Early Ozeki Runs Hatsu 2020

The Collapse of Champions

There have been some very interesting storylines coming out of Hatsu but I want to focus on this one for this article. This tournament was very rough on our Ozeki as we only have one left. Four former Ozeki are fighting it out in the Makuuchi, with yet another (Terunofuji) knocking at the door to make a comeback. Terunofuji was the only one among them with a winning record at Hatsu.

As Leonid predicts, Takayasu will likely fall into the rank-and-file. Goeido will fall to Sekiwake. Tochinoshin may swap places with Kagayaki and fall to M11. Kotoshogiku may drop a slot to M14. Other than Takayasu, all have won a tournament. Getting that second one in a row…and the Yokozuna’s privilege of a break without drop in rank…is really hard.

“Show of hands, who wants a promotion?”

Scanning for the Next Plateau

I’ve written about how this situation makes that Meat Puppets song (made famous by Nirvana) pop into my head. The last time I wrote about it, I looked really far down the banzuke. Perhaps I wasn’t aware how dire the situation would become. So I ask, who’s in a position to make a run now?

The Criteria

The criteria aren’t exact but 33 wins over three tournaments seems to be the line…though 32 may make it, as with Goeido’s 12-8-12 run. The run should also start in or near sanyaku but again we have recent exceptions. Tochinoshin’s run started from Maegashira 3 with a yusho 14Y-10-13. Ultimately, we’re looking for consistency at the sanyaku level.

Asanoyama

I will start with Asanoyama because I think this is the strongest run, and the one that is the furthest along. Leonid has written about his run before, especially since he may be starting from Kyushu at Maegashira 2 with 10 wins. It’s also the first real chance since Mitakeumi blew his shot from late last year. His 11 wins in Tokyo this month likely means 12 in Osaka would give him the magic number of 33.

Hokutofuji

If Asanoyama’s run can start from Kyushu, Hokutofuji just started a run here at Hatsu. His 11 wins from the same rank Asanoyama occupied in Kyushu will hopefully be enough to force an extra sekiwake slot since Goeido will occupy a slot, as Leonid has speculated. I’m editorializing here but I think this would be a smart move by the Kyokai. I can’t imagine they would want a vacant Ozeki slot to last long which means they need candidates. I’m never an advocate of early promotion by relaxing criteria but I think that blocking otherwise worthy promotions because there should only be two Sekiwake would be a bit silly. 11 wins at Maegashira 2 is certainly a performance worthy of the Sekiwake rank.

Shodai

Shodai’s case for a run starting now is likely weaker than Hokutofuji’s because of the lower rank, even though one of Hokutofuji’s wins was a fusen. Hokutofuji did pick up a kinboshi. But Maegashira 4 is in the joi and based on his 13-2 jun-yusho performance, Shodai certainly makes another strong case for Sekiwake. Two 10 win performances to follow and we may have Ozeki Shodai by Nagoya.

Endo

Endo’s case for a Sekiwake slot is weaker than those above but he is certainly deserving of a Komusubi slot. It would take a really special run but conceivably spectacular showings in Osaka and back in Tokyo in May could see Ozeki Endo in Nagoya but it is not going to happen. I just mention it because the run would make the newspapers go absolutely bonkers and that would be fun.

Thoughts?

I’m eager to hear what y’all think.

52 thoughts on “Early Ozeki Runs Hatsu 2020

  1. Okay, I’ll bite. Asanoyama’s run is obviously legit, with two double-digit basho in san’yaku under his belt. 12 next time should do it, and 11 might given the depleted state of the upper ranks.

    As for the other 3, 9+ wins in the joi is a dime a dozen compared to Ozeki promotions. Since 2000, we’ve had 143 such “starts,” with Tochinoshin earning the one and only Ozeki promotion (with 14 wins and a yusho!). The ratio improves to 1 in 27 for 11+ wins, and 1 in 6 for 13+, so I would say Shodai has by far the best (but still distant) chance, as wins count way more than rank, with Endo an extreme long-shot as you say.

    Also, there’s no way Hokutofuji forces an extra Sekiwake slot with 11 wins from M2. That’s just about enough to force a Komusubi slot, and it takes 11 wins from Komusubi to force one at Sekiwake. If anyone forces an extra Sekiwake slot, it’ll be Shodai (though if one opens up via Goeido’s intai, I’m not 100% sure that Shodai would get it ahead of Hokutofuji—go figure, but that’s shimpan logic for you).

      • tempting indeed
        and whoever wins the bet, i’ll commit to helping work through that bottle

        we are talking single malt, neh?

