A look back at 2020’s sumo debates

2020 is about to vanish. Can 2021 be even more exciting, from a sumo point of view? Before having thought on the coming year, and waiting anxiously for the latest sanitary reports, let’s have a look back at what happened in 2020. Did our predictions become true, or were they off target ?

1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

My prediction : no

Unfortunately, Takayasu’s injury, sustained during a bout against Tamawashi, proved fatal for his ozeki rank. He started 2020 as an ozekiwake, needing 10 wins to reach sumo’s second highest rank. He could grab just six wins, and, more worryingly, it looked like he’d head straight to juryo, following a kyujo in March.

It took Takayasu some time to settle – and perseverance paid off. Remarkably, Takayasu convincingly moved back to san’yaku, following two double digit wins basho, and successfully kept a slot in san’yaku in November.

If it’s doubtful he’ll regain the ozeki rank, Takayasu can now look upwards.

Was the prediction correct? Yes

2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

My prediction : no

Goeido started 2020 being kadoban, for the ninth – and last – time. That’s quite a lot, for the Osaka-fu born rikishi’s five and a half year spent as an ozeki. He previously managed to get out of perillous situations, such as in November 2015, where a last day win enabled him to barely hold his rank (8-7; 7-8 in September).

In July 2016, he missed his kashi koshi by just one win (7-8). The following tournament, he won a stunning zensho yusho. Remarkably, he almost repeated that story one year later (7-8 in July, 11-4 playoff loss in September).

But this time, Goeido could not find the necessary energy to bounce back. He finished 2019 with a 0-2-13 record, and could get just five wins in January. The last win of his career came against another former ozeki – Tochinoshin.

Now Tatekuma oyakata: former ozeki Goeido

Was the prediction correct? yes

3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?

My prediction : yes

To say the least, Asanoyama had put solid foundations for a serious ozeki quest, as early as last year. After his surprise yusho in May 2019, it took him just one basho to settle in the joi (he went 7-8 in Nagoya), and, at the exception of the very last basho, has continuously earned double digit wins since! 10-5, 11-4, 10-5, 11-4, 12-3 and 10-5 records were more than enough, not only to seal the deal, but to prove that it was no fluke.

One question mark, however, will remain at the beginning of next year: did his body recover from last basho, in order to erase a surprise kadoban status? Let’s hope he’s on his way back to full fitness.

Was the prediction correct? yes

4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?

 My prediction : no

Here came the first mistake, but, arguably, it was hard, came 2020, to imagine Shodai as an ozeki candidate. 2019 was doubtlessly a year to forget for him, as Shodai only earned two kashi koshi (10-5 in May, 11-4 in November), compared to four losing records, and sometimes ugly ones (he went 0-9 in March, and ended up 3-12 in September).

So, Shodai’s sumo improved dramatically. 2020 started in a convincing, but also disappointing fashion – he snatched thirteen wins in January, but missed out the yusho during a nervy bout againstthe eventual winner, Tokushoryu.

That miss could prove too much for many rikishi, but Shodai wasn’t having any of it – after a forgettable 8-7 in March, Shodai earned two more double digit win basho in a row, making it four out of the last five. More importantly, he finally got a yusho, which was key to a deserved ozeki promotion.

Alas, just like Asanoyama, the shin ozeki started that new chapter of his career with an injury – health reports have not been particularly encouraging. Can he, too, salvage his rank?

A surprise new ozeki in 2020

Was the prediction correct? no

5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?

My prediction : one

This one could easily have gone either way. Both Mongolian grand champions were asked to show up in November – and both went full kyujo instead. Hakuho and Kakuryu got a welcomed reprieve, being ‘only’ warned shortly after the end of the basho. But this time, the board won’t tolerate a new absence – both yokozuna are in a make or break situation.

Hakuho’s year was salvaged by his yusho in March. Kakuryu, on the other hand, has been unfit most of the time, and actually seldom fought in 2020. But managed to hang on, but for how long?

Was the prediction correct? no

6. Will Terunofuji compete in maku’uchi in 2020 ? Where will he end up this year ?

My prediction: Terunofuji to finish the year in juryo after a stint in maku’uchi.

Well, that prediction couldn’t have been more off target. Of course, the Mongolian knees are, according to his own statements, ticking time bombs. This year’s “not-so basho” actually saw Terunofuji go kyujo without collecting one single win – thankfully for him, that was only a prediction. Instead, the former ozeki took full advantage of the four months break, and celebrated an incredible comeback with a surprise yusho win in July.

Still, his problems aren’t behind him – he went kyujo before the final act of the September basho. But 2020 has in any case been a huge success for him and for his stablemaster, former Asashifuji, who was brought into tears after this summer’s success.

Was the prediction correct? no

7. Where will Ichinojo finish the year ?

My prediction: Back to the maegashira ranks.

Ichinojo is a hugely talented sekitori who doesn’t deserve to sit that low on the banzuke. The Mongolian has managed to bounce back to makuuchi, but, dear, that was painful.

