Original article by Gilles Furelaud
Translated by Martina Lunau
Proofread by Barbara Ann Klein
The new rikishi on the banzuke
The business starts again! After several basho marked by a weak recruitment in terms of the number of new heads and in terms of the potential quality of the fighters, the last Hatsu Basho was marked by a resumption of recruitment: seven new rikishi made their first appearances on the banzuke for the Haru Basho 2008. This small recovery seems to be a relatively good forecast for the next series of tests of mae-zumo - tests in March with appearances on the banzuke in May 2008, traditionally the time of year with the most recruits.
One heya was particularly distinguished for the first promotion of 2008: Kise-beya. Is this surprising? Not really. Indeed, the current results of this relatively small heya are, without a doubt, its best publicity: Ichihara had just made a successful entry into makuuchi, Gagamaru is stabilized well in upper makushita, and Shiratsukasa just joined makushita after a beautiful performance. Lower in the rankings, Ogata could win the yusho in the jonokuchi division. In short, this is a heya full of young talents, who have the potential to attract new, ambitious rikishi. And, indeed, two fighters with a successful university past (without being brilliant, however) also joined the heya: Fukao and Yamashita, two fighters coming from the prestigious sumo club of Nichidai University.
Fukao stands out as the sixth heaviest shin-deshi in history, at 198 kg. But will that be enough for him to achieve a successful career? We will see... He succeeded in finishing the tests of mae-zumo as first, and it is certain that his weight and his experience at the university helped him to achieve that. For the moment, he seems to be a little locked up in a fighting style which is a bit too stereotyped (yorikiri and hatakikomi): it is to be feared that while this might be sufficient at least in jonokuchi and jonidan, he will, on the other hand, likely encounter real difficulties in sandanme or makushita... What seems particularly worrying in his case is that his last two years at Nichidai were rather disappointing without individual title, whereas he had shown better results in the past, with a a little more reasonable weight. One fact is particular to Fukao: he took part in the professional tournament organized in New York in 2005 (which he won). It is thus the second time that Fukao "goes professional"!
His colleague from Nichidai, Yamashita, has a past with an even less distinguished performance. But he succeeded to shine at mae-zumo. An interesting possibility appears: both rikishi are in the same heya, so they cannot meet in regular combat; if they both manage to do as well during Haru Basho, that could lead to a kettei-sen between these two fighters for the jonokuchi yusho.
The third academic recruit is Homarefuji. No real successes for him in his amateur career, even though his path crossed famous names: Mainoumi (who gave him counsel at the time of a visit to his college) and Sawai (who beat him in a tournament when he still was in college). The boy, however, seems to be ambitious and wishes to become a sekitori in a year and half (approximately nine basho), which would then put him in the group of the ten fastest progressions to reach the paid ranks We will see if he is able to do it.
The fourth recruit to be noticed is Funakoshi. His first results are not remarkable (the poor thing finished last among the shin-deshi at the time of the mae-zumo tests), but his past is. Indeed, the young man initially planned to join the prestigious Todai University after finishing school with good results. He even spent one year at a school in preparation for entrance to Todai University, in order to optimize his chances to be accepted. A huge sportsman in college (in particular American football - he played "offensive guard" or "nose tackle", men in the front of the line of attack, the strong and solid men who open the way for the runners and protect the quarterbacks) - he planned to practise sumo in addition to American football at the University. In a manner more than surprising, the Tokitaizan business enabled him to discover that it was less difficult than he imagined it to join a heya. So he decided to try his chances in professional sumo, sure that he would always be able to return to university once his sporting career came to an end.
A bit more of the new rikishi (shindeshi). Two banzuke-gai rikishi took part in the mae-zumo examination: Ono and Asaamami. Asaamami represents a rather rare case, because it concerns a rather unexpected return. Indeed, the fighter from Takasago-beya passed his first tests of mae-zumo in March 2005, three years ago. He then took part in three basho, all in jonokuchi, being injured during the last, after which he disappeared from the banzuke. However, this deshi of 118 kg and 1.68m never resigned, and so he returned last January, after an absence of thirteen consecutive basho! He finishes mae-zumo as penultimate, preceding only the other returning man, Ono, also with little experience (three basho in which he was active).
Le Petit Banzuke Illustré n°26 to get more information on this subject:
Table listing rank, shikona, real name, date of birth, height, weight, and heya affiliation for all new recruits.
(Understandable without speaking French)