And the best basho of the 2010 decade is…

Admittedly, this article could have taken place at the end of last year. But slowly putting myself in the mood for the final basho of the year, I was thinking of past great sumo moments, and wanted to switch from an internal monologue to a broader discussion with you guys, sumo fans.

So my question is: in your opinion, which basho of the past decade would you consider as “the best” ?

Before we start, I’d like to point out the fact that this article will be purely subjective, and does not aim to be scientific or exact. I myself haven’t seen several basho from the beginning of the 2010 decade, so it’s likely I missed some great moments along the way!

I’d like to thank once again Jason Harris for his awesome coverage during the past decades, and his videos I took the liberty to upload here.

The favorites

1. Natsu basho 2012

Had this basho taken place somewhere between 2018 and 2020, the final outcome would not have appeared that weird. But back in 2012, that basho was truly an anomaly.

Seeing an under-par Hakuho losing to Aminishiki on shonishi quickly made it clear the yusho would be up for grabs.

The eventual winner, Kyokutenho, started indifferently, with a 2-3 record after five days, whereas the ozeki were largely disappointing. All, except one: Kisenosato, who had a comfortable two win lead after ten days. But Kisenosato being Kisenosato (and Tochiozan being Tochiozan)…

To sum up this basho, I could of course have selected the playoff, but Kisenosato’s final bout, against Baruto, impressed me quite a lot. The Estonian’s stubborn resistance at the edge, even though nothing was at stake for him at this point, is stunning. Kisenosato’s inability to finish the big guy off is all the more painful.

May 2012, day 15: Kisenosato v Baruto

2. Osaka 2017

Definitely one of the blockbusters of the 2010 decade. The Osaka basho 2017 is the tale of three men, one yokozuna, one ozeki and one sekiwake. Two months ago, all three were ozeki. Kisenosato got promoted to yokozuna, Kotoshogiku could not save his ozeki rank, whereas Terunofuji entered the basho being sadly kadoban yet again. And all three entered the dohyo in fine form.

The shin-yokozuna pleased a delighted crowd, day after day, winning the first twelwe bouts. Terunofuji’s knees seemed to finally let him produce his A-game, having lost just once in the process. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku grabbed eight wins, and has to win the last two in order to complete what an ozekiwake wants to do: getting his ten, and reaching sumo’s highest rank again.

The rest is already part of the legend: an injury ending career, an infamous henka, a forgettable showing up on day 14, and a playoff of the crippled.

This time, I definitely chose to show the playoff, and not to bring further images of that Kotoshogiku – Terunofuji bout.

Osaka 2017, playoff: Kisenosato v Terunofuji

3. Hatsu basho 2019

My personal favorite, and the perfect definition of sumo chaos.

I can’t help but introducing that event with the usual pre-basho “bold prediction” thread from Grand Sumo Breakdown. Feeling that the upper ranks were far from their best, I predicted a total of no more than 30 wins, for all ozeki and yokozuna combined – that included Goeido, Takayasu, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato, so an average of five wins per rikishi! Jason thought I was losing it; I held on my prediction. How many wins did those six eventually get? 30.

Back to chaos. First of all, this was Kisenosato’s last basho. After an encouraging 10-5 in September of last year, the injured yokozuna could not grab one single win in November or in January, and had to call it a day.

Kakuryu and Tochinoshin also did not end the tournament – with two wins for the yokozuna, zero for the ozeki. Goeido and Takayasu got their kachi koshi, but varely more (9-6 for both).

What about Hakuho? During the first days, he miraculously saved himself from seemingly hopeless situations – not without a bit of help of Tochiozan, who self destructed once again. Hakuho’s desperate fight against Hokutofuji was a particular highlight. He snatched the win, but injured his knee in the process, as we were to know several days after.

After the first days scares, the dai yokozuna seemed as good as ever – Herouth advised his stable to book a fish in advance, as Hakuho entered the last third of the basho with a two win cushion. From there, the yokozuna’s knee could not stand the effort anymore, and the basho ended up – of course – with a surprise winner.

I enjoyed Takakeisho’s win over Hakuho :

January 2019, day 13: Hakuho v Takakeisho

The outsiders

There were, of course, many more delightful sumo moments to enjoy during that decade. I remember Kisenosato’s fine effort on his quest for his first yusho, in May 2013, where he won the first thirteen bouts before succumbing to Hakuho and ending the basho 13-2.

