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.

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

  1. I’m really enjoying this in-depth series. I watched the Kisenosato-Baruto bout and (despite knowing what would happen) found my body tensed up as I tried to will Kisenosato to victory.
    But I have a greater appreciation for Kisenosato thanks to this great piece. Thank you for doing the research, putting it all together and for the analysis.

    • Glad to hear it! Indeed, I discovered Kisenosato’s earlier story, and found it truly interesting. And yet, his before ozeki period isn’t covered.
      Well, you just have me an idea for future articles 😎

    • And, yeah, I felt odd after having first seen that bout against Baruto. Oh my. How could he not finish him off? Why did Baruto – who didn’t wrestle for anything on day 15 – stayed to stubbornly on the dohyo’s limits? Fascinating stuff!

  2. I’m happy when I see Kisenosato smiling and chatting up in the commentary booth every once in a while, this guy had some bad luck but even then he was so mentally strong it never got him down.

  3. Even with dropping some matches he should’ve won, it’s nice to remember just how good Kisenosato was in that final year or so before the pectoral injury. Beat Hakuho three times in a row! I mean, damn!

  4. Congratulations for this amazing article! And also for the series.
    I became a sumo fan 1.5 years ago and a Tachi-ai fan probably six month ago.
    I started to watch sumo after Kisenosato returned from injury (I didnt know at that time his history), and I always thought he was a shame as yokozuna. Very poor sumo.
    Since my favorite is Tochi, I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of this series
    Cheers!

  5. Thanks for this series mate. Really informative read. And as always with tachiai, I’ve learned something new to expand my limited sumo knowledge, namely that the consecutive basho wins as an ozeki to become yokozuna rule is not cast in stone.

    • You’re welcome! That rule, indeed, has not been followed on more than one occasion. Our other active yokozuna, Kakuryu, lost a playoff in January 2014 and won the Osaka Basho. Back to back 14-1s were deemed enough. Harumafuji went zensho yusho twice in a row to earn promotion, but there was speculation before his last bout whether a 14-1 playoff loss would have been enough. If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend you having a look at Futahaguro’s career. San’yaku was short of people at the upper ranks, and he became the only ever yokozuna not having won a single yusho – and remained winless until his infamous retirement.

      • Just for the record, Terukuni and the third Nishinoumi were also promoted to yokozuna not having won any yusho before.

        • Thanks for that interesting comment! Both ended up winning at least one yusho, though. But neither of them can be considered as successful yokozuna, for sure.

  6. Man, Baruto was a MONSTER. You can see in the second video that Kisenosato was much bigger than Hakuho, yet Baruto made him look small! If you look at both height and weight, I think he was the second-biggest Ozeki, trailing only Akebono.

  7. Kisenosato was the most introverted and sensitive of the ozeki/yokozuna, you could often read his emotions.
    Whilst the results and the statistic are the most prominent aspect of sumō, and economically the most important, they´re not the only one.
    I loved Kise´s style, his build-up routine before the tachiai, for example. His throw of salt was beautiful, forming half a circle in the air, i always loved to see that.
    His Unryū dohyo-iri was very powerful, when he streched out his right hand you´d get a very defined image of strenght.

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