Ichinojo’s promising career has been severely hampered by serious back problems – and he is still looking like a pale copy of his previous self. He started the year with just six wins, and found himself closer to makushita than to makuushi. From there, the big Mongolian got four kashi koshi in a row – but four meagre ones: 9-6, 9-6, 8-7 and 8-7. His status in sumo’s first division has been questioned all the way: he got a vital kashi koshi on senshuraku in September, and went 2-7 in November – he managed to successfully resolve the equation both times. Let’s hope he’ll get some respite in 2021.

Back in makuuchi: Ichinojo Takashi

Was the prediction correct? yes

8. Will Enho stay in maku’uchi in 2020 ?

My prediction: After a san’yaku stint, he’ll end up safely in maegashira ranks.

From Enho’s very first makuushi bouts, the question has almost unanimously been: when will the “Enho effect” vanish? The Miyagino resident started the year with yet another hard fought, minimal kashi koshi, but his diminutive body means he can’t afford to carry any injury. Alas, Enho’s path has been painful to watch since, as his shoulder seemed to bother him. An ugly 3-12 result in November means Enho will start 2021 back in juryo – a second makuuchi promotion would be all the more expected.

Was the prediction correct? no

9. Will Takakeisho win a second yusho in 2020 ?

My prediction : no

I have to admit I got that wrong. In September and November, Takakeisho looked like he successfully put aside the various injuries he carried in 2019; he produced impressive 12-3 and 13-2 performances.It’s also worth remembering he started the year blowing another chance to get a yusho – two losses on days 14 and 15 proved fatal for the ozeki’s yusho quest, handing the cup to Tokushoryu. But if Takakeisho can manage to reproduce his performances from last basho, the rope would he his.

All eyes are on him now: ozeki Takakeisho

Was the prediction correct? no

10. Will a rikishi win a yusho for the first time in 2020 ?

My prediction : no

Obviously, things did not go as I expected. I tend to believe chaos has eventually been expelled late in 2020, but the leading pack obviously needed more time to settle. Actually, three out of this year’s five basho have arguably been won by a surprise champion! Tokushoryu, Terunofuji and Shodai’s performances have been astonishing surprises – if you place yourself back in 2020’s new year eve. So, who wants to be the next one?

Was the prediction correct? no

11. Will Hoshoryu reach maku’uchi ?

My prediction : yes

I’m pleased to get than one right. Hoshoryu started 2020 sitting quite deep – juryo 14e, second’s division second lowest rank. But his progress has been constant, and consistant. Three basho and a yusho-doten later, the Mongolian was a makuuchi newbie – and, just like Ichinojo, saved a makuuchi spot on senshuraku. He could not finish the year with a fifth kashi koshi, but will no doubt settle down in makuuchi. Can he reach the joi, or even sanyaku next year?

Was the prediction correct? yes

12. Will Kotoshogiku stay in maku’uchi ?

My prediction : no

Kotoshogiku’s slump went out, slowly but surely. Without having any terrible basho, he piled up make koshi – he had six in a row between 2019 and 2020, without ever getting less than six wins. That suggested the former ozeki still had some fuel left, but not for too long. He got demoted to juryo after the September basho; the audience then had the chance to witness one last pre-bout stretch against Chiyonoo, before Giku put an end to a great career.

Was the prediction correct? yes

13. Will Ishiura stay in maku’uchi ?

My prediction : no

Ishiura’s scissor records went on in 2020, suggesting he’s too good for juryo, and perhaps a bit too soft for a lasting makuuchi experience. A string of good results actually enabled him to surpass his career best (M8w in July 2017, M8e three years later); but Ishiura could not maintain such form. After going back to juryo yet again in November, the Miyagino resident missed a chance to bounce straight back, losing a senshuraku exchange bout against Sadanoumi.

Here again, I expect him to return quite quickly to makuuchi, and maybe to end up the year just like the current one.

Was the prediction correct? yes

14. Will Ura produce the greatest comeback ever ?

My prediction : no

Arguably, I’m quite happy to have that one wrong. If Terunofuji’s comeback is stunning, what about Ura? He hasn’t overcome one, but two grave knee injuries, falling twice into the abyss. From there on, he lost a very limited number of matches, and once again climbed the stairs. His comeback at the sekitori level is fully deserved, and it should come as no surprise to see him causing a few upsets in makuuchi, sooner rather than later.

Was the prediction correct? no

5 thoughts on “A look back at 2020’s sumo debates

  1. Most unexpected things this year
    Tokoshoryu yusho
    Terunofuji yusho
    Shodai yusho
    Shodai Ozeki
    Enho Juryo
    Rise of Takanosho

  2. I think Terunofuji’s comeback is far more impressive than Ura’s. Ura still has a long way to go to reach where he was, while Terunofuji was initially higher and is basically at the same place he left off in terms of relative ranking – he just needs a couple more good basho (or maybe one really good one) to return to his previous rank.

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