A look at the last winners of the most matches in a calendar year – part II

In our first episode we looked at Hakuho’s extended winning era, which started back in 2007 and ceased – in terms of most wins during a calendar year, at least – in 2016. Let’s look at the first rikishi to end Hakuho’s incredible run : Kisenosato.

Kisenosato Yutaka – 2016

The road to the top

Kisensosato’s rise from the bottom of the banzuke to the upper division has been as impressive as Hakuho’s, needing just fifteen tournaments to reach makuuchi. His rise from here, however, became quite slower. Spending several years from upper maegashira to komosubi, Kisenosato finally trusted a sekiwake slot in March 2009, five years after his makuuchi debut. After two final maegashira appearances, he finally brought his career upwards, and after good performances during the year 2011, was promoted to ozeki at the beginning of 2012. Being considered as one of the greatest Japanese hopes, Kisenosato’s crowning had then been awaited.

Kisenosato finished runner up in thirteen tournaments and missed several opportunities to clinch the first yusho of this career and/or yokozuna promotion.

He was tied for first before the last day of the May tournament of 2012, alongside Tochiozan and Kyokutenho, and lost to former ozeki Baruto, despite pushing him to the tawara after a great start. He would have been the huge favorite to win the ensuing playoff.

Kisenosato’s loss to Baruto on day 15 of the May 2012 honbasho

Kisenosato won his first thirteen matches in May of next year, and saw his lead shared by Hakuho. They faced each other on the decisive bout of the tournament, on day 14. I recommend everyone to watch the bout as well as its make up; the atmosphere was tense as the whole crowd waited for Kisenosato to finally find his way to the top. The fight was mightily contested, and Hakuho, despite slipping from the dohyo, managed to throw his rival to the ground shortly before falling himself. Another great chance was gone, and, for once, the ozeki’s mental frailties were not in cause.

Kisenosato’s decisive bout against Hakuho on day 14 of the May 2013 tournament

Indeed, three consecutive runner-up performances thereafter, Kisenosato was told he would be promoted to yokozuna by winning the yusho with at least thirteen bouts. However, pressure war perhaps too much to his shoulders as he even failed to get his kachi koshi. Quite symptomatic of his troubles was his fifth bout against Aoiyama, where he tried to intimidate the Bulgarian wrestler at the tachi-ai, before ending pushed to the crowd seconds after.

The story was not too different in 2016, the year he collected more wins than any other rival. Indeed, Kisenosato was told again he would earn yokozuna promotion, on three separate occasion, but fell short each time. His sumo was solid in Kyushu, being the only wrestler to defeat eventual winner Kakuryu and ending up 12-3. The three rikishis to defeat him ? Maegashira Endo, Shodai and Tochinoshin.

Nevertheless, consistent performances enabled him to earn an impressive total of 69 victories in 2016. Nobody matched that record.

Kisenosato handed Kakuryu’s sole loss during the Kyusho Basho of 2016

Quite paradoxically, 2016 must have been quite hard to swallow for Kisenosato. Before all his efforts, he had to watch fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku and Goeido clinch a yusho themselves, in January and September.

What happened next ?

The rest of his career is already part of the legend. Kisenosato finally managed to chase his old ghosts the tournament after, in January of 2017, defeating Hakuho in the process an ending up the undisputed winner with a 14-1 record. He was promoted to yokozuna after the tournament.

His debut as a shin-yokozuna was dream-like, as he managed to grab twelwe straight wins, much to the fans delight. But the honeymoon abruptly came to an end the day after, as Kisenosato tore his pectoral muscle at the tachi-ai, during his bout against Harumafuji. Kisenosato was brought outside the dohyo limit without putting any resistance against Kakuryu the day after, but benefited from Terunofuji’s own injuries to still notch a debut yusho as a yokozuna.

Sadly, his pectoral muscle turned out to be an career ending injury. Irony was very much presentt, as Kisenosato never missed a single bout until then. He sat out partly or entirely during each scheduled honbasho until his retirement, with the exception of the Aki basho of 2018, when he managed to produce a honourable 10-5 result.

Kisenosato announced his retirement after failling to compete properly at the January tournament of 2019.

Hakuho won the most bouts in 2017. We won’t stress out Hakuho’s achievements once again; instead, we’ll move to another wrestler who illuminated the 2018 sumo year : Tochinoshin.

A look at the last winners of the most matches in a calendar year

Sumo’s last honbasho of the year 2019 came to an end, and dai-yokozuna Hakuho sealed a record extending 43th Emperor’s Cup, thanks to a rock-solid 14-1 performance. However, Hakuho’s absences thorough the year means another rikishi won the most matches during the current year – namely Asanoyama.