Kotoshogiku’s unstoppable gaburi was fun, back in January 2016. After getting his kashi koshi as soon as on day eight, things became serious when he defeated Kakuryu, then showing Hakuho and Harumafuji who the boss is. His 14-1 yusho was stunning; perhaps even more than Goeido’s zensho yusho in September 2016, where  Hakuho was kyujo.

January 2016, day 11: Hakuho v Kotoshogiku

The Aki basho 2017 was symbolic in more than one way. The basho almost became a no-kozuna, as the only remaining yokozuna, Harumafuji, was seriously struggling with his elbow (how many no-kozuna have we witnessed since ?). It was also the Mongolian’s final yusho, before his sudden retirement a few weeks after. That basho was yet another anomaly – the last rikishi to win a yusho having sustained four losses was Musashimaru, in 1996.

Goeido’s meltdown was truly shocking – he had a three lead cushion to Harumafuji at some point. All in all, this basho’s scenario was really entertaining, much to Jason’s delight. 

Aki basho 2017, playoff: Goeido v Harumafuji

Jason would surely single out the Aki basho 2012, too. It saw Harumafuji’s second zensho yusho in a row, which prompted a fully deserved yokozuna promotion. On the other hand, Herouth might stress out Kakuryu’s yokozuna promotion, which took place in March 2014.

Aki basho 2012, playoff: Hakuho v Harumafuji

I would finally recall 2019’s Aki basho¸ which was really fun too, with many yusho contenders, and an enjoyable sekiwake duel between Takakeisho and Mitakeumi.

The Aki basho has definitely been entertaining during the past years. Would you pick one of the previous editions as your last decade’s favorite basho?

Have ozeki forces been expelled from the dohyo ?

Asanoyama has deservedly been promoted to the ozeki rank, right after a solid 11-4 performance in Osaka. Long life the ozeki!

By the way, in terms of roles, what, exactly, is an ozeki?

The ozeki are sumo’s second highest rank, and should provide yokozuna serious competition for the Cup.

However, how often hs this been the case recently?

Recent records show us that ozeki have largely been disappointing. Let’s dig deeper into this topic, knowing that we will look back until 2010:

  1. Who has been an ozeki since then?

Kaio, Kotomitsuki, Harumafuji, Kotooshu, Baruto, Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, Kakuryu, Goeido, Terunofuji, Takayasu, Tochinoshin and Takakeisho. That’s a total of 13.

Used to lift small cars for training: former ozeki Baruto (left)

2. Since 2010, who has not won a single basho as an ozeki?

Sadly enough, many of them: Kaio, Kotomitsuki, Kotooshu, and the four last of them: Terunofuji, Takayasu, Tochinoshin and Takakeisho. It’s more than the half: 7 out of 13.

On the contrary, Harumafuji has been the most successful, as he collected eight of his nine yusho during that period.

3. How to analyze ozeki records?

To sum up grossly ozeki ranks since 2010, Kaio was in his late career, and Kotomitsuki got dismissed in 2010.

By the end of 2011, an unseen sextet of ozeki took place after Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato’s promotions.

The trademark Kotoshogiku stretch

Harumafuji had won a yusho (Nagoya 2011) as an ozeki right before. He repeated that feat twice in a row in Nagoya and Aki of next year, securing his promotion to yokozuna.

Of the sextet, only Baruto was immediately successful, winning the January 2012 basho. But that was it, for the time being, and the sextet disagregated.

We had to wait until Osaka 2014 to see another ozeki win a yusho, namely Kakuryu – he got promoted to yokozuna right after.

A successful rise to the top: yokozuna Kakuryu

We had to wait almost two years to see more ozeki success. In fact, we could witness twelve months of ozeki bless, with three of them notching a yusho: Kotoshogiku in January 2016, Goeido in September 2016, and Kisenosato in January 2017. His second win in March came as a yokozuna.

And, incredibly, that was it. Ozeki tried, lost twice in a playoff in 2017 (Terunofuji in March, Goeido in September) ; Takayasu came close to meeting Takakeisho in a playoff in November 2018. But they visibly failed to delivered since Kisenosato’s promotion ; their health condition has been a great concern. Terunofuji fell into the abyss, Takayasu and Tochinoshin got definitively demoted. For all three of them, demotion did not came too long after their promotion – about two years. Goeido’s physical condition caused him to retire, but he had quite a long spell – a bit less than six years. Kotoshogiku failed to regain the ozeki rank early in 2017; the final blow was given by a very infamous henka by Terunofuji, and caused great scandal.

