I think it’s fair to say all of us like playoffs. It brings a fun, dramatic, sudden death situation, where involved rikishi go all in. We even prefer multiple playoffs, which can contain original rules.
Former ozeki Terunofuji, on the other hand, probably does not want to hear the word “playoff” any more. Last Sunday, the Mongolian succumbed to Takakeisho’s thrusts, meaning that he has now lost all three playoffs where he participated – prior to that, he faced two yokozuna, Kakuryu in Aki 2015, and Kisenosato in Osaka 2017. The object of this article will be to see if somebody else holds such a miserable record.
Prior to that, a few words about playoffs themselves:
- Playoffs aim to decide between rikishi tied for first place. The outcome of the bout between them during the regular phase – should it exist – is NOT taken into account. Taking Terunofuji’s example, the Mongolian defeated Kakuryu in 2015, lost to Kisenosato in 2017, and defeated Takakeisho one week ago – each time on day 15. But he wasn’t declared winner in any of these basho – he had to face his opponents once again, and lost thrice.
- The rules are:
a) For a two-way playoff: one bout is scheduled, and the winner takes it all. Straightforward.
b) For a three-way playoff: the wrestler A faces the wrestler B. Let’s say A wins. A faces the wrestler C. If A wins, he’s the champion. If C wins, he faces B. If C wins, he’s the champion. If B wins, he faces A, and so on, until someone wins twice in a row.
Three- way playoffs rarely occur, but it actually took place in March 1990, between Konishiki, Kirishima and Hokutoumi (the eventual winner, who actually lost the first bout!)
c) For a four-way playoff: two semi-finals (A vs B, C vs D) and a final are scheduled.
d) For a five-way playoff: lots are drawn. A faces B, C faces D, and E – banzuke’s highest ranked rikishi – goes directly to the final stages. A/B, C/D and E then meet in a three-way playoff.
Incredibly, such a playoff occured in Kyushu 1996, where Akebono, Wakanohana, Takanonami, Kaio and Musashimaru (the eventual winner) were all tied with a noticeable 11-4 record. Takanonami defeated Kaio; Musashimaru defeated Wakanohana; Akebono directly qualified for the three-way playoff. Musashimaru defeated Akebono, then Takanonami.
e) For a six-way playoff: the aim is to reduce the number of rikishi to three, in order to set up a three-way playoff. Therefore, A faces B in a single bout, whereas C faces D, and E confronts F. Losers are eliminated.
Such a configuration seems impossible to get, but juryo is more prone to bring such a tied lead, when there’s no clear favorite at the beginning of the basho. It actually took place this year in July: Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu, Akua, Chiyonoo, Mitoryu and Meisei (the eventual winner) were all tied with a 10-5 record. Remarkably, all three finalists (Akua, Hoshoryu and Meisei) came from the same stable (Tatsunami beya).
So, does anybody else holds a “minus three” record in playoffs?
It comes to no surprise that Hakuho holds the record of playoff participations – alongside Takanohana. The dai yokozuna has been top of the chart for an uncountable number of times – and he sometimes had to face stern opposition.
His first participation came as early as in May 2006, where he defeated Miyabiyama; his last one occured in January 2014, where he defeated Kakuryu (who actually got promoted to yokozuna after a yusho the following tournament). Overall, Hakuho has a “plus two” score: six wins to four losses.
In a way, Hakuho did worse than Terunofuji, as the yokozuna lost no less than three playoffs in 2009! Asashoryu (twice) and Harumafuji were the winners. Apart from Asashoryu, Harumafuji (including one playoff where he was still named “Ama”) and Kakuryu, Hakuho also faced… Toyonoshima (in November 2010)!
As mentioned, Takanohana also participated in ten playoffs – and his record is even, five wins to five losses.
Interestingly, Futahaguro has participated in two playoffs. But as we know, he’s the only yokozuna ever who never won a single yusho during his entire career – it goes therefore without saying that he lost both… but there’s better – or, rather, worse.
Kitanoumi has a noteworthy record, that might inspire Terunofuji. Indeed, the yokozuna participated in eight playoffs, won three of them, and actually got a “minus four” record, after his first four playoffs!
Actually, another great man from the past, Musashimaru, holds the most terrible record: one win (during the afore-mentionned Kyusho basho 1996) in six tries!
Meanwhile, Chiyonofuji has been the true playoff-killer: six wins, and no loss…