Having broken the ignominious streak of 21 basho without an Ozeki yusho, Takakeisho is officially on a Yokozuna run, and a second-straight yusho in January should get him the rope. The only Yokozuna promotion I’ve seen since I started following sumo is Kisenosato’s, and his came as a result of his long-awaited first championship, which followed a 12-3 jun-yusho, so he wasn’t really on an official run. So I thought I’d take a historical look at how often Yokozuna runs succeed.
In the 6-basho era (1958-present), nearly 80% of runs that started with an Ozeki yusho have failed; only 14 of 66 were converted into a rope. These runs were made by 38 distinct ozeki. There were 27 yokozuna promotions in this time span, so 13 of them came without such a run. To delve deeper, it is useful to separate this time period into two roughly equal halves: 1958-1988, aka “before Futahaguro,” and 1989-present, aka “after Futahaguro.” You can learn more about the 60th Yokozuna here, but the tl;dr is that he is the only Yokozuna to never win a yusho, and promotion standards were tightened after the scandal that ended his career.
The first time period spans 17 Yokozuna debuts, from Asashio (1959) to Onokuni (1987); Hokutoumi and Onokuni were promoted just after Futahaguro but before his forced retirement. Remarkably, only 3 of the 17 came after back-to-back yusho (Taiho, Kitanofuji, and Kotozakura), showing that the standards used to be much more lenient; 7 did not include a yusho at all, with such head-scratching two-tournament lines as 10-5 13-2 playoff loss (Tamanoumi). There were a total of 28 Ozeki yusho by 21 different Ozeki during this time that did not lead to immediate promotion; 6 of them were converted into a promotion after the following basho, 3 with a yusho and 3 with a lesser result. 12 of the 21 eventually became Yokozuna, while 9 topped out at Ozeki.
In the post-Futahaguro period, 18 different ozeki had a total of 38 rope runs starting with a yusho, 8 of which succeeded, all with a second yusho. None of the 10 ozeki who failed to gain promotion via this route reached Yokozuna. The two “non-standard” promotions during this time both came immediately after a yusho. Before that yusho, Kakuryu had a 14-1 playoff loss, while Kisenosato had a 12-3 jun-yusho which followed a string of strong runner-up finishes.
The record for futility is held by Kaio, who failed to get promoted after a yusho on 4 separate occasions, going make-koshi in the next basho 3 times and narrowly missing once with a 12-3 jun-yusho, which likely would have been sufficient before Futahaguro. The persistence prize is shared by Musashimaru and Takanohana, who each failed 3 times before earning promotion in the 4th run with a yusho. Three Yokozuna got there in their very first attempt—Asahifuji, Akebono, and Asashoryu—while 5 missed in their one and only shot, including the recently retired Goeido and Kotoshogiku.
What conclusions relevant for Takakeisho can we draw from this exercise? First, promotion after the next basho is far from guaranteed, with a roughly 1 in 5 chance of success. The odds are even lower for an Ozeki’s first run, especially if his shikona doesn’t start with an “A” (j/k). Second, even eventual promotion is roughly a 50-50 proposition. Finally, over the past three decades, 8 of the 10 promotions came after back-to-back yusho, and the other two came immediately following a yusho, so I’m guessing that in Takakeisho’s case, the NSK means it when they say he’ll have to win the January tournament to ascend to sumo’s highest rank.