      • Maybe not this year. But I think in terms of performance and trends, there is reason to think it will happen for Yutakayama, possibly later in 2021.

        Every time he has taken a major step up in terms of the level of opposition, he has been pegged back pretty brutally. But over the course of the next several basho, he has mastered the level. He suffered greatly on his first two trips to the joi – and then suffered an injury which set back his entire development – but I think there’s reason to believe that on this or the next trip, he will acclimate to the level (much in the way Hokutofuji has with a not dissimilar style of sumo). I think a 7-8 for him next time out would be a very good result.

        Clearly he has mastered his current level, so if he can keep himself in good nick, then I think over the course of 2 or 3 good basho at the next level he can continue his development, do the same in the upper Maegashira ranks, and then eventually lower san’yaku.

        Endo, on the other hand has all of the technique and ability to do it now but seems to have mental issues where his entire tournament unravels after a couple bad results. I think that undermines his ability to put a consistent enough run together to get up a level. I’d say he’s certainly a more likely future yusho winner of the two, but on the other hand no one’s really unlikely these days…

        • I agree about Endo, and he has the potential to be another Goeido in that he can be his own worst enemy, This is not a joke- I think in cases like that they should consider a competent sports therapist. (Likewise, they need to consult someone with knowledge about behavior change about the violence issue.) Thankfully, the focus these days is on evidence-based methods of treatment. I am guessing that this approach would be something the sumo world would be comfortable with, but this is a shame. They go all out for cupping, when sometimes the problem is in their head. I will never forget the interview Goeido have, where he said that he went into sumo because he is not good-looking, and made several other derogatory comments about himself that made it really clear to me what at least part of his problem was.These men are under incredible pressure emotionally as well as physically, so any pre-existing problems are are at risk of getting worse, and the powers that be would do well to consider that.

        • I wanna give Endo a hug. I think some time with a sports psychologist would help him break through that ho hum gloomy funk he gets into sometimes.

        • All good points; I’m going solely by the base rate here. In the six-basho era, 516 rikishi have held the rank of maegashira. 342 made it up to at least M4 (very loosely, the joi). 220 made komusubi, 150 reached sekiwake, but we’ve had only 64 ozeki. So most rikishi who show a lot of promise and enjoy top-division success never make it. Just look at someone like Tochiozan. It’s a super-hard rank to reach.

            • Tochiozan has the most basho as komusubi/sekiwake (25) of all the active/recent guys. Myogiryu and Tamawashi are also up there, and then there are Mitakeumi and Ichinojo, though those two could still make it.

  2. None of Andy’s list are ready yet. They will make their first try and try again. I would say 1-2 before the end of 2020 are Ozeki, if the current 1 in 3 basho Yokozuna rotation holds. Some contenders not mentioned:

    Abi – We know Abi-Zumo 2.0 is a work in progress. Once he starts using it, the sky’s the limit if he can keep his body working

    Yutakayama – Very early days for him, but I expect him to be knocking on the door by Kyushu

    Onosho – Much longer road for him, but if he can keep himself healthy and continue to improve his sumo, its a March 2021 possibility.

    Kagayaki – Very long odds, but I can see the seeds in there. I think he will sneak up on it a bit at a time. He has yet to really show that he can handled the joi, but he will get the formula this year, I think.

      • I doubt Mitakeumi will show us any kind of Ozeki level consistency this year. That knee truly will hamper him most of the year if he doesn’t fully recover and actually train. He’s a glass cannon and whenever we can all correctly assume that he fades in week 2 and he does every time, then I’d say that’s enough reason to doubt that he will make Ozeki. He might give us another convincing run but he will likely fail to seal it again.

    • Here’s the list of Makuuchi rikishi ranked below Ozeki who managed 3 straight kachi-koshi in the past year:
      1. Abi 4
      2. Enho 2
      3. Asanoyama 1
      3. Daieisho 1
      3. Kotoyuki 1
      3. Meisei 1
      3. Mitakeumi 1
      3. Myogiryu 1
      3. Takarafuji 1
      3. Tomokaze 1
      3. Yutakayama 1

  3. To anyone looking at these contenders and saying “too soon” it’s worth pointing out that Meisei and Onosho are the only ones mentioned who are under 25. Most of them can get better, but they’re not likely to get MUCH better.

    • Ikioi won the Juryo yusho in September, made the yusho playoff in Kyushu. Did not exactly take makuuchi by storm this month. While I’d be ecstatic to see it, with Teru’s injuries and the meat grinder that is the upper maegashira and sanyaku, I’m much less sanguine about his prospects. I don’t want to rush it and risk longterm damage.

