As a break from the news, let’s revisit what it takes to reach sumo’s second-highest rank. With two aging Yokozuna and only one active Ozeki, we certainly need reinforcements. I took a long look at Ozeki promotions in the six-basho era about a year ago, and would encourage you to look at that post. Since the standards have evolved over time, here I’ll restrict my attention to the past 30 years, during which time there have been 25 Ozeki promotions.
A commonly held belief, echoed by Wikipedia, is that reaching Ozeki takes 33 wins over 3 tournaments while ranked in san’yaku:
A wrestler at the rank of sekiwake will be considered for promotion if he has achieved a total of at least 33 wins over the three most recent tournaments, including ten or more wins in the tournament just completed. Promotion is discretionary and there are no hard-and-fast rules, though a three-tournament record of 33 wins is considered a near-guarantee.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makuuchi#Promotion_to_%C5%8Dzeki
Here’s a sumodb search that roughly matches these criteria: first basho ranked at least M4, second kosumubi or sekiwake, third sekiwake, with winning records in all 3, at least 10 wins in the third, and 31+ wins over the 3 tournaments. It returns 44 results—the aforementioned 25 promotions and 19 non-promotions. The latter include all 9 instances in which the win total is only 31 (most recently, Asanoyama’s last 3 basho), which I added as a sanity check. While promotions with as few as 28 (!!!) wins happened in the past, there haven’t been any with fewer than 32 since 1985.
So how about the apparent requirement for 33 wins, and the “near-guarantee” they supposedly confer? 35+ wins have indeed been a historical guarantee, with 10 promotions out of 10 instances. Rikishi with 33 and even 34 wins, however, haven’t been locks for promotion: there were only 6 promotions out of 9 for those with 34 wins during their “run”, and 6 out of 8 for those with 33, for a total of 12 out of 17 in this “likely but not certain” range. Takakeisho, of course, famously missed out on promotion with 33 over 3 a year ago, before earning it with 34 over 3 the very next basho.
And just as 33-34 wins isn’t a guarantee, 33 isn’t a requirement—we’ve seen 3 promotions out of 8 for those with 32 wins. This isn’t the 70% rate for those with 33-34, but at 38%, it’s not exactly a rare exception. Both Goeido and Kisenosato were promoted with 32. These numbers will be interesting to keep in mind going forward, as Asanoyama’s total currently stands at 21 over 2 basho, which suggests that he could be promoted after the next basho with as few as 11 wins, but needs 14 to be a lock.