Seeing Asanoyama top the 2019 calendar year might look surprising at first sight; however, a string of great performances meant Asanoyama’s recent success was no fluke. In any case, it gives us the opportunity of a quick review of the past winners of that symbolic award.

Hakuho Sho – 2007 to 2015 ; 2017

The road to the top

It’s hard to say something that has not already been said about the GOAT. A few figures may well show how meteoric his rise to the top has been :

– Hakuho entered maezumo in March 2001, and entered Makuuchi in May 2004.

– It took him just four tournaments to enter san’yaku by the year 2005, after impressive 12-3, 11-4, 8-7 and 12-3 records.

– He became an ozeki in May 2006, and his ozeki results were: 14-1, 13-2, 8-7, kyujo, 10-5, 13-2, 15-0. Woah.

Hakuho getting his first yusho after defeating Miyabiyama in a playoff, in May 2006

Hakuho won most bouts during a calendar year from year 2007, as Asashoryu was still the other active yokozuna, exchanging fabulous bouts in the process.

Hakuho’s last bout of the May 2007 basho – before yokozuna promotion

However, the new yokozuna benefited from Asashoryu’s issues (he was suspended during the two last honbashos of 2007) and injuries (missing all or part of the three last bashos in 2008), during his late career. Still, Hakuho had to surrender three bashos during that period to his great rival.

Asashoryu wrestled free of absences during the whole year 2009, but his presence did not stop Hakuho from collecting stratospheric numbers, with 14-1, 15-0, 14-1, 14-1, 14-1 and 15-0 records.

After Asashoryu’s retirement in 2010, Hakuho entered a period of utter dominance, notching 86 wins out of 90 in 2009 and 2010. He collected « only » 66 wins in 2011, but let’s not forget that the March tournament had been cancelled.

 Hakuho’s final bout against Asashoryu in January 2010

Hakuho continued his dominance during the next years; however, numbers tend to be a bit deceptive as the dai-yokozuna saw the emergence of other rivals.

Hakuho piled up 76 wins out of the 90 possible in 2012, which is quite impressive. However, Hakuho’s dominance wasn’t absolute. Below his best, he secured just ten wins in May, and had to surrender the Cup twice to Harumafuji, who became that year a yokozuna alongside the great man.

Hakuho’s loss to Harumafuji in Aki 2012 sealing Harumafuji’s promotion

2013 was another great year for him with a mouth-watering 82 wins. But it’s worth mentionning another great rival’s performances: then ozeki Kisenosato finished the four last bashos of the year as runner-up. He came mightily close from beating the dai-yokozuna on day 14 of the May tournament, which would probably have cemented a first yusho for one of Hakuho’s sternest challengers.

Hakuho’s numbers remained excellent in 2014, even if that year saw fellow Mongolian Kakuryu’s rise to yokozuna. The dai-yokozuna piled up 81 wins. That year was the last to see him get more than 70 victories during a single year.

Hakuho’s loss to Kakuryu in Osaka 2014 which saw Kakuryu’s own promotion

Hakuho won again the most bouts in 2015 (66), but had to pull out of the Aki basho, which saw Kakuryu clinch his first yusho as a yokozuna. His dominance has been strongly contested by the Isegahama pair, composed by Harumafuji (who won the Kyushu basho, and helped Terunofuji clinch the May basho) and Terunofuji (with Harumafuji’s mirror achievements).

Injury issues meant we saw a rikishi other than Hakuho winning the most bout during 2016, namely Kisenosato.

Hakuho returned to the top of that chart in 2017, albeit by a mere 56 victories, the lowest he ever got while achieving that feat. Still not at his best, he paved way for Kisenosato, who won the first two bashos of the year. The rest of the year was more successful, winning in March, May and November (after seeing Harumafuji retiring from his duties).

What happened next ?

Recurring injuries limited Hakuho’s further appearances. He set up the Olympics in 2020 as his main target, and there’s speculation whether he’ll retire after. However, his weakened body nevertheless put its fingers on the Emperor’s Cup in Aki 2018, March and Kyushu 2019, and proved everyone that the greatest rikishi of all time is still very much present.

We’ll focus next time on the winner of the most bout during the year 2016 : Kisenosato.

Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

We have to wait until Christmas Eve (December 24th) for the release of the first rankings of 2020. In the meantime, here’s what the Crystal Ball thinks they’ll look like.

The Guess

The predicted ranks are in the middle column, with East-side rikishi on the left and West-side ones on the right. Current rank and record is shown for each rikishi.

