A look at the last winners of the most matches in a calendar year

Sumo’s last honbasho of the year 2019 came to an end, and dai-yokozuna Hakuho sealed a record extending 43th Emperor’s Cup, thanks to a rock-solid 14-1 performance. However, Hakuho’s absences thorough the year means another rikishi won the most matches during the current year – namely Asanoyama.

Seeing Asanoyama top the 2019 calendar year might look surprising at first sight; however, a string of great performances meant Asanoyama’s recent success was no fluke. In any case, it gives us the opportunity of a quick review of the past winners of that symbolic award.

Hakuho Sho – 2007 to 2015 ; 2017

The road to the top

It’s hard to say something that has not already been said about the GOAT. A few figures may well show how meteoric his rise to the top has been :

– Hakuho entered maezumo in March 2001, and entered Makuuchi in May 2004.

– It took him just four tournaments to enter san’yaku by the year 2005, after impressive 12-3, 11-4, 8-7 and 12-3 records.

– He became an ozeki in May 2006, and his ozeki results were: 14-1, 13-2, 8-7, kyujo, 10-5, 13-2, 15-0. Woah.

Hakuho getting his first yusho after defeating Miyabiyama in a playoff, in May 2006

Hakuho won most bouts during a calendar year from year 2007, as Asashoryu was still the other active yokozuna, exchanging fabulous bouts in the process.

Hakuho’s last bout of the May 2007 basho – before yokozuna promotion

However, the new yokozuna benefited from Asashoryu’s issues (he was suspended during the two last honbashos of 2007) and injuries (missing all or part of the three last bashos in 2008), during his late career. Still, Hakuho had to surrender three bashos during that period to his great rival.

Asashoryu wrestled free of absences during the whole year 2009, but his presence did not stop Hakuho from collecting stratospheric numbers, with 14-1, 15-0, 14-1, 14-1, 14-1 and 15-0 records.

After Asashoryu’s retirement in 2010, Hakuho entered a period of utter dominance, notching 86 wins out of 90 in 2009 and 2010. He collected « only » 66 wins in 2011, but let’s not forget that the March tournament had been cancelled.

 Hakuho’s final bout against Asashoryu in January 2010

Hakuho continued his dominance during the next years; however, numbers tend to be a bit deceptive as the dai-yokozuna saw the emergence of other rivals.

Hakuho piled up 76 wins out of the 90 possible in 2012, which is quite impressive. However, Hakuho’s dominance wasn’t absolute. Below his best, he secured just ten wins in May, and had to surrender the Cup twice to Harumafuji, who became that year a yokozuna alongside the great man.

Hakuho’s loss to Harumafuji in Aki 2012 sealing Harumafuji’s promotion

2013 was another great year for him with a mouth-watering 82 wins. But it’s worth mentionning another great rival’s performances: then ozeki Kisenosato finished the four last bashos of the year as runner-up. He came mightily close from beating the dai-yokozuna on day 14 of the May tournament, which would probably have cemented a first yusho for one of Hakuho’s sternest challengers.

Hakuho’s numbers remained excellent in 2014, even if that year saw fellow Mongolian Kakuryu’s rise to yokozuna. The dai-yokozuna piled up 81 wins. That year was the last to see him get more than 70 victories during a single year.

Hakuho’s loss to Kakuryu in Osaka 2014 which saw Kakuryu’s own promotion

Hakuho won again the most bouts in 2015 (66), but had to pull out of the Aki basho, which saw Kakuryu clinch his first yusho as a yokozuna. His dominance has been strongly contested by the Isegahama pair, composed by Harumafuji (who won the Kyushu basho, and helped Terunofuji clinch the May basho) and Terunofuji (with Harumafuji’s mirror achievements).

Injury issues meant we saw a rikishi other than Hakuho winning the most bout during 2016, namely Kisenosato.

Hakuho returned to the top of that chart in 2017, albeit by a mere 56 victories, the lowest he ever got while achieving that feat. Still not at his best, he paved way for Kisenosato, who won the first two bashos of the year. The rest of the year was more successful, winning in March, May and November (after seeing Harumafuji retiring from his duties).

