Most music streaming services have two levels of playlist for artists or bands.
Various names like Essentials or Deeper Cuts are used to describe compilations of hits and lesser-known songs.
If the makuuchi division is sumo’s version of the Top 40 (or, more precisely, 42), tiers 2 and 3 (jūryō and makushita) make up the equivalent of the sport’s B-sides and album tracks.
Just as with music, there are plenty of gems to be found if one is willing to dig a little deeper.
While the rikishi outside of the top division may not be as accomplished or polished as those who dominate the headlines, both jūryō and makushita contain an exciting mix of young-and-upcoming wrestlers destined for stardom as well as veterans clinging on with fading strength and speed.
As the bottom of the second tier also faces the yawning chasm of unpaid sumo, there is a keenness and desperation to bouts there that is often missing from those seen in the highest and lowest divisions.
For newer fans looking to get deeper into the sport, who are some of the names that they should look out for in the juryo and makushita divisions in January?
One wrestler that immediately jumps out is the newly renamed Oho. Part of a sumo lineage that includes perhaps the greatest yokozuna of all time (Taiho) as well as a disgraced former sekiwake (Takatoriki), Oho and two of his brothers fight out of an Otake stable that was established by their grandfather in the 1970s.
Oho’s father also lifted the Emperor’s Cup while active, but Takatoriki is more known these days for his role in a betting scandal and a controversial YouTube channel where he throws out all kinds of allegations including those about match-fixing in sumo.
Oho will obviously be hoping for a career closer to that of his grandfather (Taiho), who held the record for most top division championships for 46 years before Hakuho eclipsed it in 2015.
Still just 20 years old, Oho has made steady, if unspectacular, progress since turning pro in 2018.
Known as Naya until his recent promotion to sekitori, the Tokyo native has the physique and ability required to carve out a successful career in sumo’s upper reaches, however. Now free from the duties and responsibilities of lower division life and able to concentrate solely on sumo, Oho is a good bet to start taking advantage of the potential that has long been apparent. If he can get off to a fast start in January, a division title in his jūryō debut wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
If spectacular is a word that can’t be applied to Oho’s career so far, the opposite is certainly the case when it comes to a teenage wrestler who joins the makushita division just as Oho is leaving it.
Standing two meters tall and weighing over 160 kilograms, Hokuseiho remains unbeaten since joining ōzumō last March.
Currently on a 23-bout winning streak, Hokuseiho, who was born in Mongolia but has lived in Japan from early childhood, has a good chance of breaking the record for most consecutive wins from entry into the sport.
If maezumō bouts and playoffs are included, Itai’s 30 straight victories from his debut in the late 1970s is currently the best start. Hokuseiho could better that with a 7-0 record in January followed by a playoff win.
It’s an incredible run made all the more amazing by the fact that Hokuseiho is a rikishi only because of a chance encounter with Hakuho in an airport when a small child. The yokozuna encouraged him to give sumo a try and join his stable when he grew up.
Makushita is the first real test of a sumo wrestler’s abilities however, so despite his lightning-fast start and overwhelming physical size, Hokuseiho has probably only a 50-50 chance at best of setting a new mark.
A title win isn’t out of the question, but in a 120-man division there is always the possibility of someone else with a relatively easier schedule going unbeaten. The giant youngster will have his destiny in his own hands, but one momentary lapse is all it could take for the championship in his division to go elsewhere.
One tier up, things won’t be so tight for Oho. Parity is the name of the game in sumo’s second division and playoffs among two or more men with the same record are common. If the youngster manages to go unbeaten in his paid debut, he’ll be just the sixth man in history with a 15-0 record in jūryō. The previous five include four ozeki and one yokozuna.
Oho and Hokuseiho are the headliners in jūryō and makushita respectively, but they are far from the only ones to watch in those divisions.
Whether it’s the continuing efforts of someone like Ura to fight back from devastating injury and regain a spot at the top table, the struggles of men such as Mitoryu to translate amateur glory into success in the pro ranks or just watching any of the aging veterans trying to stave off the losing record that will mean inevitable demotion and almost certain retirement, sumo’s second tier provides plenty of reasons to watch.
Although as a division lower it is more a case of spotting the superstars in the making as they hone their craft, makushita, like jūryō, is one that offers a lot for sumo fans willing to take a look at what’s happening just off the main stage.
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