2021 sumo debates

1. Can Hakuho and/or Kakuryu last the whole year ?

That first question might be answere as early as next month. If Hakuho and Kakuryu fail to get yokozuna results – and last the whole basho, they will be recommended to hand their retirement papers. But both yokozuna have shown loads of ressources in the past – Kakuryu had already faced a make or break situation, in January 2018; he went up 11-4, then 13-2 and 14-1.

For Hakuho, the situation will be new. Can they both be up to the task? And if they can, are they able to maintain yokozuna level until the end of the year? Both ageing yokozuna have had alarmingly few bouts in 2020; I believe 2021 will cast the end of two brillant careers.

Can they still hang around in 2021? Yokozuna Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

My prediction: No

2. Will Takakeisho, Asanoyama and Shodai all keep their ozeki rank (or even go higher)?

Andy recently predicted that all three ozeki would get kachi koshi during the whole 2021. Arguably, sumo’s young guns (albeit Shodai is not that young) have nicely climbed through the ranks, and compose an appreciable triumvirat, that is deemed to regularly challenge for the cup. If one of these three lads can get their hands on it twice in a row, they’ll even raise higher.

But is that realistic? Takakeisho has had serious injuries, and if that now seems part of the past, one can’t be certain it truly is. If Asanoyama raises fewer concerns, I’m a bit more skeptical concerning Shodai. If his earlier speeches were nice, innocent-looking, I wonder if reaching the ozeki rank wasn’t an unlikely goal to his point of view. He should now stop daydreaming, and actually wrestle according to his rank. But can he? Fitness reports are not overly reassuring, at the eve of 2021, and Shodai seems like the weakest link of an otherwise convincing ozeki triumvirat.

My prediction: No

3. Will there be a new yokozuna?

A difficult but unavoidable question. Of course, Takakeisho has a straightforward chance to raise sumo’s ultimate level, as early as January. Whether he can sustain that challenge for fifteen days, remains to be seen.

In any case, voids tend to be filled. Since I don’t see the yokozuna staying the whole year, it’s fair to assume someone will raise up on the occasion, and become the awaited 73rd yokozuna. Takakeisho and Asanoyama definitely have potential to achieve that.

Yokozuna candidate: ozeki Takakeisho

My prediction: Yes

4. Will there be a surprise yusho winner?

Admittedly, last year’s prediction on that matter could not have been more off target – chaos was still heavily perturbing makuuchi. I think the dust has more or less settled now, and we will be more focused on yokozuna candidates, rather on Tokushoryu-like tales.

Of course, a pertinent thing would be to ask: who, exactly, can be considered as a surprise winner? That debate  would easily include Terunofuji and Mitakeumi.

My prediction: No

5. Will there be a new ozeki (possibly a former one)?

That is an intriguing question; and the leading candidates may not be as easily identified as thought at first sight.

Terunofuji and Takanosho will stand right above sumo’s second highest rank in January, but can they reach dreamland?

Terunofuji’s issues are cristal clear. His knees will always be a source of bother, and his 8-5-2 record in September seems to have temporarily halted the ozeki run. Officially, that quest restarted in November, thanks to an impressive 13-2 record. Can he defy the odds by winning a third yusho in January, and get promoted right away? Or, to put it simply, does his health give him realistic chances to realise the impossible?

The second sekiwake, Takanosho, did not seem hurt at all, but Herouth recently spotted a worrying report according to which the 26 years old has hurt his ACL, and opted against knee surgery… that’s more than enough to put into jeopardy any attempt to reach the ozeki rank, or even to maintain himself at the highest level.

Former – and future ozeki? Terunofuji Haruo

Apart from both sekiwake, Mitakeumi is a name that, yet again, comes into mind – more on that later. Can Daieisho sustain a real ozeki quest this time? Has Hokutofuji been transformed into a deadly yotsu rikishi? Can Kotoshoho rise quicker than expected, and have a dream year 2021?

I’m not quite sure about the latter; but I strongly believe Kotoshoho has a (very) bright future ahead of him. In general, I feel we may see new blood alongside the ozeki ranks in 2021.

