Nagoya Story 1 – The Return of Asanoyama

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.

31 thoughts on “Nagoya Story 1 – The Return of Asanoyama

  1. I’m eagerly awaiting Asanoyama’s return! Also….thank you for mentioning our beautiful “President’s cup”.

    • I saw that thing sitting the case in January of 2019. I wonder if it will ever be awarded again. I must admit, I loved that the top elected official in the US took time to attend sumo. It actually did quite a bit of elevate the visibility of the sport in the US.

  2. Sd22 I think. And I don’t expect him to lose before he gets to juryo, unless it’s a fluky “slipiotoshi” sort of thing.

    • I wonder if there might be some ring rust similar to early Terunofuji matches where he was still getting used to competing.

      • Terunofuji still looked physically unwell in those tournaments, and even so lost a grand total of 3 bouts in 5 lower-division tournaments. I’m expecting this to go more like Abi’s return.

  3. I am very much looking forward to Asanoyama’s return – I hope he still has his genuine love for Sumo still deep inside of him, ready to return!

  4. I hope he goes back up as quickly as Abi. I don’t think anyone in juryo and below can even remotely match his strength and yotsu skill.
    If his mind is set on a quick return to the first division there is nothing that can stop him except injury.

    • I am trending toward “Unstoppable sumo machine” for him, but I am eager to see what he actually does. I think about what a non-injury year off would have done to some other rikishi. Kisenosato (non injured version) would return 20 cm taller, with 100kg of pure muscle added to his mass. His ottsuke would have been able to fuse common charcoal into industrial diamonds. His yorikiri would have been capable of moving a fully loaded dump truck. They would have needed to construct some hydraulically powered sumo robot to compete against him just to keep it fair. He would have invented several new kimarite, and would have been able to defeat most of the top division …. at the same time.

      I hope Asanoyama has done something similar….

  5. I am very excited to get Asanoyama back into the Bashos. The Ozekis are mediocre now. Teronofuji has brittle knees – who knows how long he’ll last. Asanoyama would be the best of the Ozeki’s and competing to win Bashos. Yes, I hope his training has been diligent and that he will come back better. Ryuden and Abi came back strong and determined and zoomed up the banzuke. Asanoyama should do the same if healthy. As a sumo fan, it’s sad that a year of his career was lost during this transitional period of sumo.

  6. With a year in free-fall, he’s essentially starting back where he was at 22. He’s now 28 and has only had limited access to makuuchi-level wrestlers to train with. It would essentially take a year of undefeated sumo to get back where he was. Very few people have won that many bouts in a row. I think just Hakuho.

    • Terunofuji took 11 basho to go from mid-Sandanme to Ozeki. Asanoyama will start a little higher and in better physical shape, so he could clip a couple of basho off that, but yeah, over a year. Best-case scenario: Sd22 (7-0) -> Ms15 (7-0) -> low Juryo (15-0) -> low Makuuchi (15-0) -> san’yaku for 3 basho -> Ozeki. That’s seven tournaments, with favorable banzuke luck and a couple of fantasy results thrown in.

      • I know your example was the absolute best case scenario, but just for fun I ran a query on Sd20-24 and while almost all recent 7-0 do clock right in at Ms15 (if not slightly higher), the most recent in that range ended up at Ms17

        I’m one of those people who believes the kyokai will view his time as having been served as regards any future ozeki promotion (i know it’s been a hot debate over on SF), but i do wonder whether they’d throw a spanner in the works and leave him at Ms16e just to eliminate the one and done possibility in makushita

        • Like Leonid I’d be surprised if Asanoyama drops any matches before juryo, so I’m expecting him to be back in makuuchi after four tournaments in any case. Either 1 Sd + 1 Ms (> very low juryo rank) + 2 J, or 1 Sd + 2 Ms (> significantly higher juryo rank) + 1 J.

  7. My guess he goes 7-0 twice in a row to get into Juryo at the bottom – he’ll go 13-2 or 14-1 to get to upper Juryo and then have a winning record to get into Makuuchi by March 2023. After that who knows – probably two basho to get into sanyaku, so we’re looking at starting an ozeki run in July 2023…

  8. I’m stoked to see him rampage his way up the banzuke, and will cheer for him more than i did when Abi was coming back up. I hope he can return to Ozeki, but if not i think he will be sanyaku for sure much like Mr. Abi. He just has to avoid hurting himself while crushing those poor fellows down in Sandanme.

  9. I had the feeling that people’s expectations were weighing on him when he reached Ozeki, pinning their hopes on him quickly becoming the Japanese Yokozuna. He just did not look happy or (often) confident and I got the feeling he might have been going out (breaking Covid protocol) not out of arrogance but to cope with stress/depression. Also that he was maybe, though sweet, not real sharp – maybe someone assured him it would be okay and he believed it. So I wonder what his mental/emotional state will be now. I wish him well.

  10. So the young up and coming sumotori get an extra 40 or more losses thrown into their ranks slowing down their climb to salaried level.