What about Takakeisho? Considered a great hope, he already suffered two grave injuries during his younr career, a knee and his chest having been hit. If he did manage to get a spot in a playoff in Aki of 2019, he hasn’t won a yusho as an ozeki yet, and I’m afraid we might not see him lift the Emperor’s Cup ever again, due to his precarious health condition.

A great future already behind him ? Ozeki Takakeisho

Unfortunately, this is truly been the ozeki’s stumbling block.

To sum up:

Only 8 bashos have been won by an ozeki since 2010 : 1 by Baruto, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, Goeido and Kisenosato ; 3 by Harumafuji.

Three of them have been promoted to yokozuna after the yusho; the other three have stayed at the rank but failed to deliver again.

  • From 2010 to 2012 included: 4 ozeki yusho (Baruto, Harumafuji thrice)
  • From 2013 to 2015 included: 1 ozeki yusho (Kakuryu)
  • From 2016 to January 2017 included: 3 ozeki yusho (Kotoshogiku, Goeido, Kisenosato)
  • From March 2017 to present: no yusho.
Set to break the curse? Ozeki Asanoyama

Time is ticking, and let’s hope Asanoyama will be able to break that new, worrying ozeki curse…

Update: I got a very interesting question from Abi Fan, which I thank a lot for that. He asked how ozeki fared in the previous decade.

16 yusho were won by ozeki back then:

– Chiyotaikai – 2 (July 2002, March 2003)
– Kaio – 4 (his first yusho came as a komusubi)
– Tochiazuma – 3 (January 2002, November 2003, January 2006)
– Asashoryu – 2 (November 2002 and January 2003)
– Hakuho – 3 (May 2006, Maech and May 2007)
– Harumafuji – 1 (May 2009)
– Kotoosho – 1 (May 2008).

Remarkably, the majority of all yusho winner of that decade is quoted on that list.

Haru Basho – yokozuna’s last fortress ?

2020’s Haru basho gave us a great finale, which a yusho deciding bout on the very last bout of the very last day – senshuraku’s musobi no ichiban – between both grand champions, Hakuho and Kakuryu.

What’s more normal ? Plenty of things, actually. As we know, recent times have provided us a fair amount of surprise winners, unlikely scenarios and crazy bashos.

Some venues have provided more drama than others. Let’s put a diagnosis on each yearly basho. Which ones are still mainly held by the yokozuna ? Which ones are brillantly conqueered by the rest of the field ?

Hatsu basho : complete meltdown

The first basho of the year is probably the most vandalized basho in recent times. Is it worth mentionning Tokushoryu’s improbable win, while sitting in banzuke’s unenviable place of the “makuuchi’s ass” ? Remarkably, a makuuchi spot wasn’t guaranteed to him at all, as he benefited from Tomokaze’s demotion to juryo’s first spot.

In my opinion, of of the craziest basho we could witness in recent times came in Tokyo, in January of last year. My prediction of all yokozuna plus ozeki not getting more than thirty wins combined seemed bold to the great Jason Harris, only for that prophecy to be accumplished fifteen days later. Tochinoshin went kyujo shortly after Kisenosato’s sad but inevitable retirement. Kakuryu did not finish the tournament. The yusho seemed to be given to Hakuho (who at some point had a two win lead), but the dai yokozuna couldn’t stand an injury sustained on the basho’s early days, and did not fight on senshuraku.

The eventual winner ? Sekiwake Tamawashi.

Arguably, the transitional period we’re witnessing began in that very same place. It all started with Tochinoshin’s surprise win, just a couple years ago. It eventually proved to be the first sign of the old guard paving way – before the future ozeki ending up demoted himself.

By the way, when’s the last time a yokozuna won that basho ? Neither in 2017, which saw Kisenosato’s consecration, being promoted from his long time ozeki spotright after the basho. Nor in 2016, where a Japanese won a yusho for the first time in ten years, namely Kotoshogiku.

Always better with Jason’s reactions: ozeki Kotoshogiku (10-0) v yokozuna Hakuho (10-0), Day 11 of Hatsu basho 2016

Hakuho is the last yokozuna to have triumphed there, in 2015. That will make six years, come 2021 !

Natsu basho : contested

Let’s skip Haru basho for now and turn to the May tournament, in Tokyo. It could be named “the contender basho”.

Remember last year’s basho ? It started with Tochinoshin’s apparent revival as an ozekiwake. The Georgian piled up wins before seemingly reinjured himself in the process, and struggling to get his desired ten wins. The story ended with an infamous henka on Kakuryu, which sealed the yusho for Asanoyama, then ranked maegashira 8. Maegashira 8 !