What happened next ?

Recurring injuries limited Hakuho’s further appearances. He set up the Olympics in 2020 as his main target, and there’s speculation whether he’ll retire after. However, his weakened body nevertheless put its fingers on the Emperor’s Cup in Aki 2018, March and Kyushu 2019, and proved everyone that the greatest rikishi of all time is still very much present.

We’ll focus next time on the winner of the most bout during the year 2016 : Kisenosato.

Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

We have to wait until Christmas Eve (December 24th) for the release of the first rankings of 2020. In the meantime, here’s what the Crystal Ball thinks they’ll look like.

The Guess

The predicted ranks are in the middle column, with East-side rikishi on the left and West-side ones on the right. Current rank and record is shown for each rikishi.

You’ll note that I am forecasting an eight-person san’yaku, with only the standard two Sekiwake and Komusubi slots joining the two remaining Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks. While arguments can be made for promoting Abi to Sekiwake and/or for keeping Endo and Hokutofuji at Komusubi, I don’t find them persuasive. Having three fewer san’yaku ranks than on the current banzuke means that many rikishi will find themselves ranked lower than they would be otherwise, as being 12th in Makuuchi in Kyushu places one at M1e, while at Hatsu it would correspond to M2w.

Biggest Question Marks

Ozeki to Sekiwake to… ? How far will Tochinoshin fall? We don’t have a lot of data for 2-win Sekiwake, but the two most recent instances saw demotions to M8e, and the lowest modern rank was M9e (Konishiki, March 1994). Given the downward pressure created by the reduced san’yaku, and the need to give promotions to Kagayaki, Yutakayama, Ishiura, and Chioyomaru, I have placed the Georgian at a historic low rank of M10e, but anything between M8 and M11 wouldn’t surprise me.

What will happen to poor Tomokaze? Again, there is not a lot of data for an M3 with zero wins, but rikishi in this situation escaped demotion in 4 of the 5 recent instances. While those odds suggest Tomokaze might stay in the top division, J1w Tokushoryu (8-7) has a rather strong promotion case—will it prove strong enough to force the committee’s hand? I’ve provisionally placed Tomokaze at M16w, and left Tokushoryu in Juryo, but this feels like a coin flip. Note that if Tokushoryu is promoted, he’ll get the last slot in Makuuchi, M17w, with Kaisei and Kiribayama moving up half a rank.

Biggest Moves

I have M10w Shodai (11-4) jumping up 6.5 ranks, M12w Takanosho (10-5) moving up 6, and M13w Kagayaki (10-5) rising 5.5. This trio posted the only double-digit-win records in the top division aside from Hakuho and Asanoyama.

There are not many big moves in the other direction, other than the aforementioned Tochinoshin and Tomokaze. Well, not within Makuuchi, anyway. M7w Kotoeko (5-10) is the only maegashira with double-digit losses on the projected banzuke, and he is predicted to fall 7 full ranks to M14w. In general, because of the overall shift of the ranks, this was not a good basho to end with a losing record, as a number of rikishi are forecast to fall 5 ranks after posting 6-9 records, as opposed to the usual 3 ranks, and Sadanoumi is facing a 3-rank demotion despite a minimal 7-8 make-koshi.

The worst records in the top division were concentrated in the last four ranks, and all of these rikishi will be fighting in Juryo come January, alongside the absent Ichinojo. This quartet includes injured M16e Wakatakakage (4-1-10) and hapless M15w Daishoho, M15e Daishomaru, and M14w Nishikigi, who managed only 12 wins among them.

Do you have thoughts on the Hatsu banzuke and the projection? Let me know in the comments. And come back in a little over two weeks to find out what the actual banzuke will be and how these predictions fare.

