Hatsu 2020 Day Fifteen Recap
The story of sumo coming into 2020 was the changing of the guard. Sumo's old guard was going to fade away. The two Yokozuna Hakuho and Kakuryu were still formidable when healthy, but they were more often injured than not in 2019. The older Ozeki were slowly crumbling, as Tochinoshin is dealing with knee problems, Takayasu was attempting to work through an elbow issue, and Goeido was powering through a broken ankle.
A clutch of rikishi in their twenties were charging hard throughout 2019. Takakeisho won his first yusho in November 2018 and made Ozeki by May 2019. Asanoyama got his first yusho in that same May 2019 basho. Mitakeumi picked up his second yusho in September 2019. Endo, Abi, Hokutofuji, and Daieisho all proved they were capable of being in the top of the Maegashira ranks or even better. Younger rikishi were making noise at the lower levels as well.
Hatsu 2020 seemed to be going to the changing of the guard plan. Both Hakuho and Kakuryu suffered shocking losses for Yokozuna, which led to them withdrawing in the tournament's first week. Takayasu's attempt to regain his Ozeki rank from a demotion to Sekiwake was going poorly, while Goeido was having trouble remaining an Ozeki himself. Takakeisho and Asanoyama looked to be in pole position for the yusho race.
A funny thing happened while the guard was being changed. Someone unexpected came in and took the throne. Tokushoryu was the last sumo wrestler anyone would have tipped for the Emperor's Cup coming into Hatsu 2020. Literally, he was the last wrestler on the Banzuke in the Makkuchi division. A 33 year-old with Maegashira experience, he had spent the majority of the previous two years in Juryo. His career won-loss record in Makuuchi was 171-204 coming into 2020. He hadn't even blasted his way back to the top division, putting together two straight 8-7's to get promoted.
And all he did was go 14-1. He lost his second day match to Kaisei, then went on a roll, winning the rest of his matches. His last four proved to be especially difficult, facing other rikishi who performed well this basho, Kagayaki, Yutakayama, Shodai, and Takakeisho. He earned the yusho, no matter how unbelievable it was. He mostly won by keeping other rikishi in front of him with his large gut proving a tough barrier. From there, he could redirect them as he wanted. Seven of his fourteen wins were tsukiotoshi, the side thrust down.
Tokushoryu's Day Fourteen win over Shodai was the most consequential match of the basho, and that speaks volumes to Shodai's performance in his second straight Jun-Yusho. Shodai had dropped well down the banzuke in November 2019 after a terrible performance, but rediscovered his sumo at Kyushu. He only got better back at the Kokugikan. A rikishi who use to have a famously poor tachiai, he developed a strong kachi-age as part of getting more aggressive from the jump.
Hatsu has become a basho for surprise winners. In 2017, Kisenosato finally got a yusho, which took him to Yokozuna. Two years ago, it was Tochinoshin's breakout performance at Maegashira 2. Last year, Tamawashi shocked the sumo world with his yusho. By far, Tokushoryu's 14-1 is the most surprising. He likely will be less successful next time out, but he'll always have this moment.
As always, there are six weeks until the next basho. Injury reports will come out, but there is no Jungyo tour. The time will be Tokushoryu's and Tokushoryu's alone.