Enho & The 21 Club

A man with more than an ace up his mawashi

Promise is addictive. People who cover and expose audiences to any subject – especially sports – are always searching for the next new big thing. It’s exciting, it gives you something to follow, and to cheer for. As a fan or a follower, getting in early might provide a sense of ownership, and the satisfaction of seeing a real true talent develop all the way from the beginning. As the person or publication covering the subject, being right about the next new thing might lend an air of credibility (along with the pressure of then finding the next new thing!).

While we weren’t the only ones to mark out Miyagino-beya’s Enho as “one to watch,” we’ve definitely spent most of the year on the Enho train and we’ve been rewarded in watching him rack up a remarkable three consecutive championships in his first three tournaments, as he’s rocketed his way through the divisions and into the third, Makushita, tier of the banzuke ahead of the upcoming Kyushu honbasho.

While there are indicators of future success, and those indicators were present for Enho (age relative to division, experience, university pedigree, stablemate of one of the all time greats, good looks), indicators are not guarantees in-and-of themselves. By winning his first three basho without a blemish on his record, Enho has done something remarkable. How remarkable? Well, since the tournament format changed to its current iteration, Enho is just the fourth rikishi to win his first three tournaments unbeaten, the fifth rikishi to finish his first three tournaments with a 7-0 record, and the sixth to open 21-0. And that’s a period spanning over 40 years.

So, while the past is no predictor of the future, let’s take a look at the other five members of the 21 club:

Itai (Kyushu 78-Haru 79)

Itai, of Onaruto-beya, became the first man to open with 21 after the format change, and picked up yusho from the Jonokuchi, Jonidan and Sandanme divisions. He took the fast track to sekitori status and stayed in the top two divisions for most of his 13 year career. He topped out as a Komusubi and plucked two special prizes and three kinboshi, all of which were given to him by the Yokozuna Onokuni.

Immediately after his 21 run, he scored a 6-1 record and it only took him 2 tournaments to reach the professional ranks. His unbeaten run was snapped at 26 by former Komusubi Onishiki – a somewhat unfortunate turn of events, as Onishiki was visiting the amateur ranks for the only time in the middle of an astonishing 15 year period as sekitori.

Kototenzan (Hatsu-Natsu 86)

An incredible story if ever there was one, the Sadogatake-beya’s Canadian rikishi racked up his 21 wins over the first three tournaments of the 1986 and then never mounted the dohyo again. The controversial and tattooed John Tenta eventually went on to take the ring name Earthquake in the WWF. If you’re not familiar with his fascinating story, you should give his Wikipedia page a read.

Unfortunately we will never know what he might have accomplished at the higher levels of the sport, since he walked away having struggled with the physical and cultural demands of the sport and with his unbeaten record still intact.

Tochiazuma (Hatsu-Nagoya 95)

It would be nearly a decade before the next member of the 21 club signed up, as Tochiazuma (then known by his real name Shiga) joined the ranks in 1995. His route to 21 actually took 4 basho, after a bit of a false start – he opened his debut basho kyujo and joined midway through, posting 4 wins before going on to collect the silverware in his next three tournaments (2 of which came via additional wins in 3 playoff matches).

Like Itai, his official win streak would be snapped at 26, as he slipped to his first make-koshi with 3 wins in his debut Makushita tournament. It was to be future Maegashira Dewaarashi who first put dirt on him. But never mind, as he bounced back and collected another zensho yusho in the following tournament, one of 4 that it took him to reach Juryo.

Tochiazuma has had a long and storied career – he spent 13 years as an active rikishi, the last five of which were spent at his peak level of Ozeki (save for two successful Ozekiwake recovery basho). He was decorated with 3 yusho at the highest level, 12 special prizes and 4 kinboshi plucked from household names Akebono, Takanohana (twice) and Musashimaru. He now runs a very large (and less successful) stable as Tamanoi oyakata.

Tokitenku (Aki 02-Hatsu 03)

The Mongolian of Tokitsukaze-beya was the first to collect his 21 this century, and his run culminated with a Sandanme playoff victory over the future Sekiwake and still active Toyonoshima. However, his run was not to last much longer – it stopped at 22 before he ran into former Juryo rikishi Furuichi en route to a 5-2 record in his Makushita bow.

He would need 6 tournaments in all to make it to Juryo, but he never fought below the second tier again. He went on to rank as high as Komusubi, collecting one special prize along the way. After his career he took up coaching as Magaki oyakata, and sadly passed away earlier this year.

