The Case Against Yokozuna Takakeisho

Let’s not be too hasty.

First of all, I don’t understand why the need to rush what would be the weakest Yokozuna promotion in decades — not only based on the record of (12-3)x2 but based on strength of schedule. Terunofuji, the lone Yokozuna has been at home recovering for the last two tournaments, so that has meant Takakeisho fighting for the yusho in the musubi-no-ichiban twice in a row. That’s supposed to be thrilling, right? His senshuraku bouts have been against M9 Abi (he went 1 for 2) and M13 Kotoshoho. He has obviously faced zero Ozeki and zero Yokozuna over that time span yet still racked up three losses in each tournament.

A year ago, I was frankly worried that Takakeisho would be the next Ozeki to earn demotion. Thank God I was wrong about that. Over the last four tournaments, he’s turned in that impressive consistency that we expect from an Ozeki, with 45 wins or an average of just over 11 wins per tournament. Double-digit wins is what we expect from an Ozeki and he has accomplished it four tournaments in a row. Not bad. His last makekoshi record was a year ago, of which he’s had just six during his 21-tournament tenure at the rank (28.6%). That’s much better than Shodai’s 7 of 14.

But the comparisons to Kisenosato are unfair. Kisenosato was a staggeringly consistent Ozeki. Before his Yokozuna promotion, he had one make-koshi tournament out of, get this, 31 tournaments at the rank (3.2%). He averaged more than 10 wins per tournament over that entire span. That one make-koshi was a 7-8. And he did this against a full slate of Yokozuna and Ozeki, from Hakuho and Harumafuji to Kotoshogiku. In fact, a loss to Kotoshogiku was the only blemish on his 14-1 Yusho run, where he beat Ozeki Terunofuji and Yokozuna Hakuho on senshuraku. Let me say that again. He beat Hakuho on senshuraku to earn his rope. His tsuna-tori was accomplished with a storybook win over the GOAT. Let’s compare that to…checks notes…Kotoshoho? Come on.

Further, it would be a mistake to skip over the 12-3 Jun-Yusho and it’s a mistake to poo-poo that feat. He defeated each of the three Yokozuna, in succession — including obviously the yusho-winner, Kakuryu. Sadly, for Kisenosato, the storybook really ended after the next tournament with that dual victory over Terunofuji. The almost two years of kyujo is unfortunately how many remember his career but he was certainly deserving of the tsuna.

In my humble opinion, Takakeisho has not got there — yet. His 12-3 playoff loss cannot be compared to Kisenosato’s — and certainly not to Kakuryu’s 14-1 playoff loss to Hakuho. But Takakeisho is now, deserving of his tsunatori (Rope Run). If he wins in Osaka, he will certainly be promoted. I’d put the odds at 50-50. Nishikifuji yusho, anyone?

20 thoughts on “The Case Against Yokozuna Takakeisho

  1. I fall on this side of the “debate”, and it’s in quotations because i don’t think there is a debate. Ozeki x 2 yusho = Yokozuna and if you want it you gotta go get it. It seems like Takakeisho would have gotten there already and has what it takes if not for injury problems. He has shown impressive strides to vary his sumo style so if he can stay healthy or gut it out next basho he can earn it and keep it until he retires. It’s a “Rope Run” everybody!!!

  2. My only thought is that Yokozuna is the only rank that requires…
    “Elevation to yokozuna rank is decided by the Japan Sumo Association, who decide that a ozeki-rank wrestler has enough power, skill and dignity/grace (hinkaku) to qualify.”
    It’s one of the things I love about Sumo, that at the pinnacle, there is a requirement for something more than just a win / loss record.
    Kisenosato, is a perfect example of dignity and grace taking wins and losses in stride while simultaneously putting everything into every bout.

