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Back-to-back Double Digit Wins by Maegashira

A little spotted thing happened at the Hatsu 2020 Basho, tas wo rikishi notched at least ten wins as Maegashira after accomplishing the same feat in the previous basho. It's understandable that this got little commentary. Tokushoryu did the unthinkable in winning 14 matches and the yusho from literally the lowest spot anyone ever had. And that understates what he did, because Tokushoryu also had a very poor track record of recent success. Tokushoryu needed to be the story.

Yet Shodai and Kagayaki both did something quite impressive themselves. Since 1993, when Akebono was promoted to Yokozuna and ended the last period without a grand champion, a rikishi has put together back-to-back double digit wins as a Maegashira just 38 times in 163 basho, acoomplished by only 27 different wrestlers. Never in that time did two rikishi do it in the same two basho. What Shodai and Kagayaki did was truly impressive. The big question, of course, is whether they can sustain this. The short answer is "not forever." The real answer is more complex. (A full chart is at the bottom of this article.)

The list of 27 wrestlers is impressive. There are five future Ozeki and one future Yokozuna. Hakuho is the future Yokozuna, and as usual his inclusion is a reminder of his insane career. He won 12 matches in his Makuuchi debut in May 2004, then put up an 11-4 at Nagoya. He was just 19 years old and on a fast-track to Sanyaku. This is yet another case where Hakuho is not a representative case. Still, a sumo wrestler should always be happy landing on a list with Hakuho.

But these performances speak to one of the peculiarities of sumo. Just 12 times did a rikishi who achieved back to back double-digit wins as a Maegashira get a winning record in their next basho. Dejima and Onosho managed to do it twice, although there's a caveat with Onosho. Onosho won 10 matches at Naru 2017, Nagoya 2017, and Aki 2017, followed by an 8-7 record at Kyushu. (This is another time to note what a shame Onosho's knee problems are.)

There's a good reason why rikishi will struggle to put together three straight winning records even when the first two are very good winning records: promotion. If a rikishi wins so much, he will be promoted to a high level. Half of the previous rikishi landed in Sanyaku for the third basho. No one was ranked below Maegashira 5. For many, it was a tough go-round. 16 rikishi had double-digit losses in the third basho.

What does this mean for Shodai and Kagayaki at Haru 2020? For Shodai, he will certainly be in the Sanyaku and maybe even at Sekiwake. He's going to face the toughest schedule possible. Yet he also had a more remarkable performance the last two basho. He got back-to-back Jun-Yusho as a Maegashira. That has only happened three times in sumo's long history. Aran's performance in 2010 does not bode well. But in 1980, Takanosato was elevated to Sekiwake, where he won 11. He would also eventually become a Yokozuna, although it was when he was 31 and should not be viewed as a precedent setter.

Likely, though, neither Shodai nor Kagayaki will do as well as they did the last two basho. Rikishi just don't do that. Not only do they get promoted and face more difficult competition, but winning 10 matches is difficult for any sumo wrestler. Don't expect them to do it a third time for Haru. Yet it's also a probably a sign that both men will be able to make noise in the Sanyaku in the next few years.

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