The Next Yokozuna, 2022 Edition
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In the run-up to the Hatsu 2020 Basho, this website ran a five-part series trying to identify the Next Yokozuna. The first part laid out how the 9 Yokozuna from Akebono to Kisenosato made it to sumo's top level. Part two went into more detail about the group, labeling some as "Inevitable Yokozuna" and others as "Eventual Yokozuna." The third part discussed "Near Yokozuna," those rikishi who had won a yusho as Ozeki and were one Emperor's Cup away from the rope. The fourth article ruled out rikishi from being the Next Yokozuna. And finally, with the fifth piece in the series, we identified possible Next Yokozunas.
In 2021, we got the Next Yokozuna, and it was Terunofuji. Terunofuji was not mentioned as a possible Next Yokozuna in that first five-part series. For January 2020, Terunofuji was scheduled to make his reentry to Juryo after his multiple basho absence due to a series of awful injuries. There was no assurance he could still hold his own as a sekitori, much less regain his Ozeki rank. In fact, he was able to surpass his previous level.
For the 2021 update to The Next Yokozuna, Terunofuji was mentioned as a "Wild Card." No one had ever made a comeback like he already had, and he certainly was fighting like a Yokozuna by January 2021. Yet saying he would be able to keep it up seemed presumptuous, since he was literally doing something unprecedented and had not quite gotten over the injury concerns. He was able to make his way to Yokozuna anyway.
Terunofuji's unique path to Yokozuna should have been a wrench in the works for the previous analysis. After all, no one else is going to miss four basho due to injury, then shoot up to Yokozuna as quickly as possible from Jonidan. Yet among the previous 9 Yokozuna, Terunofuji does not stick out on the parameters used in the initial analysis. The average age at which Yokozuna since 1991 have entered sumo is 17 and Terunofuji was 19 when he joined professional sumo. But he took 13 basho to reach Juryo, while the average for Yokozuna was 13.3. He also took 16 basho to make Makuuchi, while the average recent Yokozuna took 16.5. Terunofuji spent 16 basho at Ozeki, and the average time as an Ozeki for the modern Yokozuna was 16.7. And Terunofuji had 4 Yusho and 7 Jun-Yusho before gaining the rope, and the average was 3.5 and 5.5. (The full comparison chart is below.)
Sure, Terunofuji had nearly four years between his two stretches as Ozeki, and there were four and a half years between his first and second yusho. What he did before that gap was indicative of a future Yokozuna. Terunofuji was obviously an excellent rikishi at a young age. He also was racking up tournament wins before his promotion run. That level of dominance is what marks a future Yokozuna more than anything else.
There have officially been 73 Yokozuna in sumo's centuries-long history. There have been just 10 in the last thirty years. A Yokozuna is truly exceptional, even among the best of the best rikishi. There are many very good rikishi, including a current Ozeki and multiple-yusho winners, who are not considered as future Yokozuna here. That is not an insult to anyone. A Yokozuna has tended to get to Juryo and Makuuchi quickly, made it to Ozeki at a relatively young age, and won a few Yusho and Jun-Yusho before making their promotion run.
This is why much of the list is made of the very young. The key is dominance, from the start, and being one of the better competitors in sumo before 25. Don't think of this as a comprehensive list of the future stars in Makuuchi. This is more or less the rikishi who cannot be ruled out from making it to sumo's top rank. What rules someone out? Essentially, a lack of early dominance, joining sumo after age 19, and not reaching high levels by a certain age. (For more detail, go read the original five part series.)
Current Rank: Ozeki
Birthdate: August 5, 1996
Career Record: 333-147-47
Takakeisho topped this list each of the last two years, and he is not yet a Yokozuna. Certainly, any sense of inevitability is gone, and he is by far the oldest rikishi on this list. Yet Takakeisho has the advantage of being closest to making Yokozuna of anyone in sumo. (Except Shodai, but he seems unable to make that ultimate jump.) He just needs to win back-to-back yusho. Will he do that? On the plus side, he already has 2 yusho and 6 jun-yusho. He has also gone toe-to-toe with Terunofuji before. The issue is the biggest issue for anyone. Takakeisho can still be said to be a future Yokozuna, if he stays healthy. The "if" is just becoming a lot more problematic with significant injuries in January and July this year. But if he can stay healthy, it could happen this year.