    • A very good thought, indeed.
      My point was, that Takakeisho, just like Terunofuji, had back to back jusho and jun jusho as an ozeki and therefore also earned the promotion. But that was obviously a very western view.
      So a yokozuna is a former ozeki who seemed dignified in the eyes of the JSA.
      Then does this imply that an ozeki with back to back jusho still could be overlooked?

      • I believe the back to back Yusho guideline has always held up in a fully stacked Banzuke.
        But I don’t know if there is any precedent in such a seriously depleted Banzuke like we have now. In my view two 12-3 wins isn’t enough when he isn’t fighting other Ozeki or Yokozuna. Two 15-0 wins, sure.

      • Comparing with ozeki promotion there are cases where getting 33 wins over 3 consecutive basho did not get a ozeki promotion, so I think it is possible that 2 back to back yushos might not be enough for an ozeki. Takakeisho for example had 9-6 13-2 Y 11-4 and 10-5, the first two tournaments as Komusubi and the last two as Sekiwake, he was not promoted to Ozeki after 3rd tournament when he had already 33 wins and in sanyaku but only after the 4th tournament with 34 wins.

        Since Ozeki promotions with 33 wins in sanyaku can be denied, why not deny a Yokozuna promotion, too, if the yushos come with weak enough results. Could 12-3 and 11-4 yushos be too little or back to back 11-4 yushos if it ever happened?

  3. That’s how I see it. Oddly, the push to promote him may come because of the sorry state of the ozeki position for the past few years. Now that we finally seem to have an ozeki doing exactly what an ozeki is supposed to do – averaging 11 wins per basho – people assume that it entitles him to a promotion. As I said previously, can’t we just enjoy having a good, reliable ozeki? If he wins two in a row, certainly he should be promoted, but he’d still be getting an easy ride, given the current weak state of the upper ranks.

    • Speaking of the henkas of this basho, back to back to back henka against hand injured (and desperate) Takarafuji was the lowest point. Even Aoiyama? C’mon.

      And I wanna mention no-henka of Hoshoryu. With a lame foot, his only chance might have been a henka, but he never did. That’s the mindset of an Ozeki. I wasn’t a fan of him, but now he earned my vote.

  4. To pick up on the phrase “easy ride”, which pops up now and then ….. is it possible that what seems to be an overall weakness of quality – consistency, character, determination and yes, dignity – comes from the appearance of so many university-trained rikishi in makuuchi?
    As Jackie Chan’s movies have always taught us!, you have to first “eat bitter” if you want to reach the heights. Look at the people that a young Hakuho had to work with and against as a 20-year old. Compare that to someone who was in university at that age, being markedly better than almost all of his competition and being surrounded by (cliché alert) callow youths with no firsthand experience of the sumo life. A person who wins often and easily, rather than taking his licks every morning and in most of his bouts from older, harder, wiser fighters. A young person who is the apple of his teammates’ eyes, not to mention being the recipient of alumni goodwill and occasional cash in an envelope.
    Also, because of their talent scouting, universities tend to scoop up the naturally gifted youngsters, meaning that professional stables don’t get the opportunity to work with the best recruits.
    You end up with university men – think Endo, for one – who arrive with bells on, shoot up the ranks and stall when the pain, and the size of the endeavour, kicks in. “Ah,” they must think, “I guess this guy is to me what I was to all my teammates, no sense trying to beat him.”
    Just a thought.

    • In my opinion, the current situation is not so bad. The fights in this basho was really outstanding compared to previous few Bashos. The only thing that disappointed me was the amount of Henkas I have to witness.
      We cannot expect every rising star to reach Ozeki or Yokozuna.
      It doesn’t matter the rikishi is from university or starting from scratch through a sumo stable, their experience and professional learning Phase determines their destiny.
      In contrast now the most successful rikishis are from university background. Also the only existing good old Ozeki Takakeisho is also started his sumo from his school days

    • It’s an interesting view. I hadn’t really thought of it but I know the pandemic hit recruitment, as well.

