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.

27 thoughts on “A look at the last winners of the most matches in a calendar year

  1. Excellent article – many thanks! Those figures make the case that Hakuho is not just the GOAT in sumo but arguably the most dominant individual athlete in any sport in recent memory. And as you rightly emphasize, he had Asashoryu and Haramfuji to compete against for much of his career!

    Am I right in thinking that Abi notched up the 2nd most wins in 2019? If so, that is also a pretty noteworthy achievement.

  2. It’s worth noting that Asanoyama’s achievement this year, 55 wins, is actually the lowest on record in the six-basho-per-year era.

  3. On the flip side, Nishikigi had the most losses, with a whopping 58. It can’t be often that the highest loss total exceeds the highest win total. How do you accumulate that many losses in Makuuchi, which requires spending all six basho in the top division without getting demoted? Start at M2e and get a huge dose of banzuke luck, like getting demoted only 2 ranks despite a 5-10 record, and only 1 rank after going 6-9.

      • I once did a basic analysis of the records of their completed basho in the period they were both active yokozuna, examining the counts of their results (i.e., how many 10-5, 11-4, 12-3, 13-2, 14-1, and 15-0 records they had accumulated); it was an interesting exercise.

        • Yeah, but there are so many confounding factors. For example, Konishiki claims that if Hakuho lived in his time, he would never have made it even to Yokozuna. I think he’s exaggerating, but strength of opposition is also a factor even when comparing a 14-1 with a 14-1. Then there is luck with injuries. And then, how much of those achievements can you attribute to talent, and how much to, say, Hakuho’s better judgment saving him from scandals? Or, on the other hand, Asashoryu coming from high school, which meant he entered a bit more ripe? It’s not just number crunching.

          • I looked at just the period where they were both active as yokozuna — by that I mean the time they overlapped as active yokozuna — so that the general conditions they faced and, in particular, the opposition they faced (other than one another), would be as closely matched as possible. I excluded the five basho Asashoryu did not compete for the full 15 days so this is only eleven basho; it can’t tell the story of the other parts of their careers.

          • The Konishiki comment is interesting but probably impossible to measure. Is he saying that because non-Japanese rikishi weren’t limited during his era (were they?)? So bigger pool to draw from? Or? Did he attempt to explain why? Or was it just one of those “back in my day” comments?

            • Well, it probably has nothing to do with foreigners, as through Konishiki’s career there were very few foreigners in Makuuchi. In fact, he was the only one for the most part of it, and was later joined by Akebono and Musashimaru, and that’s about it.

              I think he is just saying that competition was tougher in those days, but I tend to believe he was exaggerating.

          • Regarding strength of opposition, I want to run a model that uses the number of lower division wrestlers as a proxy.

    • Such comparisons are fun, taken we are on a “bar-talk” level and it´s “mythical-match-up” time. Some people get heated up, start pulling out stats and links.
      For me Hakuho is the man, but (a part the obvious numbers) there´s a big nostalgic factor in my judgement, as I´ve started developing my passion for sumō during his astonishing reign.
      I think the only way is to build your own opinion. Just like in any other human discipline, there´s no way to establish scientifically who is the best of all times.

    • I think that question is impossible to answer, but I’m pretty sure Hakuho would have 5-10yusho less, had Asashoryu managed to stay in the sport. That’s not meaning those would have been swapped directly, there might have been others to benefit too. In any case, watching their old bouts is just fantastic. It’s just a whole other level than the other rivalries he had during his career.

  4. It was fascinating to see Hakuho’s first yusho win against Miyabiyama. He got a favourable grip and waited to see if his opponent could do anything- the same tactics he used against Takakeisho in November 2019.

    • Herouth was the first to speculate whether Hakuho was ironical or not…
      I tend to agree with her, believing it was just a joke.
      Seeing him notch just two bashos this year, considering the depleted field he faced, says quite a lot about his physical condition.

  5. I tend to believe the guy. whether or not here makes it is another matter.

    Is Hakuho the type of guy who likes to joke around about sumo?

  6. What a nice trip thorough time…and what a way to make your presence felt, Timothée! GREETINGS! Another terrific contributor to Team Tachiai! This site is going from strength-to-strength.

    I do believe I have seen all the above videos when they actually occurred LIVE, so the retro reminders of Hakuho’s greatness just confirms to me that we’re watching a living LEGEND. Is 2020 the LAST hurrah for Hakuho…or will he continued onward? I’m EXCITED, gang…let’s see what the future holds for this giant of the sport.

    • Thank you, Barry! But I really don’t deserve such praise :) I really share your view and feel honoured to have been able to watch Hakuho wrestle. Even if I started watching sumo as his utter dominance era was beyond us.

  7. Nice one. I often think that sometime in the future a new category of Yokozuna must be established, when another rikishi will be approaching the 30 yusho threshold… maybe called “Hō-zuna” in memory of the two most sucessful fighters of all time.
    On one hand, I hope Hakuhō sticks around active as long as possible, but if I were to think about his health I´d suggest he bows out at the Olympic ceremony. Bones and ligaments are important when you grow older, and he has really nothing left to prove.


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