Current Rank: Maegashira 6
Birthdate: May 22, 1999
Career Record: 143-105-2
Hoshoryu has never had THAT moment. His best tournament was a 10-5 with a Technique Prize this past July. That can overshadow the fact he is just 22 and already a solid Maegashira. He may have had just the one lower-level yusho (in Sandanme for May 2018), but he has always won. He made it to Juryo in 10 basho and to Makuuchi in 14 basho from starting in sumo as an 18 year old. He is most famous as the nephew of former Yokozuna Asashoryu, but his specialty with throws and countermoves means he has a chance to make his own name. If he takes just a small leap in his sumo, he'll be contending for yusho before long.
Current Rank: Maegashira 18
Birthdate: February 14, 2000
Career Record: 120-74
Oho will be making his Makuuchi debut in January, which would put all eyes on Oho. He's already had all eyes on him, because he is the grandson of the former Yokozuna Taiho. Taiho was considered the best ever before Hakuho by many, and that greatness is what Oho had to live up to. (He's added to it, as his shikona translates into "King Peng" and recalls both his grandfather and Hakuho.) Since joining sumo four years ago, he has steadily, if not consistently, risen through the ranks. He stalled out in Makushita for a bit, but he is now a top-division wrestler as a 21 year old. Oho has always had great size and athleticism, but his climb to Makuuchi was accelerated by an embrace of grappling techniques.
Current Rank: Juryo 2
Birthdate: August 26, 1999
Career Record: 142-107-8
Kotoshoho did not have a good 2021. He began it at Maegashira 3, went 2-13, had an injury in March, and found himself back in Juryo. So let's just be clear that this is a 22 year old who has already notched double-digits in Makuuchi. Kotoshoho is also a physical specimen who is bigger and stronger than most top rikishi. If he simply performs like he has previously, he could be a Sanyaku wrestler by the end of the year. Of course, he also could keep hitting problems with injuries. But the path is still alive for Kotoshoho despite his awful year.
Current Rank: Juryo 12
Birthdate: Novermber 12, 2000
Career Record: 70-35
Kitanowaka is making his Sekitori debut in January barely past his 21st birthday and less than 3 years from joining sumo. He has also won two-thirds of his matches, making him a steady winner. He also just looks like a Yokozuna, with prototypical size and good footwork. For a former high school sumo star, he seemed to stall out in mid-Makushita in early 2021. Over the last three basho, he consolidated his sumo with solid yotsu techniques. He has the potential to make short work of Juryo if he is dedicated on his first taste of sekitori-dom.
Current Rank: Makushita 1
Birthdate: September 3, 2002
Career Record: 36-6
Atamifuji has made it to the cusp of Juryo in just 8 basho, or less than a year and a half since joining sumo. His worst record so far was a 5-2 in September from Makushita 24. That was a career high rank at the time, because he's only had career high ranks. This is a rikishi who has had a rocketship attached to his back since entering the pro ranks. He has mostly won with straight ahead Yokiriki, but more in the vein of stablemate Terunofuji. He has just been able to muscle up people, and how well he can do that against sekitori will judge his immediate future. But his longterm future is clearly bright, and he could be in Makuuchi this time next year.
Current Rank: Makushita 6
Birthdate: March 7, 2001
Career Record: 54-23
Dewanoryu is Mongolian, and the designated foreigner at Dewanoumi-beya. Since joining the stable in late 2019, he has made his way up the ranks. He has needed to adjust to his level of competition at times, but he's made it through with success after a basho or two. He isn't blessed with typical Yokozuna size, but he has shown the ability to place himself right in his opponents chest. And he wins much more than he loses, making him in Juryo promotion range before he is 21. We could be a year from seeing his Makuuchi debut, and he won't even be 22 then.