Jokoryu (Nagoya-Kyushu 11)

A familiar name with recent sumo fans, Kise-beya’s Jokoryu (then Sakumayama) was the last man to join this club before Enho. He actually didn’t win all three yusho however, as he coughed up the Jonidan championship to the future Takamai (then Watanabe). However, he would atone for that by grabbing the Makushita yusho in his first tournament at that level by way of a playoff win over current sekitori Chiyootori.

He finished that first basho in Makushita at 6-1, one of 2 tournaments he needed at the level to make it to Juryo. His official win streak was snapped at 27 by journeyman and future Juryo rikishi Sensho – a loss which prevented him from opening his career with an unprecedented four straight zensho.

Jokoryu is still only 29 and has made it as far as Komusubi so far in his career, and he is still dining out on kinboshi money from a victory over the generous Harumafuji. He is currently making a valiant attempt to come back to the professional ranks. It is poetic in some respects that he and Enho will play some part in each other’s attempts to make it to that next level: Enho now finds himself ranked opposite the very last man to accomplish what he has achieved, at Makushita 14.

In summary…

None of the above men managed to make it a fourth straight zensho, but they all achieved some manner of success in their career: of the four rikishi who carried on, all of them reached san’yaku with one going as far as to become Ozeki. Enho will need to overcome many challenges (including most pressingly, a crunchy ankle) to reach that level. But if he is fit, we should expect his momentum to carry him at least to a kachi-koshi this time out, and if history is any indicator then by the middle of next year he should be wearing a kesho mawashi.

12 thoughts on “Enho & The 21 Club

  1. It took me some time to parse the blackjack stuffed into Enho’s yukata lapel there. 😁

    Apropos that yukata: did you know that the dragonfly design is one of the most ancient designs in Japan, favored by samurai because a dragonfly never flies backwards. It’s message is “never retreat”.

    • It’s the subtle touches, right? :) And yes that’s some symbolism! Let’s hope he continues to push forward.

      I’m happy I’ve had the opportunity to work some Photoshop magic into a Tachiai post for the first time!

    • I would have assumed dragonflies were popular because they are the one of the deadliest carnivores of the water and sky. Quite a macho insect overall.

    • I won’t “like” this comment as it is very sad but thank you for catching the error, which I’m not sure how I omitted. Edited and fixed.

  2. Really enjoyed this article; very informative, well written and just the right length.

    I thought I’d look at how the current yokozuna and ozeki, did in their first three tournaments and where they were in their fourth:

    Goeido 20 wins, Makushita #37
    Harumafuji 17, Sandanme #53
    Kisenosato 16, Sandanme #77
    Kakuryu 14, Jonidan #32
    Hakuho 13, Jonidan #55
    Takayasu 12 wins Jonidan #73

    The point being, I suppose, that its not how you start that matters.

    • It’s always useful to differentiate between guys who were 15 years old in their first tournaments from guys who were adults when they entered the sumo association. Can’t expect the children to start 21-0.

      • In the baseball minor leagues you’ll often see a really good indicator tracked (one of the few that I called out as potentially relevant here) which is age relative to the rest of the division. It’s helpful as, like in sumo, there are so many divisions below the top tier.

        This is where big data viz will be super helpful, as I’m not sure even the powerful sumodb will cough up this kind of info. At the moment running age relative to division by hand would be pretty smooth for the Jonokuchi division but much harder once you get up to Jonidan with 200 rikishi

        • My personal rule of thumb is that halfway credible prospects should be well-established in sandanme by the time they turn 19, and in makushita by the time they turn 22. Consequently it’s a red flag if any high schools grads (who are 18) don’t move smoothly to at least lower Sd, or if any collegiate grad (who are already 22) don’t go right into the upper half of Ms.

          The future really big names tend to beat those age guidelines by at least two years if their debut age allows it.

      • Also there are inbeteweeners like Goeido who finish High School and enter the sport at 18 or 19. Sometimes that might be a deliberate choice but there are also wrestlers like Ikioi who didn’t get the grades to get into a University with a good sumo programme and decided to go professional in preference to flipping sushi at his dad’s restaurant.

        BTW has any University graduate ever made yokozuna? I can’t find one. Asahifuji is the only one I can find who even attended University, and I think he dropped out.


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