You’ll note that I am forecasting an eight-person san’yaku, with only the standard two Sekiwake and Komusubi slots joining the two remaining Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks. While arguments can be made for promoting Abi to Sekiwake and/or for keeping Endo and Hokutofuji at Komusubi, I don’t find them persuasive. Having three fewer san’yaku ranks than on the current banzuke means that many rikishi will find themselves ranked lower than they would be otherwise, as being 12th in Makuuchi in Kyushu places one at M1e, while at Hatsu it would correspond to M2w.

Biggest Question Marks

Ozeki to Sekiwake to… ? How far will Tochinoshin fall? We don’t have a lot of data for 2-win Sekiwake, but the two most recent instances saw demotions to M8e, and the lowest modern rank was M9e (Konishiki, March 1994). Given the downward pressure created by the reduced san’yaku, and the need to give promotions to Kagayaki, Yutakayama, Ishiura, and Chioyomaru, I have placed the Georgian at a historic low rank of M10e, but anything between M8 and M11 wouldn’t surprise me.

What will happen to poor Tomokaze? Again, there is not a lot of data for an M3 with zero wins, but rikishi in this situation escaped demotion in 4 of the 5 recent instances. While those odds suggest Tomokaze might stay in the top division, J1w Tokushoryu (8-7) has a rather strong promotion case—will it prove strong enough to force the committee’s hand? I’ve provisionally placed Tomokaze at M16w, and left Tokushoryu in Juryo, but this feels like a coin flip. Note that if Tokushoryu is promoted, he’ll get the last slot in Makuuchi, M17w, with Kaisei and Kiribayama moving up half a rank.

Biggest Moves

I have M10w Shodai (11-4) jumping up 6.5 ranks, M12w Takanosho (10-5) moving up 6, and M13w Kagayaki (10-5) rising 5.5. This trio posted the only double-digit-win records in the top division aside from Hakuho and Asanoyama.

There are not many big moves in the other direction, other than the aforementioned Tochinoshin and Tomokaze. Well, not within Makuuchi, anyway. M7w Kotoeko (5-10) is the only maegashira with double-digit losses on the projected banzuke, and he is predicted to fall 7 full ranks to M14w. In general, because of the overall shift of the ranks, this was not a good basho to end with a losing record, as a number of rikishi are forecast to fall 5 ranks after posting 6-9 records, as opposed to the usual 3 ranks, and Sadanoumi is facing a 3-rank demotion despite a minimal 7-8 make-koshi.

The worst records in the top division were concentrated in the last four ranks, and all of these rikishi will be fighting in Juryo come January, alongside the absent Ichinojo. This quartet includes injured M16e Wakatakakage (4-1-10) and hapless M15w Daishoho, M15e Daishomaru, and M14w Nishikigi, who managed only 12 wins among them.

Do you have thoughts on the Hatsu banzuke and the projection? Let me know in the comments. And come back in a little over two weeks to find out what the actual banzuke will be and how these predictions fare.

Winter Jungyo: 12/1-12/5

Fuyu Jungyo: First Four Dates

Winter Jungyo began on December 1. As is usual, the winter Jungyo will travel around Kyushu, ending in Okinawa. This Jungyo is not as much of a long, winding tour as has been the case in past. With 11 dates in 10 locations, it is much shorter than the Spring and Summer trips which often span a whole month, hitting around twenty-five tour sites.

The tour kicked off in Nogata with both Yokozuna, as Kakuryu’s back was feeling better. I have had back spasms before to where I can’t move for a couple of days…the cause, in both cases, was picking up my son. The funny thing is, he’s 10 now and weighs virtually nothing. Back then he was a tiny baby, always below the 5th percentile. Moral of the story is, take care of your back. I hope the Yokozuna and Ichinojo are able to recuperate. Sadly, we have a dwindling contingent of banged up (former) Ozeki. The only one to show up for Jungyo has been Takakeisho, and that comes with an asterisk, as Herouth reported. Herouth’s kyujo list grew a few days later with the addition of Kotoshogiku…but Takayasu was back to practicing as his arm is totally fine.

Nogata lies on the outskirts of Kita-Kyushu, the city at the northern tip of Kyushu. Herouth found this amazing video of practice bout between Enho and Shohozan. These two are a very entertaining pair so I hope this rivalry will last several years, though Shohozan has already been in Makuuchi for the better part of the last eight years.

For the next stop, Jungyo crossed the Kanmon Strait back to the main island of Honshu for an event in Shimonoseki, two days later. Perhaps the wrestlers needed an extra day to tour the Higashida Museum Park in Kita-Kyushu? Surely no more sightseeing time as the troupe hopped back down to the southern side of Kumamoto on the 4th and back up to Fukuoka prefecture on the 5th.