Current Rank: Makushita 12
Birthdate: November 12, 2001
Career Record: 39-5-35
The reasons not to consider Hokuseiho's potential for the future are his last two basho. He sat out in September because his positive COVID diagnosis led to all of Miyagino-beya sitting out, and then he notched the awful 0-2-13 record in Juryo for November. Those two basho are his Juryo career. The reasons to consider Hokuseiho as a future Yokozuna is that he turned 20 in November, is 39-5 when he does fight, and is 200 cm, 164 kg (6' 7", 362 lbs). Hokuseiho could be an Akebono sized force on the dohyo, or he could flame out in the next year. Either way, keep an eye out for him.
Current Rank: Makushita 26
Birthdate: October 6, 2003
Career Record: 57-35-13
Otsuji has not had the laurels or attention of other wrestlers on this list. He has not won a yusho at any level, and he has needed a while at many levels to go up a division. A guy who went 5-2, 4-3, 4-3, 4-3, 4-3, and 1-6 in 2021, all in Makushita, isn't setting the sumo world on notice. Yet he also had those five straight winning records in Makushita before turning 18. He is not blessed with outstanding size, and he is overwhelmingly a pusher-thruster. Yet he established himself as a Makushita rikishi at an age when many rikishi are joining stables. He is well ahead of the curve, and if he stays ahead, he will be worth watching.
Current Rank: Makushita 45
Birthdate: November 23, 1998
Career Record: 24-4
Current Rank: Makushita 59
Birthdate: June 24, 1997
Career Record: 7-0
Both Fujitoshi and Kinbozan get an asterisk, but will still be listed here because of their records. Fujitoshi has gone 24-4 in a little more than a year of pro sumo, while Kinbozan currently is a perfect 7-0. That's dominance, but it should also be expected. Both wrestlers are university graduates, and Kinbozan, a native Kazakh, was successful enough at University to warrant a Sandanme Tsukedashi placement for November. University graduates are usually excluded from a Next Yokozuna analysis, because the last Yokozuna who graduated from University was Wajima. He gained the rope in 1973. If Fujitoshi and Kinbozan keep winning, they may make it. However, Fujitoshi is older than Hoshoryu, Oho, Kotoshoho, and Kitanowaka, who are all already Sekitori. And Kinbozan is a year older than Fujitoshi. They still have the possibility to become Yokozuna, but they have to do everything right from here forward.
Current Rank: Sandanme 18
Birthdate: November 3, 2002
Career Record: 22-6
Moji is relatively small for a rikishi, and he is overwhelmingly a pusher. In fact, he has yet to win a match via a yorikiri or any kind of throw. Yet what Moji has done is win. He's only been in sumo since March 2021, but has never done worse than 5-2. And in his last two basho he went 6-1. He could be found out, but right now Moji is a 19 year old who just wins.
Current Rank: Sandanme 48
Birthdate: October 31, 2002
Career Record: 17-4
Like Moji, Kiryuko has done nothing but win in his short time in professional sumo. He has gone 6-1, 6-1, and 5-2 so far in his career. Unlike Moji, he has shown some versatility with six yorikiri wins and five oshidashi wins. If he maintains his current form, he'll be knocking on the door of Makuuchi in a year. Even if he slows down some, he's got a good start going already.
Current Rank: Sandanme 62
Birthdate: April 10, 2005
Career Record: 16-5
Shunrai has gone 7-0, 5-2, and 4-3 in his three professional, competitive basho. 16-5 might not seem spectacular, and it is certainly a small sample size. But Shunmai is 16. Of the dozens of active rikishi currently under the age of 18, he has by far the best winning percentage. It's three basho, and guarantees nothing, but he's the best of his age bracket so far at a very young age. (He's also a stablemate of Hoshoryu and Kiryuko, so pay attention to Tatsunami-beya.)
A Yokozuna is a rare thing. The safest bet is to assume none of the rikishi listed here will make it. But these are the sumotori who are on track enough so far.