For the upcoming September tournament, the status and disposition of the 3 Yokozuna is well known and predictable. It’s in the champion, or Ōzeki ranks, where the drama unfolds this fall. First, let’s deal with Japan’s great Yokozuna hope – Kisenosato
As the Japan Times writes,
The 30-year-old ozeki enters the 15-day Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament knowing his first career title will mean promotion to sumo’s most exalted rank. If he does win a championship, Kisenosato will become the first Japanese-born wrestler to take the big step up from ozeki since Wakanohana became a yokozuna in 1998.
In sumo, the highest rank (Yokozuna) is completely owned and operated by a trio of very talented athletes from Mongolia. This has been a sore spot for Japan, and Sumo fans are eager to see someone from the native home of Sumo once again in the top tier.
The big problem being; Kisenosato is a great guy and a solid Ōzeki, but he cannot seem to overcome the current crop of Mongolian wrestlers and take a tournament championship. At age 30, he is quickly running out of time where he can remain healthy enough to seriously compete for Sumo’s top rank.
Kisenosato is a strong Ōzeki, and in a prior age he would have easily made Yokozuna. But he competes in a period that has the strongest Yokozuna in history – the great Hakuho. Hakuho is the “Michael Jordan” of sumo. There has been no wrester so dominant before, and may never be again for many decades to come. Simply put, if Kisenosato can defeat Hakuho and Harumafuji to win the championship in Tokyo, he deserves Yokozuna.
When an Ōzeki has a losing tournament record, he is not automatically demoted. Instead they require two consecutive losing tournaments to lose their rank. After the first loss, they are labeled “Kadoban” – a term I interpret as “on the bubble”. In the September tournament, both Goeido and Kotoshogiku are kadoban. This translates into a decent chance that at least one and maybe two Ōzeki will open should either of these men fail to rescue their rank by pulling off a winning record. Both men have never had a firm grip on the Ōzeki rank, with Goeido having been in peril 3 times prior to September, and Kotoshogiku having been at risk 5 times before this tournament. Clearly both men are playing a losing game, and it’s only a matter of time before more dominant wrestlers take the Ōzeki billets they currently enjoy.
Contender – Takayasu
There is no shortage of Sumotori who could become Ōzeki within the next year. The strongest among these is rising star Takayasu, who proudly wears the Sekiwake title this September. If one takes the guidances of 33 Makuuchi wins in the last 3 tournaments, Takayasu would need 13 wins to reach the magic 33. It’s possible, but he would need to have the performance of his career. A strong 12 or 11 wins in September would put him in position to reach 33 during the November Kyushu tournament. One benefit in Takayasu’s favor – as Kisenosato’s stable mate, he does not have to face Kisenosato (and defeat him) to reach his needed win goal. Bad news, he will face all 3 Yokozuna.
Contender – Takarafuji
Takarafuji is fresh to the San’yaku ranks, having performed well as West Maegashira #2 at Nagoya. Sekiwake is a notoriously tough rank to hold, and it could be a hard, long tournament for man from Aomori Prefecture. His score is not yet strong enough to give him a shot at Ōzeki, but if he can hold Sekiwake, he has the skill and power to rise. To his credit, he has 2 Kinboshi wins to his record – he has proven he can defeat a Yokozuna.
Contender – Kaisei
Brazilian Rikishi Kaisei is an outside chance to eventually rise to Ōzeki. September will be his 3rd tournament at the top tier San’yaku ranks, after falling from Sekiwake in Nagoya. He has the size and power to make a play for the champion role, but injury has kept him from top form.
Contender – Yoshikaze
Yoshikaze has been San’yaku in the past (end of 2015) but was unable to keep his ranking due to injuries. With a dynamic and aggressive rikishi like Yoshikaze, they are prone to getting banged up and injured on the grueling schedule of tournaments ever other month. It’s clear given his “heathy” record, his history of defeating Yokozuna and his relentless drive to win, he could easily make Ōzeki in the next year. If and only if he can keep from being injured and remain healthy.