Makushita Joi for Hatsu

The line between Juryo and Makushita has been likened to the boundary between heaven and hell. Which rikishi will in a position to cross this line in the upward direction? There are usually two paths. The more difficult one is to post a 7-0 record in the top 15 ranks of Makushita, as Terunofuji just did. The more conventional path is to have a winning record in the top 5 ranks (top 10 rikishi) in Makushita, which are referred to as the Makushita joi. (The divide between Ms5 and Ms6 is referred to as “the invisible line”; for instance, after Aki, 4-3 at Ms5w was deemed sufficient to earn promotion, while 5-2 at Ms6e was not). This time, all four rikishi ranked Ms1-Ms5 with kachi-koshi earned promotions to the second division, although that’s not always the case, as there may not be enough open promotion slots in Juryo. On rare occasion, a winning record just outside the joi may be sufficient if the open slots can’t be filled otherwise.

So, who will occupy the all-important Ms1-Ms5 ranks at Hatsu? There is a baker’s dozen of contenders, who fall into three categories.

Demotions from Juryo

Rikishi demoted from the second division usually end up in the Makushita joi, unless their record is really terrible. In the current scenario, J11e Kaisho (5-10), J11w Wakamotoharu (5-10), and J14 Akiseyama (5-10) should definitely be in range of immediate re-promotion opportnunities. J12w Gagamaru (1-12-2) falls into the “really terrible” category and will likely be ranked below Ms5, while J6w Ichiyamamoto (0-2-13) is on the bubble due to his higher rank.

Losing record inside the Makushita joi

This will usually drop you out of the top 5 ranks, but a bare-minimum 3-4 make-koshi is survivable at a sufficiently high starting rank. The one rikishi in this category is former Makuuchi man Ms2w Chiyonokuni, who missed regaining sekitori status by one win, and should get another chance in January.

Promotions from lower in Makushita

Obviously, this requires a winning record. The number of wins also matters: to earn promotion at 4-3, you have to be ranked pretty close to Ms5, while 5-2 or 6-1 buys more breathing room. The 4-3 rikishi who should make it into the joi are Ms6e Chiyonoumi and Ms7e Naya, who’ll finally have his first conventional shot at earning sekitori status. In the 5-2 group, Ms7w Shiba and Ms9w Oki should make it, while Ms10e Hakuyozan joins the bubble. Finally, among rikishi with 6-1 records, one-to-watch pixie Midorifuji (Ms12e) should be ranked in the top 10, while Ms17e Asabenkei might be ranked too low.

To sum up, the Hatsu Makushita top 10 should comprise Kaisho, Wakamotoharu, Akiseyama, Chiyonokuni, Chiyonoumi, Naya, Shiba, Oki, Midorifuji, and one rikishi from the trio of Ichiyamamoto, Hakuyozan, and Asabenkei. And no, I’m not going to try to put them in rank order.

New Juryo for Hatsu

While we have to wait until Christmas Eve for the rest of the banzuke (don’t worry, I’ll post a forecast before then), the promotions to Juryo have been announced. As anticipated, these are Ms1e Churanoumi (4-3), Ms1w Chiyootori (4-3), Ms2e Asagyokusei (5-2), Ms3e Sakigake (4-3), and none other than the 7-0 Ms10w Makushita yusho winner, former Ozeki Terunofuji!

Terunofuji returns to the salaried ranks after sitting out four tournaments and spending five more in the lower divisions. For Churanoumi, this is his third trip to Juryo; both of the previous ones ended with immediate demotions. Chiyootori, Chiyomaru’s “little” brother, has been ranked as high as Komusubi, but has been toiling in the unpaid ranks for two full years. Asagyokusei is coming up to the second division for the second time; his first visit was in September. Sakigake has also been in Juryo before, but not since January 2015. So none of these are youngsters making highly anticipated sekitori debuts.

The corresponding demotions from Juryo have not been announced, but they should be the injured J6w Ichiyamamoto (0-2-13), the J11 duo of Kaisho and Wakamotoharu, both 5-10, J12w Gagamaru (1-12-2) and J14e Akiseyama (5-10). J13w Hoshoryu (7-8) should survive by the thinnest of margins to fight again as a sekitori at Hatsu, where he will have no margin for error.