My prediction: Yes

6. Another year to forget for Mitakeumi ? Where will he end up this year ?

Sumo’s living enigma will undoubtedly go on providing unanswered questions next year. With the exception of a two basho stint on the upper maegashira ranks, Mitakeumi has been in san’yaku… forever. Since March 2017, to be exact; that’ll make four years of quasi uninterrupted presence either at komusubi or sekiwake. Truly unbelievable!

And yet, 2020 has clearly been worse than 2019 for Mitakeumi. He hasn’t won a yusho this time. He did sustain another ozeki run, but I doubt anyone thought he could actually make it last September.

So, what’s up next? He just turned 28, and seemed physically far from his best in recent times. I tend to believe his stay in san’yaku won’t last for very long now – and that would be a shame, given the man’s talent.

My prediction: down the maegashira ranks.

7. Can the elders still hang on?

I admit this question is not very precisely expressed, but nevertheless raises an interesting question. Makuuchi is finally seeing some new, fresh faces along its ranks – Kotoshoho, Kotonowaka and Hoshoryu can be given as examples.

On the other hand, not speaking about the yokozuna, the old guard has suffered recently. Kotoshogiku eventually got demoted to juryo and called it a day; while Ikioi and Shohozan are currently sitting in juryo, and did not get a winning record in November. Ikioi is 34; Shohozan and Kotoshogiku experienced great difficulties, aged 36.

The oldest maegashira is currently Tamawashi, also aged 36. The former yusho winner recently performed honourably, ending the last three basho with 10-5, 5-10 and 8-7 records, and will probably find himself in the joi next time. Can he at least secure a spot in makuuchi, by the end of 2021?

Alongside other elders, Kaisei (M12w, 33 y.o.), Myogiryu (M5e, 34 y.o.) and Aoiyama (M8e, 34 y.o.) have also struggled recently. Can they regain their breath? If Tokushoryu finds himself quite safely in the middle maegashira ranks, it’s worth remembering the 8-7 he got in November was his only kachi koshi since winning the whole thing in January. True, apart from his record in March (4-11), he hasn’t had miserable records at all, ending up 7-8 twice.

Until recently, a san’yaku wrestler: Okinoumi Ayumi

Meanwhile, I’d express less concern about Okinoumi (M3w, 35 y.o.), who has showed nice combattivity until recently.

My prediction: two of the six quoted maegashira wrestlers to stay in makuuchi by the end of 2021.

8. Where will Enho end up this year ?

So, a renewal of last year’s question is on the cards here, for quite a likeable and unique rikishi. Can Enho bounce back from his disappointing relegation to juryo? If so, how far can he raise again?

Without doubt, the answer will depend on how he will manage to heal his recent troubles, and IF he takes enough time to heal. Without fully functional shoulders, Enho will find it hard to find himself in mauuchi again.

I think the current juryo field is not too scary down there, and Enho has what it takes to emerge in sumo’s first division. I don’t see him reaching the joi next year, but he should end up somewhere safely alongside the lower maegashira ranks.

9. Where will Ura end up this year ?

Ura accumplished a sensational comeback this year, and gets full credit for it. If I expected him to pile up more wins in November than he actually did (nine wins, six losses), Ura is definitely moving upwards. How far can he extend his formidable run? Can he stay fit the whole year?

My prediction will look like a U-turn, looking back at last year’s prediction: Ura will reach makuuchi without too much trouble, and should find himself in the mid-maegashira ranks by the end of 2021.

10. Six basho to be held in 2021?

Given what’s at stake, this is probably the biggest question of all – and, being no scientist, I won’t predict anything on that one.

But it’s worth mentioning the fact that the pandemic is far from over, and the current situation is actually quite worrying in Japan. The recent Covid outbreak in Tatsunami beya is the latest proof.

Above everything, let’s wish a healthy 2021 year to everyone!

14 thoughts on “2021 sumo debates

  1. A good range of talking points here…

    Question 4 depends on what you mean by surprise: of the two M17 yusho in 2021 I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by Terunofuji but was astonished by Tokushoryu. When people look back in 30 years, however, they will probably just look at the ranks involved and see them as equivalents. In the similar way our mythical future fan wouldn’t see anything out of place in a yokozuna yusho, but we would all be gobsmacked if Kakuryu won in January.