      • I think all those Terunofuji-will-be-Ozeki-again are wishful thinking, probably enhanced by certain substances. I wish the same wish, but the two Makuuchi-level rikishi he fought with in Juryo have beaten him, bringing the match to his survival ability at the tawara (which is near zero). He will be Ozeki, or any other kind of joi-jin, only if he can find a magical way to repair the knees.

        • Totally agree. Nishikigi had a good stretch early last year, but Daiamami didn’t even ever manage to get a real foothold in Makuuchi. Terunofuji can probably return to Makuuchi, probably even next basho, but I think he can be happy if he can establish in Makuuchi. Looking at current Juryou rikishi, its more likely that Kotonowaka, Kotosho or Hoshoryu get in the upper Makuuchi by 2021 or so.

  4. Honestly I don’t see a run of consistency in all but Asanoyama. Even then I feel he’s not quite fighting at Ozeki level dropping matches that should Favor him. Everyone on this list has had great Bashos one round then stumbled the next. Hokutofuji was Sekiwake wasn’t he?

    I mean I kind of feel like unless Asanoyama steps up a bit more, I think Takakeisho has a better chance at making Yokozuna before anyone here makes Ozeki. I mean Hello, Takakeisho actually is learning to fight and defend on the Mawashi. He almost beat Tokushoryu in a belt battle. He threw Tochinoshin. When is the last time you saw him pull that? That’s why he’s an Ozeki at 23. I don’t see that in anyone on this list right now. Guys who are willing to go beyond their sumo or even can go beyond their sumo if they have to.

    To me, that’s what makes a great Ozeki and Yokozuna. Having more then 1 trick up your sleeve, even if it’s not many. Akebono could fight on the belt if he had to. He had little more then a Crush down but he could do it. Right now. None of these guys really can provide more then what they do. Asanoyama isn’t going to beat Takakeisho in an Oshi battle. However at what I saw this basho, Takakeisho could very well surprise and or defeat Asanoyama in a belt fight. I think if Asanoyama gets promoted, it’ll be because it’s more needed. That siad, given a little more time, and a bit more improvement, I think he CAN be Ozeki. Just not this year.

    • I didn’t see any belt work from Takakeisho. His throw against tochinoshin was a kotenage – an armlock throw, not anywhere near the belt. And against Tokushoryu all he had was an attempt to heave. He wasn’t anywhere near the mawashi. It’s not that he wouldn’t learn it if he could, but his body limits him.

      • The old Takakeisho would of been dead the moment he was grabbed. This basho he showed he is working on and improving, to even be learning things he can do when he’s grabbed. Hell with Tokushoryu he didn’t even really try to push, he went straight in to a belt fight and held his own. When Tokushoryu had him against the bales he did heave and put Tokushoryu in trouble. Most of the reason Takakeisho lost was because he slipped. His foot went to far out and he slid down beyond the bales. Had it been Takakeisho of the last Basho, he would of lost in seconds. The Kotenage is considered a grappling throw. Belt battles don’t always involve the belt. Just look at old Goeido footage. Things like Headlock throws and what not. All come from being in close and grappling.

        Sumo lack a lot of terms because they try to shoehorn everything into the terms that have been set for hundreds of years. I can’t count how many times someone got taken down or out in a way that doesn’t really fit any of the known techs. So they have to do their best to place it somewhere. Just liek there is only 2 types of Sumo style. Pusher, Thruster or belt grappler. When in truth that’s not really true. So when Isay Takakeisho is learning to fight on the belt.. you have to kind of take it as it’s about the best term there is for what he did.

        Still setting all that aside, What he did was something he’s never done before. He didn’t just die when grabbed. he pulled a throw out of a bag of tricks. He’s learning.. and at 23, doing this well so young.. he has what it takes to be a Yokozuna… it’s just a matter of can he?

        • It’s hardly unusual that pusher-thruster rikishi will pull off non-mawashi throwing techniques like kotenage or sukuinage from time to time, almost always to save a match at the last moment. So yeah, Takakeisho has now figured out the standard last-ditch emergency techniques that most pure pushers can do. Doesn’t mean he’s on the road to mastering a useful arsenal of actual yotsu-zumo.

          • Dude, get off your I don’t like Takakeisho horse. He’s 23 and made Ozeki at 22. He’s improving and doing things he’s never done before. He took on Tokushoryu on the belt and gave him a fight for it. He beat Mitakeumi on the belt not long ago in the time he injured his knee. He continues to improve and refine his Sumo. Take a look at him just 2 years ago Vs now. Hell you want more proof he’s someone to watch? Hakuho has resorted to pulling his old tricks he pulled on Fuji against him. That quick down and up Tachiai trying to catch Taka off guard. That my friend is an Abundance of respect from a long time Yokozuna. Honestly, if Taka continues to improve liek this I’ll go out on a limb and say he could make Yokozuna by 25.

