With Musashikuni retiring, Wakaichirō stands alone as the solitary lonely warrior representing all of North America. That is correct – Wakaichirō is the only North American currently competing in Japanese professional sumo. I swear that I’m not trying to add pressure to the young rikishi!
In this post, I discuss what Wakaichirō needs to do to succeed in the Kyushu Basho 2019, in which he will be at his highest rank ever. As always, I also provide a chart that depicts Wakaichirō’s career progression, and you can click here to open a full sized version.
But first, I’d like to highlight some of the other storylines for the Kyushu Basho 2019.
The yusho race should be as tight as ever, with a very large number of rikishi in the sanyaku ranks. With Mitakeumi winning the yusho last basho, he is likely the favorite; however, Hakuho appears to be healthy, and I don’t think anyone can be the firm favorite beyond the legendary yokozuna. Speaking of yokozuna, Kakuryu is also healthy, and he always has a chance of taking the yusho. . .and this doesn’t even include the Ozeki! Or the Komusubi!
In juryo, I am still excited for Ichiyamamoto, Kotonowaka, and Kizakiumi. It will also be fun to see Gagamaru and Akiseyama fighting to remain in juryo, as well as Kaisei fighting to return to makushita. The talk to juryo, however, will almost certainly be Hoshoryu. He has taken the lower divisions by storm, capturing the hearts of all sumo fans (that watch those divisions). Is he big enough to succeed in juryo? Or will his size make him return to makushita? Only time will tell.
Now, let’s talk about Wakaichirō!
Wakaichirō Ken in the Kyushu Basho 2019
Wakaichirō had perhaps his best performance ever in the Nagoya Basho 2019, and then he followed it with his best performance ever in the Aki Basho 2019! He was ranked at his highest rank ever last basho, sandanme 67, and he tied his best record ever: 5-2. Quite the feat! He has now doubled his New Year’s goal – getting a kachi-koshi in the sandanme division. I hope that he has been able to enjoy his accomplishments in the past few months, because this basho will be quite difficult.
So what does Wakaichirō need to do to succeed? More than anything, he needs to stay healthy. Young rikishi can get grounded down by the grind up the rankings, and there is little that Wakaichirō can do if he gets an injured ankle, hip, or anything else. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he doesn’t get a nagging injury, as his health last basho allowed him to practice good, strong sumo (as seen below).
Otherwise, Wakaichirō needs to be smart with his sumo. He clearly showed last basho that he is strong enough to compete at this rank, and he showed some signed that his technique was smart enough to get some sly victories. Here is one example below:
At the same time, he left himself open to be tricked by a wily veteran, as seen below:
In short, Wakaichirō needs to stay healthy to keep himself strong, and he needs to be smart and skillful in his matches. I know this isn’t a brilliant insight into sumo technique, but sometimes the grind up sandanme doesn’t require brilliant insights. It just requires good, basic sumo. . .although brilliant insights don’t hurt!