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2022 in Sumo


2022's Match of the Year, when Wakatakakage won a playoff over Takayasu

2022 is drawing to a close, meaning it is time to take stock of the year as a whole and look forward to 2023. The thing is, 2022 was a very odd year in sumo. We have to start here, because every summation is weird. Nothing that follows counts as “normal” for sumo.


Let’s begin with the yusho winners for each of the six basho:

  • Hatsu Basho, January 2022:

  • Sekiwake #1 East Mitakeumi

  • Haru Basho, March 2022:

  • Sekiwake #1 East Wakatakakage

  • Natsu Basho, May 2022:

  • Yokozuna East Terunofuji

  • Nagoya Basho, July 2022:

  • Maegashira #2 West Ichinojo

  • Aki Basho, September 2022:

  • Maegashira #3 East Tamawashi

  • Kyushu Basho, November 2022:

  • Maegashira #9 West Abi


Having separate winners for each basho is incredibly rare. It did happen in 2020, but 1) there were only five bashos then since the Natsu basho was canceled that year for COVID reasons, and 2) Hakuho won his 44th yusho in March 2020 after winning his 43rd the previous November. Hakuho winning didn’t feel like a wild result in 2020. 2022 saw three first-time winners and three Maegashira champions. Sumo is just not meant to have this level of parity.


The previous year with six separate winners was 1991, when Kirishima, Hokutoumi, Asahifuji, Kotofuji, Kotonishiki, and Konishiki lifted the Emperor’s Cup in succession. The back-to-back Sadogatake-beya wins by Kotofuji and Kotonishiki were also the most recent consecutive Maegashira yusho before September 2022. Don’t bother looking for a previous time when Maegashira won three straight basho. It’s never happened.


December 1991 is an interesting precedent for sumo’s current moment. The biggest question mark heading into 2023 is what will happen to the Yokozuna and the Ozeki. Those are singular terms, a situation the Sumo Association and sumo fans both don’t like. To make matters worse, our lone Yokozuna Terunofuji is once again struggling with injuries. Takakeisho is the sole Ozeki left after Shodai and Mitakeumi’s recent demotions from the rank. He at least just won a Jun-Yusho, although he doesn’t exactly have an injury-free history. Who will be a Yokozuna or Ozeki in a year is very much an open question right now.


Sumo faced similar uncertainty going into 1992. There were four Yokozuna in January 1991. Chiyonofuji retired in May 1991, and Onokuni followed in July. The two remaining Yokozuna, Asahifuji and Hokutoumi, were battling injuries. At Hatsu 1992, Asahifuji retired while Hokutoumi missed the whole basho. After needing to withdraw from the March basho, Hokutoumi retired in May. That was the first time in six decades sumo had no Yokozuna.


Three decades since then, we may be seeing another period with no Yokozuna. And sumo is not in the same position it was in during 1992. Then, Konishiki was threatening a Yokozuna run as an Ozeki, while Akebono started on an Ozeki run. Also towards the top of Makuuchi were brothers Wakahanada and Takahanada, as well as Musashimaru. The only one of those five wrestlers not to become a Yokozuna was Konishiki, who seemed most likely to make the rank in early 1992.


Predicting the future is often dangerous, and trying to divine which current rikishi will make a leap is a guarantee of looking foolish. But finding a current rikishi that parallels the January 1992 versions of Konishiki or Akebono or Takahanada or Wakahanada or Musashimaru is tough. Takakeisho is an Ozeki and just needs two consecutive yusho to take the rope. Of course, that is the ultimate easier-said-than-done task in sumo. Hoshoryu could also get an Ozeki promotion with double digit wins in both January and March, but that isn’t as simple as it sounds either. No one is taking control of Makuuchi, or is even close.