            • Let’s keep things respectful. I don’t think anyone’s on an anti-Takakeisho high horse. He’s won more than 100 bouts using oshidashi, more than 20 each of hatakikomi, tsukiotoshi, tsukidashi and about four yorikiri, including the Okinoumi bout this tournament. 3 sukuinage. I think it’s fair for anyone to be skeptical of his yotsu chops.

              • Sorry, I tend to be a little over passionate about sumo. I just see him improving each Basho. Doing more, trying more. He’s done more to try to improve his sumo then most. I can almost see his desire to make Yokozuna in his work. On top of that he has an A+ Stable master who honestly fought him to make him sit out and heal his knee rather then let him fight. Something guys like Kisenosato and Takayasu could of used…. I’m not saying he’s going to become a belt fighter, just he’s trying to make it so if he’s caught he isn’t instantly dead.

    • Takakeisho had a number of lucky wins this basho. He also proved that he can surprise his opponents sometimes if they close the distance and stop the oshi battle, but once they get a real grip to his belt the battle is done. He is lucky that currently aside from Asanoyama there aren’t many belt guys in the top ranks and Endo is notoriously weak against oshi sumo.

      • Takakeisho took out Mitakeumi in a full on belt battle. That was the one where he injured his knee. Tokushoryu had a grip on him and he fought hard. Even heaved Tokushoryu around and almost out.

        Keeping in mind, Takakeisho was more or less considered a 1 trick pony. now at 23 he’s trying to learn to at least have a few tricks and defend himself in case he gets grabbed. Something like that can make for a Yokozuna. The proof is in Akebono who basically had 1 move if he went into a belt fight… Crush down. He a few RARE times would go for a throw but 99% of the time if he fought on the belt it was a Crush down.

  5. Seeing as Ichinojo hasn’t been mentionned, is there a view developping that his chance of Ozeki has disappeared entirely or just for 2020?

    • Unfortunately the big man has a long road back to Makuuchi ahead of him in his current condition, so an Ozeki run is out of the question.

        • I’d say pretty much so, unless he proves the back issues are done with. Since he was make-koshi in Juryo, that proof is not coming in a hurry, while age does.

  6. I would like Endo to go on a serious run, simply because i like the highly skilled belt battles he is often able to pull out, but he has only 3 bouts ever in Makuuchi with more than 10 wins and none from a position at or near Sanyaku.
    The natural candidate is Asanoyama, as he simply is the youngest of that group, the most versatile and has been the least injury plagued so far.
    Hokutofuji often looks very strong, but his sumo tends to get a bit wild at times leading to losses that he shouldn’t take. He would have to cut the slack here for two more consecutive tournaments. The competition is as weak as it gets at the moment, so that could play in his favor, but I see his chances significantly lower than Asanoyama.
    Shodai looked very strong this basho. He still has a weak tachiai, but in general his style of sumo should help him be more consistent than Hokutofuji or Abi.
    Abi is still a one trick pony and it’s not exactly speaking well of his opposition, that he still managed to pull out that many wins, however he has never exceed 10 wins in Makuuchi so far. I don’t see him start a run in 2020.

    Takayasu could very well surprise us all, if he gets his elbow healthy again. He is one of the few when healthy that can match Asanoyama at the belt. He has proven that he can frequently produce results against proper opposition too. Not sure, if he can return to form. 2019 has been jinxed for him and 2020 didn’t start any better.

    Mitakeumi … get healthy and whenever that happens …

    Yutakayama … great basho, but he seems really susceptible to health issues as well. Just remember that his last visit to the Joi-in was in Aki 2018. After May we will probably know more, but so far he has only been promise.

    Overall I’m not sure, if they will give away an easy Ozeki rank. The probably don’t want a permanently kadoban Ozeki …
    Given the age and injury history of anyone but maybe Asanoyama, I believe that the next generation might currently still be stuck in Juryo or Makushita. Kotosho and Hoshoryu are both 20, Kotonowaka is 22, Naya is struggling atm, but still 19, Roga is slowly but surely moving up and 20 only. Motobayashi is 23 already, but quite an impressive start so far. There are probably a few more whose potential hasn’t shone yet, but who have the time on their side.

  7. We should all bookmark this thread and come back to it this time next year. I think there will be much slapping of heads and cries of “how could we be so wrong!” In a probably futile attempt to look retrospectively clever can I just say that I really like the look of Kiribayama…

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