A few years ago, there was a bright, happy up and coming rikishi with the shikona “Asanoyama”. He caught my eye because he seemed really happy to be competing. Even when he lost, he had an expression of “I can’t believe I am here, and being paid for sumo!”. With such a love for the sport, it’s really no surprise that he trained hard, and from that training came success. He battled his way up the ranks to become Ozeki. He even had the unusual distinction of being handed “The President’s Cup” by the US President during a state visit to Japan.
But a year ago, he was removed from competition during the 2021 Natsu basho, ostensibly for violating “COVID protocols”. Like so many things in Japan, the initial report was a broad euphemism for a pattern of breaking isolation at the heya to keep the rikishi from getting sick. When confronted with his behavior, he made the grave mistake of lying to the kyokai, trying to pretend it did not happen, and maybe it would all go away. Bad move for anyone, double-bad for someone as prestigious as an Ozeki. The kyokai came down on him fairly hard, though not as harsh as I had expected – which would have been immediate intai.
Instead he was handed a one year suspension from competition. As a result, his rank has been dropping on every banzuke published since, with his ranking for Natsu 2022 being Makushita 42. With his year of punishment now complete, we will see Asanoyama back in competition in the sweat-box of Nagoya. I expect him to be ranked around Sandanme 30 or so. The bigger question will be his condition.
He’s still got the skill of an Ozeki, though his sumo was a bit tepid prior to being caught breaking COVID protocols. It should still be more than enough to completely shatter anyone in Sandanme. I am curious on how he has spent the past year. Was he just going through the motions? Or did he decide that he was going to emerge on the other side of this shameful incident an unstoppable sumo machine?
I am eager to find out, and ever since the departure of Wakaichiro, I have not really had too much of an interest in Sandanme sumo. That all changes in July.
How do you, dear readers, feel about Asanoyama’s return? Let us know in the comments.