The list of Jun-Yusho winners also reveals some of sumo’s odd current parity:

  • Hatsu Basho, January 2022:

  • Maegashira #6 West Abi

  • Haru Basho, March 2022:

  • Maegashira #7 East Takayasu

  • Natsu Basho, May 2022:

  • Komusubi West Daieisho

  • Maegashira #4 West Takanosho

  • Maegashira #12 West Sadanoumi

  • Nagoya Basho, July 2022:

  • Yokozuna East Terunofuji

  • Ozeki #1 East Takakeisho

  • Aki Basho, September 2022:

  • Sekiwake East Wakatakakage

  • Maegashira #4 West Takayasu

  • Maegashira #12 West Ryuden

  • Kyushu Basho, November 2022:

  • Ozeki East Takakeisho

  • Maegashira #1 East Takayasu


The notable name in that list is Takayasu, who comes up three times. In 2022, Takayasu earned his fifth, sixth, and seventh jun-yushos. That ties him with the infamous Futahaguro, the only Yokozuna to ever retire before winning a yusho. It places him one behind 1960s Ozeki Yutakayama Katsuo. Everyone else with more Jun-Yusho has an Emperor’s Cup to his name.


2022 may go down in history as the year of Takayasu’s almost yusho. He made it to two playoffs, in March and November. In September, he had a chance at the yusho if he won on the last day. He lost in all of those situations. He was still near the yusho race in a way most other rikishi were not throughout the year. The match of the year was probably his playoff loss to Wakatakakage in March. The moment of the year will almost certainly be his playoff loss to a shifting Abi, after which he bent over on the dohyo for a minute. It was Takayasu's year, but not in the way he would have wanted.


In addition to those three near-Yusho, Takayasu sat out all of the January and July tournaments for COVID reasons. In January, his stablemates tested positive for COVID, while in July he tested positive himself. So in three-quarters of the basho Takayasu competed in this year, he was a contender until the final day. He also was a Maegashira for all of 2022. Largely, that was because he didn’t jump up after those 0-0-15s in January and July. Still, the wrestler who dominated the storylines, if not the yushos, of 2022 was a Maegashira.


The rikishi who won the most matches in 2022 was Wakatakakage. He did win a yusho, and spent the final five bashos as the top Sekiwake. Still, his overall win total for the year was 57. That speaks to the lack of dominance from anyone in sumo right now as well. For reference, the record is 86 wins in a calendar year by Hakuho (who else) in 2009 and again in 2010. There is only one Hakuho, but no one even came close to a Yokozuna kind of dominance right now. Wakatakakage didn’t even average 10 wins per basho in 2022. That’s a telling statistic. The unofficial promotion criteria for an Ozeki is 33 wins over three basho, presumably with a Yusho or Jun-Yusho in there. Essentially, an Ozeki should be getting double-digit wins everytime out. Wakatakakage didn’t get repeat double-digit wins in 2022. And everyone else did worse overall this year.


2022 has been a year of transition. Long-serving veterans Kyokushuho, Shohozan, Jokoryu, Kaisei, Chiyotairyu, and Yutakayama (21st century version) retired. None of them had been competing at the highest level, and indeed only Chiyotairyu retired while in Makuuchi. But it’s another sign of change. 2022 also saw the Makuuchi debuts of Wakamotoharu, Oho, Kotokuzan, Nishikifuji, Mitoryu, Hiradoumi, and Atamifuji.


It was a mixed bag. Wakamotoharu, Oho, Nishikifuji, and Hiradoumi seem to have stuck as Maegashira. Kotokuzan, Mitoryu, and Atamifuji went right back down. 20 year old Atamifuji will likely be back and perform better. His entry to Makuuchi, despite his talents and domination of the lower levels, was probably a touch soon. That also speaks to the current weirdness in Makuuchi. He survived more than dominated in Juryo, and that was enough to get him a Maegashira slot in November.


The current strangeness in sumo is likely just a passing thing. Although no one looks like dominating right now, it only takes one rikishi to elevate their sumo and restore the usual nature of the sport. Sumo historically has been dominated by 1-3 sekitori at one time. Takakeisho still has a shot at Yokozuna. Maybe Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu, or Kotonowaka will make the leap to really performing Ozeki sumo in 2023. Perhaps the crop of youngsters about to make their debuts in Makuuchi (and Atamifuji) could rocket through Makuuchi. Don’t be surprised if one of Hokuseiho, Kitanowaka, Tochimusashi, Kinbozan, Roga, Gonoyama, Fujiseiun, Dewanoryu, Otsuji, Mukainakono, or Kototebakari looks poised to dominate in a year’s time.


But 2022 didn’t feature anyone dominating. It was the year of six yusho winners, three Maegashira winners, and three Takayasu almost-winners. The old guard was slowly fading, while the young guns weren’t yet firing at their best. Overall, it was just a strange year for sumo.


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