Right after having enjoyed the countdown to the new decade, we’re already about to begin another countdown, till the first honbasho of the year.
Amongst New Year’s traditions, rikishi reveal on television their wishes and expectations for the coming year.
This article may be the occasion for us to discuss specific issues, which may become critical in 2020 or which are already razor sharp.
I’ll give my personal opinion on the matters but everyone should feel free to fuel some awesome debates !
1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?
Probably the hottest topic currently. Takayasu’s been around for a while – he entered maku’uchi in 2011, and hasn’t had a very long ozeki career – about two years and a half.
Takayasu’s rise was no fluke however, as he produced some great performances, earning kinboshi twice in 2013 and twice in 2014. The Ibaraki-born has a first ozeki run in 2016, but a disappointing 7-8 record in Kyushu wasted fine 11-4 and 10-5 performances.
He returned stronger next year, though, and reached the second highest rank after 11-4, 12-3 and 11-4 performances early in 2017.
Takayasu’s quest for glory undoubtly reached its peak in 2018. Aged 28, he ended up runner up thrice. He narrowly missed a spot in a playoff in the last honbasho of that year.
Last year was much more difficult for him. Before sustaining a serious injury in Nagoya, he produced indifferent 9-6, 10-5 and 9-6 performances. He failed to recover properly from his arm injury, and will start 2020 as an “ozekiwake”.
His repeated training sessions with retired yokozuna Kisenosato – now Araiso oyakata – and new tachi-ai strategy have been criticized among Twitter followers.
Takayasu has to think his tale isn’t over at the top, as he never lifted the Emperor’s Cup. Turning 30 in February, with an irreversible injury to his arm, will he produce the necessary ten wins to regain his ozeki rank ? If he does, can he maintain his performances during 2020 ?
My prediction : no
2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?
A tricky question. It seems Goeido has been hanging around forever – he produced a noticed 11-4 performance for his maku’uchi debut, back in 2007. He had short stints in san’yaku but spent several years in the maegashira ranks.
The Osaka-native famously began an impressive run at sekiwake in May of 2012, which lasted fourteen tournaments until ozeki promotion after a fine 12-3 performance in Nagoya 2014. His inability to consistently produce strong performances raised doubts about his promotion quest. He got promoted a bit below the common 33 wins standards, with an indifferent 8-7 performance between two 12-3 results.
Goeido has been kadoban nine times (this year’s first tournament included), finished seven tournaments with just eight wins, and followers expected Goeido to produce an anonymous ozeki career.
Being kadoban, Goeido upset the odds during the Aki basho of 2016, winning his only yusho so far with a perfect 15-0 record. Suddenly a yokozuna candidate, he notched just nine wins the following tournament.
Exactly one year after, Goeido wasted a golden opportunity to lift the Emperor’s Cup during the Aki basho again, letting Harumafuji fill a three win deficit before defeating him in the ensuing playoff.
Years 2018 and 2019 were solid albeit unspectacular from Goeido. However, he had to pull out of two of the last three tournaments through injury. Entering 2020 kadoban, aged 33, will Goeido suffer from the weight of the years ? Or will he regain full fitness and enjoy a Kaio-like ozeki career, until the age of 39 ?
My prediction : no
3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?
All eyes are watching Asanoyama since he unexpectedly won the May 2019 tournament. After a honourable 7-8 record as then highest ranked maegashira 1, he ended up the year strongly, with 10-5 and 11-4 records. He’ll make his sekiwake debut in 2020.
Officially, Asanoyama is not on an ozeki run – his two last ranks were maegashira 2 and komosubi ; he might also regret not having collected one or two more feasable wins in Kyusho.
Nevertheless, Asanoyama’s quest is likely to be eased by the need for new blood at the ozeki ranks – Tochinoshin has been demoted, Takayasu is an uncertain ozekiwake for January, while Takakeisho and Goeido’s recent injury records are no cause for optimism.
Can Asanoyama be promoted as early as March after a tremendous yusho in January ? Or will he simply consolidate his performances, and reach the second highest rank this year ? Or will he fail to meet expactations, as Mitakeumi did so far ?
My prediction : yes
4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?
Note : that question does not include Takayasu or Asanoyama.
Abi seems more of a candidate than Mitakeumi, who disappointed again, after clinching his second yusho. Well he get another shot ?
Abi is on the rise, with 8-7, 9-6 and 9-6 records in san’yaku. Can he move up even higher ? His utter aversion for yotsu zumo might prove a stumblingblock, however.
Other candidates would be more original, but also wake up fans from all over the world ! Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Hokutofuji fans and others are welcomed !
My prediction : no
5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?
This is a delicate question. Hakuho’s immediate target has long been identified: lasting at least until the Olympics. With his wish about to be granted, the obvious question is: what next ? Hakuho is on the top of almost every record – but is not the oldest rikishi having won a yusho: Kyokutenho achieved that feat, aged 37 years and 8 months.
He also said during the post-basho interview in November that he targeted 50 yushos – he currently has 43.
Many questions remain open: was he serious ? Is that goal actually realistic, given the general state of the field ? Will the ageing yokozuna (he’ll turn 35 in March) manage to hold his form ? Will he stay motivated ?
On a positive note, 2019 has been better for Hakuho than 2018, where he fully competed in just two tournaments. The past year, he competed in “three and a half” tournaments (he pulled out right at the end of the January basho), and won two of them.
About the opposite can be said about Kakuryu’s recent form. After a bright start in 2018, with 11-4, 13-2 and 14-1 records, he had to pull out of part or all of five tournaments. His win in Nagoya of 2019 gave him some respite. Turning 35 in August of this year, will he be able to compete during the whole year ?
My prediction: it’s difficult to answer. Hakuho might decide to retire and Kakuryu to thrive during 2020. But the opposite might also be true, with Hakuho clinching a few more yushos and Kakuryu being unable to challenge properly for the Cup. There’s a chance of seeing one yokozuna retiring and one yokozuna remaining.