    • You might have a point there, but it’s highly unfair to point out Endo here. He was rising up the ranks quickly with a few (expected) struggles arriving in Makuuchi and then came the Osaka basho 2015. There was a lot of hype around him and he started the tournament of really well (4-1), but on that 5th day in a win he tore his ACL.
      Now we will never know what he could have become. Even nowadays he can still be a fascinating rikishi in a belt battle.But back then he/his stable decided to not have surgery and compete in the next basho to prevent him from demotion to Juryo. What the results don’t you is that after that he had completely no defense against Oshi-zumo. I think it took till 2018 or so to overcome that. Luckily for him during that time a lot of guys were going for the belt battle.

      Could have been that a surgery would have ended is career back then or maybe it would have put him in a position to live up to that hype. Without the surgery he lost 3 years of his sumo prime trying to adjust to his damaged body.

      Thre are others like Mitakeumi earlier and Shodai like every 2nd bout, where you think they just don’t give their everything.
      They other side of they coin is rikishi who even in completely hopeless situations put in everything and try todelay the inevitable putting sometimes winning by suprising their opponents with their stuborness, but also often putting themselves in awkward positions risking their long time health for just one win.
      There is a thin line, but I feel university wrestlers often lean more/too much on the side of caution at times.

  5. Our sumo circle came to the same conclusion. It’s not enough. Someday? Maybe. Up until this basho I’d argue the fight at the top of Makuuchi has had had such strong folks put out a ton of effort that it makes it hard to stand out. Still that’s not to hotshot an Ozeki to Yokozuna. Not on current performance.

    Then henkamania ensued along with everyone seemingly out to maim each other and I’m not sure what to make of the division at this point. We had such good sumo in 2022 – some real bright spots after a weird 2021.

    Who makes it to the very top in this crazy world? I have no idea anymore. That neck injury story makes me wonder if Takakeisho is also on borrowed time.

  6. Wow Andy – Extremely well stated Sir! You make it difficult to disagree with such expert knowledge!

    I also appreciate the fact that I learned so much about Kisenasonto – I had no idea as I have only been watching and reading a couple of years – Thank you! I also appreciate learning the Sumo terms and the cultural terms too! You and Bruce also exemplify why I appreciate the Tachiai Web Site so much – Expert knowledge with respectful differences of opinion and a lot of readers who are also knowledgeable and respectful.

    Thank you – I always enjoy and look forward to all of the posts!

    Here’s Hoping for More Class Acts and Less Henkas!

  7. So if he gets a Yusho next basho, then by the rules he qualifies, but should he?

    For starters, who is going to replace him at Ozeki?

    Wakata would need a Zensho Yusho to get close one short of the supposed target of 33 (yes, I know, it’s a “guide”), so that’s not happening – in the last 6 basho, he’s gone 12Y,9,8,11J,8,9. He’s good and hasn’t had a MK since July ’21, but he’s not winning enough yet to get to Ozeki. If he does get a good result, he might get promoted. 32 has been enough 7 times (1956, 1962, 1976, 1999, 2012, 2014, 2020), 31 has been enough 3 times (1943, 1981, 1985), same for 30 (1960, 1962, 1966), 29 has only been enough once (1957).

    Hoshoryu, Kiri, Wakamo, & Koto need 14. Possible, at least, but not that likely. Besides, the latter two would only have had two basho at Sanyaku, which would probably exclude them.

    Also – and this seems to be a rather controversial viewpoint – I feel that a Yokozuna should be a master of Yotsu & Oshi. Let’s look at the percentage of wins by the last 15 Yokozuna using Yorikiri vs Oshidashi & compare that with Takakeisho & twof of the best rikishi never to get to Yokozuna in recent years (IMO), Goeido & Baruto…

    Terunofuji – 81%:19%
    Kisenosato – 62%:38%
    Kakuryu – 66%:34%
    Harumafuji – 67%:33%
    Hakuho – 66%:34%