    • While in the lower ranks Asanoyama will likely produce 30-40 wins depending on how quickly he gets to Juryo. Those bouts will be against 30-40 individual rikishi – I bet he never faces the same one twice (or at most he may face one or two of them twice in that rise). Those rikishi will certainly notice Asanoyama having wrestled them, but the single loss they will suffer will not appreciably slow down their rise… the impact is hardly noticeable, and the harm done negligible.

      • Do not discount the benefit to these rikishi of experiencing a bout with someone of Asanyama’s stature, plus bragging rights forever for having fought an Ozeki/Yokozuna.

        • Oh, I completely agree with you Charles. My responses have mostly just been to call into question those who have been whining since the suspensions to Abi, Ryuden, and Asanoyama, as though the fact that these three would be fighting for a time in the lower ranks would ruin careers of those who were down in those ranks and had to fight them. The penalties were justified and no danger in any real sense to anyone who fight them.

    • Well…probably 21 losses to those still climbing to sekitori…and among those will be many former sekitori.

    • That’s some bold thinking there. It could be a very good thing given the current state of our upper-echelon competitors but it will be an intense challenge. I don’t think Ryuden or Abi will get there.

      • Ridiculous. I don’t see him regaining Ōzeki easily. I also think san’nyaku is harder and harder to break into, he may languish for awhile as one of the top Maejashira.

        Next Yokozuna is tough. Hōshōryū? Kiribayama? Wakatakakage? Kotonowaka?

        I could any of those guys making Yokozuna before Asanoyama.

  11. I certainly hope he is fit and healthy and able to rise up quickly through the ranks.

    My questions:
    Has he practiced more than his left hand grip? Developed some versatility to his fighting style?
    Is he mentally strong? Though Japanese social media suggests people are hopeful and excited for his return, can he withstand the pressure and expectations?
    How is he emotionally? He sadly lost his father during his suspension. His coach, who Asanoyama tried to win a basho for before retirement, threw him under the bus (publicly criticizing Asanoyama while breaking COVID restriction rules himself.) Those are some hard blows.

    We’ll see how this plays out. A motivated Asanoyama will be fun to cheer on. Ganbare!

  12. My theory, not very scientifical: Asanoyama had the bad luck to be touched by The foulest hand on Earth, He who taints everyone and everything he touches.
    After getting that cup (by losing on the last day under His eyes), he went makekoshi on the next basho.
    His talent allowed him to recover and start the ozeki run afterwards, but he never managed to win a yusho again. That led to his decaying morals, typical of the cursed by The foulest, and scandal that basically cost him his career.
    I hope Asanoyama can recover from this terrible run of events.

    • Bruce isn’t gonna agree with you there. He thinks it really cool that the highest elected official went to see sumo! He says it every chance he gets. That’s not tiresome at all! How neat-o. Politics/schmolitics! I hope if Asanoyama mounts a comeback he doesn’t just languish in mid-MaeJuhshira.

      • Yeah, the highest elected official who tried to coup the next highest elected official. Lol, so good an elected official participates in pre-organized events of the Japanese government, they usually never do, say, dance with a sword in their hands with Saudi kings, or watch Chinese opera with the Chinese president.
        Asanoyama will be in his thirties by the time he´ll be able to give sanyaku a shot. Sadly, The disgusting one destroyed yet another promising story.

        • This might be nitpicking, but Asanoyama was born march 1994, that leaves him 3 basho this year (2022), all 6 basho in 2023 and hatsu basho in 2024 before turning 30. Thats 10 basho and like iksumo posted further up, Terunofuji made it from further down the banzuke and not fully recovered to Ozeki in 11 basho. If he resembles anything from the Asanoyama before his suspension, he should be Sanyaku by his 30th birthday again, if not Ozeki already.
          When he became Ozeki for the first time, he probably had about the easiest competition ever, so it can’t get any easier, but it certainly didn’t get a lot harder either.

  13. Kintamayama-san posted the following update over on Sumo Forum:

    Returning ex- Ozeki Asanoyama trained at home today. He had 24 bouts in total, going 9-3 against Juryo Asanowaka. “He is steadily moving better It’s been a while (a year.) but he’s back for Nagoya, probably from Sandanme, but I want him to gambarize as it is a come-back..” said his Oyakata. He has not been receiving preferential treatment this past year, doing all the heya chores, cooking, cleaning, etc.. like all the other Makushita and unders. “He’s just like the others so it goes without saying..Those are the heya rules,” added the Oyakata. Additionally, he has been living at the heya in a room with 3 other rikishi (“our Makushita guys live in the Makushita rooms”, explained Takasago Oyakata..). At the beginning of his punishment he seemed to be dejected but has gotten over it gradually . “After about half a year he seemed to be returning to his old self and has been training seriously. I advised him not to forget his sumo, even though a year has passed. We have a month till next basho and I’m sure he will be preparing himself mentally and physically. If he goes about it as usual when he steps on the dohyo on day 1, that would be good!” summed Takasago Oyakata.

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