Several awards were presented to Asanoyama – who received instructions on how to collect them, shortly before the ceremony – by no one else than Donald Trump. Has the US president handed several rewards to our next yokozuna ? We will see.

Newly promoted ozeki Asanoyama Hideki

Anyway, another rikishi became an ozeki shortly after winning a yusho in may – namely Terunofuji. Back in 2015, the then man in form benefitted from heya mate Harumafuji’s help to leapfrog Hakuho on quest of the Emperor’s Cup. He was promoted to sport’s second highest rank before July.

Finally, how not to mention Kyokutenho’s unlikely yusho, back in 2012 ? After a slow start – he was 2-3, the Mongolian benefitted from an incredible drop of form of the upper ranks, most notably Kisenosato, who blew up a two win lead after day 11. It all ended with a nervous playoff against Tochiozan.

Nagoya basho : holding its own

Yokozuna record in Nagoya is pretty good. From 2008 to 2017 included, only Hakuho and Harumafuji (twice as an ozeki) have won it.

I wouldn’t call Nagoya a fortress, though, as the 2018 basho was the first one in a while to be a “nokozuna” : Kisenosato did not compete, while Hakuho, Kakuryu (and ozeki Tochinoshin) had pulled out by day 6. Sadly, that feat would repeat several times since then – so eventual winner, Mitakeumi, definitely opened Pandora’s box.

Triumphant in Nagoya: Mitakeumi Hisashi

Last year’s winner was yokozuna Kakuryu, who got his sixth – and currently last – yusho.

Aki basho : melting down

Why is Aki basho melting down ? Since 2005, it has notably been won by Asashoryu (thrice), Harumafuji (twice), Kakuryu (once), and, of course, Hakuho (seven times).

However, last editions have had a fair share of drama.

Back in 2015, Kakuryu – the sole yokozuna competing – benefitted from Terunofuji’s first grave knee injury to pip him on the yusho race, although he got dragged into a playoff by the ozeki.

The 2016 edition came as an enormous surprise as Goeido, then a kadoban ozeki, not only won the yusho, but with a zensho yusho ! The runner up, in the process, was crowd favorite Endo.

With a famous stare down : yokozuna Harumafuji (10-2) v ozeki Goeido (12-0), Day 13 of Aki basho 2016

In 2017, right before the infamous scandal that prompted his retirement, Harumafuji recovered from a three (!) loss deficit to Goeido, who himself melted down, before defeating him twice on senshuraku – once in regulation, and once in the ensuing playoff.

If 2018 occurred with a fine share of normality – Hakuho the winner -, how not mentionning the 2019 edition ? Another nokozuna, with endless contenders : Meisei, Tsurugisho, Okinoumi (who could have clinched the whole thing with a different scenario on senshuraku) all got in the process.

Eventually, the basho gave way to an original playoff between both sekiwake : Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, the winner.

Kyushu basho : not quite, but almost a fortress

Calendar year’s last basho could have been called “yokozuna’s second fortress”, had two of the last three editions not be so dramatic.

As already mentioned, the 2017 edition saw Harumafuji’s regrettable scanda land subsequent retirement. Hakuho emerged from chaos, not without providing his share of controversy, as he openly contested the shimpan’s decision of not calling a matta on Yoshikaze’s bout.

Should have stayed longer : yokozuna Harumafuji

Next year’s tournament provided a very rare occurrence of a komosubi win. I twas Takakeisho’s landmark ozeki run, thanks to a fine 13-2 record, with a bit of help of Mitakeumi, who defeated Takayasu on senshuraku. The ozeki could have sealed a place in a playoff, had he not succumbed to pressure.

Haru basho : yokozuna’s last fortress

Chiyotaikai won this basho in 2003, as an ozeki. Hakuho won it in 2007, but as an ozeki (that was the tricky part of this basho’s statistics !). From 2008 (with the 2011 edition having been cancelled), this basho has only been won by yokozuna.

One small exception to that: Kakuryu won it as an ozeki in 2014. To be more exact, following a 14-1 playoff loss in January, Kakuryu’s 14-1 win in Osaka cemented his yokozuna promotion.

One could say that the 2014 edition saw a half yokozuna winning it ! We can’t close our discussion without mentionning the 2017 edition, which saw Kisenosato’s yokozuna debut and only yusho at the top rank, despite sustaining a career ending injury.