    Asashoryu – 65%:35%
    Musashimaru – 49%:51%
    Wakanohana – 51%:49%
    Takanohana – 87%:13%
    Akebono – 50%:50%

    Asahifuji – 78%:22%
    Onokuni – 74%:26%
    Hokutoumi – 45%:55%
    Futahaguro – 68%:32%
    Takanosato – 95%:5%

    Goeido – 66%:34%
    Baruto – 72%:28%
    Takakeisho – 3%:97%

    Yes, he can thrust down, pull down, slap down, twist down, etc., but so can all Oshi guys and a lot of Yotsu guys. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good at what he does – probably the best there is, I just feel that being so one-sided is not what it’s about for me. By the same token, I’d say Teru is a bit one-sided towards Yotsu, but it’s not as high as a few in that list.

    Maybe it’s discriminatory against people with very short arms(!), but this is just my feeling on the matter.

  8. a Yokozuna that has the belt skills of a lower makushita (at best) and can only win yushos (hardly) when there is no Yokozunas.

  9. Just to be a contrarian, let me ask: doesn’t your Kisenosato example actually provide some evidence for why promoting Taka might be good for sumo? Let’s reconsider Kise for a moment. He was staggeringly dependable and yet given the toll sumo takes on the body, his tenure as Yokozuna when he finally got there was a fairly ignominious and disappointing one overall. How much different would his legacy have been had he been promoted at a younger age and had time to shine?

    Let Taka get promoted even if he isn’t a Hakuho or a Asasshoryu legendary Yokozuna. He’s shown an impressive degree of dominance and dependability all the same. To use an NBA analogy, Michael Jordan and Lebron James don’t come along every day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have serious respect for the Clyde Drexlers and Mutumbos of the sport. Is he an ideal Yokozuna? Surely not. But power abhors a vacuum and a Yokozuna-less sumo banzuke has its own drawbacks.

    • I like the contrarian case but I just have to ask when you would have promoted Kisenosato, if not when he was promoted? I think that criteria needs to be laid out first. They’re not going to promote people on a whim or on likeability. There has to be a performance metric.

      • Looking again at Kisenosato’s journey from Ozeki to Yokozuna, I see what you mean. He was so incredibly consistent, but never quite reached that threshold. I think where I start to wonder, for example, is where he had that 4 tournament stretch where he was averaging 12 wins per yusho, which means he was competitive to win the yusho race every time for an 8 month period. That probably isn’t a good enough reasoning for promotion, but if a rikishi is runner-up for 3 yushos in a row… I don’t know, it just seems to me that the yokozuna criteria are awfully stringent. And maybe that’s as it should be.

        I think in the final analysis it all depends on how damaging you think being yokozuna-less is to the sport of sumo overall. That’s the million dollar question: With Teru’s knee injuries, etc., likely to get worse, would a decent but far less dominant yokozuna be better than none at all, or does that ‘water down’ the mythos of the yokozuna too much, doing more harm than good? Maddening to think about :)

        • Promotions to yokozuna with no prior yushos are very rare. Kisenosato did not win until January 2017, after which he got promoted.

          In 1986 Futahaguro was promoted with no yushos to his name, and he never won a yusho, and pretty much caused this strictness. Before Futahaguro’s expulsion in 1987 Onokuni was promoted after going 15-0 Y, 12-3 J and 13-2 J, and Hokutoumi with 12-3 Y and 13-2 J. Futahaguro was thrown out between November 1987 – January 1988 and after that the criterion was strict two back-to-back yushos until Kakuryu in 2014, who got promoted with 14-1 D and 14-1 Y.

          Even before Futahaguro the promotions to yokozuna with no prior yushos was extremely rare. I know of only one case in 1942 when Terukuni got promoted to yokozuna with no prior yushos. He spent next 8 years before he finally won 2 consecutive yushos. Not a very nice situation to be in, a yokozuna who has never won.

          I think they do not want to promote anyone with no prior yushos no matter what the results are.


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