    If I could reframe the question as “will we see a maegashira yusgho?” I would say yes. With the next-gen of 25-30 year olds so closely matched and our yokozuna on the brink of retirement anything could happen. We might not have too long to wait: I think we will see one or both of Hokutofuji and Daieisho making a point to the banzuke committee by launching a big challenge next month.

    • I actually was surprised by Terunofuji’s yusho. Not that he and Tokushoryu are equivalent, but with what we knew about the state of his knees, it was really extraordinary. I didn’t expect anything more from him in that basho other than to remain in Makuuchi.

      As for your other expectation far all the “surprise” winners this year have been veterans. I don’t see a Takahanada in the ranks yet. Not even Kotoshoho. I think maybe next year.

      • I almost tipped Kotoshoho but I didn’t want to jinx him.

        The thing about Terunofuji is that if his knees hold out for fifteen days he is the #2 wrestler after Hakuho. And Hakuho is teetering on the brink. I expect at least one yusho from Terunofuji in 2021.

    • That’s part of question 5, I would say. But it definitely is an interesting question, even though I’m no Takayasu fan.
      Technically, he’s already in some sort of run – if he wins both coming yusho (dreaming is free…), he’d be propelled to ozeki again.

      • Why 2 yusho? It’s Ozeki, not Yokozuna. If he gets decent marks in the next three tournaments, he’ll be Ozeki for sure. If he gets very good ones in the next two, he may also have a chance, depending on the Shimpan department’s mood. I think if one of them is a yusho it probably improves his chances a lot.

        • Well, I don’t see any reason why a 8-7 in san’yaku, followed by two yusho in a row would not grant ozeki status. But of course this is (highly) hypothetical

          • I’m not saying they wouldn’t grant Ozeki, I’m saying it’s a bit too high to aim. He can become Ozeki with less than two.

  2. Terunofuji has the talent of putting his past struggles aside when he enters the dohyo. When he is on there he is once again the young ozeki who is sure to make yokozuna one day… and that’s how he fights.
    The only concern are his knees but if they hold up well for 3-4 basho he has a very good chance of making ozeki again.

    Takanosho isn’t quite at ozeki level yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets there soon. Other than that I can’t think of any other ozeki candidates this year.

    • Kiribayama could have been a suggestion, had he not produced that 3-12 result…
      Kotoshoho is definitely on the cards, but may still need a bit more experience.
      And, well, maybe Mitakeumi once again? Who knows.

      • I like what I have seen of Kiribayama so far. He had it though last tournament but his bad record wasn’t too surprising, many newcomers struggle the first time at such high ranks.
        I still see him as one of the next great mongolians. If that includes a promotion to ozeki or higher remains to be seen.

  3. About Okinoumi, it should be noted that his kabu has been vacated a couple of days ago. This immediately raises concerns about his health. Though of course, it happened with Ikioi about a year ago and he is still around.

  4. January 2021 presents some interesting and competing agendas:
    1) Both Yokozuna need to perform strong
    2) Two Ozeki need their 8 wins as quickly as possible because week 2 will get intense
    3) One Ozeki making his Yokozuna run will need lots of “help” because the top of the banzuke are all back and he can’t make it on his own
    4) T-Rex (Terunofuji) is gunning for a return to Ozeki
    5) My wild cards to do well are Hoshoryu and Takayasu to post 10 maybe even 11 wins each. Yes, that’s kinda “out there” hence they’re my wild cards.

    My predictions:
    1) Both Yokozuna will post at least 12 wins
    2) Both weak Ozeki (Asanoyama and Shodai) will get their 8 wins and may even surprise and post as many 10 wins
    3) Butterball (Takakeisho) will not be successful in his Yokozuna run, he’s really not that good and isn’t in a class with the two Yokozuna or even T-Rex for that matter
    4) T-Rex will do well enough to get back his Ozeki rank
    5) Guys, you hearing me?


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