It all started so well… Kisenosato began his yokozuna career with a yusho

In a sense, the Ibaraki born contributed to establish Osaka as the last yokozuna’s fortress.

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

In our first episode we looked at Hakuho’s extended winning era, which started back in 2007 and ceased – in terms of most wins during a calendar year, at least – in 2016. Let’s look at the first rikishi to end Hakuho’s incredible run : Kisenosato.

Kisenosato Yutaka – 2016

The road to the top

Kisensosato’s rise from the bottom of the banzuke to the upper division has been as impressive as Hakuho’s, needing just fifteen tournaments to reach makuuchi. His rise from here, however, became quite slower. Spending several years from upper maegashira to komosubi, Kisenosato finally trusted a sekiwake slot in March 2009, five years after his makuuchi debut. After two final maegashira appearances, he finally brought his career upwards, and after good performances during the year 2011, was promoted to ozeki at the beginning of 2012. Being considered as one of the greatest Japanese hopes, Kisenosato’s crowning had then been awaited.

Kisenosato finished runner up in thirteen tournaments and missed several opportunities to clinch the first yusho of this career and/or yokozuna promotion.

He was tied for first before the last day of the May tournament of 2012, alongside Tochiozan and Kyokutenho, and lost to former ozeki Baruto, despite pushing him to the tawara after a great start. He would have been the huge favorite to win the ensuing playoff.

Kisenosato’s loss to Baruto on day 15 of the May 2012 honbasho

Kisenosato won his first thirteen matches in May of next year, and saw his lead shared by Hakuho. They faced each other on the decisive bout of the tournament, on day 14. I recommend everyone to watch the bout as well as its make up; the atmosphere was tense as the whole crowd waited for Kisenosato to finally find his way to the top. The fight was mightily contested, and Hakuho, despite slipping from the dohyo, managed to throw his rival to the ground shortly before falling himself. Another great chance was gone, and, for once, the ozeki’s mental frailties were not in cause.

Kisenosato’s decisive bout against Hakuho on day 14 of the May 2013 tournament

Indeed, three consecutive runner-up performances thereafter, Kisenosato was told he would be promoted to yokozuna by winning the yusho with at least thirteen bouts. However, pressure war perhaps too much to his shoulders as he even failed to get his kachi koshi. Quite symptomatic of his troubles was his fifth bout against Aoiyama, where he tried to intimidate the Bulgarian wrestler at the tachi-ai, before ending pushed to the crowd seconds after.

The story was not too different in 2016, the year he collected more wins than any other rival. Indeed, Kisenosato was told again he would earn yokozuna promotion, on three separate occasion, but fell short each time. His sumo was solid in Kyushu, being the only wrestler to defeat eventual winner Kakuryu and ending up 12-3. The three rikishis to defeat him ? Maegashira Endo, Shodai and Tochinoshin.

Nevertheless, consistent performances enabled him to earn an impressive total of 69 victories in 2016. Nobody matched that record.

Kisenosato handed Kakuryu’s sole loss during the Kyusho Basho of 2016

Quite paradoxically, 2016 must have been quite hard to swallow for Kisenosato. Before all his efforts, he had to watch fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku and Goeido clinch a yusho themselves, in January and September.

What happened next ?

The rest of his career is already part of the legend. Kisenosato finally managed to chase his old ghosts the tournament after, in January of 2017, defeating Hakuho in the process an ending up the undisputed winner with a 14-1 record. He was promoted to yokozuna after the tournament.

His debut as a shin-yokozuna was dream-like, as he managed to grab twelwe straight wins, much to the fans delight. But the honeymoon abruptly came to an end the day after, as Kisenosato tore his pectoral muscle at the tachi-ai, during his bout against Harumafuji. Kisenosato was brought outside the dohyo limit without putting any resistance against Kakuryu the day after, but benefited from Terunofuji’s own injuries to still notch a debut yusho as a yokozuna.

Sadly, his pectoral muscle turned out to be an career ending injury. Irony was very much presentt, as Kisenosato never missed a single bout until then. He sat out partly or entirely during each scheduled honbasho until his retirement, with the exception of the Aki basho of 2018, when he managed to produce a honourable 10-5 result.

Kisenosato announced his retirement after failling to compete properly at the January tournament of 2019.

Hakuho won the most bouts in 2017. We won’t stress out Hakuho’s achievements once again; instead, we’ll move to another wrestler who illuminated the 2018 sumo year : Tochinoshin.