hoshoryu, and his sprint up the ranks; the formidable Tsukahara and his not-far-behind strides; as well as Hattorizakura and his goal to achieve a third win.  I could keep going on about all the other lower-division rikishi. . .but I will move on to the North American representatives.

Musashikuni Mamu had his strongest performance in two years.  In the Nagoya Basho 2016, he went 6-1 from the makushita 54 rank.  In the Kyūshū Basho 2018, he went 5-1-1 from the makushita 53 rank.  Déjà vu!  On the other hand, Wakaichirō Ken had a disappointing performance, going 2-5 from the jonidan 5 rank.  Below is a chart of the career rankings of each rikishi (along with Brodi Henderson), which demonstrates their current momentum.  Click here to open a new tab with a full-size version of the chart, which will be used below to predict their performance in the Hatsu Basho 2019.

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ranking progression of north american rikishi - hatsu basho 2018

Musashikuni Mamu and the Hatsu Basho 2019

Although Musashikuni had to sit out his first match due to injury, he looked extremely strong in his six bouts.  He was balanced; he was agile; he was strong; and he was skillful.  There seemed to be nothing that he couldn’t do!  I really hope that we see this Musashikuni again.  Another stellar performance could leap him from the middle of makushita to the final grind at the top of the division.  I know that it could take him a very long time to reach jūryō from there, as the competition is so stiff, but I would love to see him get a shot.

For this to happen, I think Musashikuni needs to (a) keep strong with his basics and (b) continuing showing an array of techniques.  Musashikuni sometimes has the tendency to get off balanced in his matches, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from watching the last basho.  He stayed firm in each of his matches.  Also, Musashikuni is doing very well at becoming a master at many abilities.  For instance, in the gif below, he demonstrates his excellent thrusting abilities which led to a pull-down victory.

Musashikuni Kyushu Basho 2018 Match 4

And here, we see Musashikuni put his raw strength to the test.  His opponent had the center positioning and a lower center of gravity, but Musashikuni nevertheless used his raw power to lift his opponent, turn his hips, and pull him out for the victory.  It was a very impressive win for Musashikuni.

Musashikuni Kyushu Basho 2018 Match 6

I expect Musashikuni to have a 4-3 record in the Hatsu Basho 2019.  I think he will continue his climb up makushita, and by the end of the year he will be around the top of the division.  Musashikuni has just as good abilities as anyone else in the division at only 24 years of age, so I don’t see him falling down anytime soon.

Wakaichirō Ken and the Hatsu Basho 2019

I don’t think that Wakaichirō’s record in the last basho reflected his actual performance, and I know that his current record does not reflect his abilities.  He is much better than a jonidan 36 rikishi, although is wins and losses fairly put him at that rank.

So what happened?  From my perception, it was a mixture of two things.  First, Wakaichirō seemed to be injured.  He had almost everything taped up last basho that you could possibly tape.  It was a little ridiculous!

Second, Wakaichirō is still trying out new techniques.  He is still young at 20 years old, and he has time to still develop his skill-set.  It seems that he sometimes tries out new approaches rather than sticking with one or two that give him repeated success.  And that is a good thing!  Wakaichirō should become a master of many abilities, which will certainly help him once he reaches the higher divisions – which I am confident will happen one day.

He is also trying to determine the appropriate level of aggression.  It is often easier to temper one’s athletic aggression than teach someone to be aggressive.  In the last basho, it seemed that Wakaichirō was more often taking the risky charge rather than playing it safe, and that is also a good thing!  These experiences teach him when the charges will and will not work – something that you can only learn with time.  Here is an example of one of these charges in the gif below:

Wakaichiro Kyushu Basho 2018 Match 4 - Optimized

And here is another one:

Wakaichiro Kyushu Basho 2018 Match 5

If Wakaichirō was able to pull off both of these charges, then his record would have been 4-3 and he would be in the sandanme division.  Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out how you want them to.  Because Wakaichirō has dropped to a much lower rank than he should be, I predict that he will go 5-2 in the Hatsu Basho 2019.  And I predict this record whether he is healthy or not!

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