The Next Yokozuna, 2023
We are back again to try and see who will become a Yokozuna in the future. In December 2019, this website unveiled a five part series called The Next Yokozuna. In an attempt to see who might get the rope next, I looked at who became Yokozuna since 1990, how those Yokozuna got to their promotion, the Near Yokozuna (Ozeki who won a yusho but didn’t get a second), then-current wrestlers who were NOT going to make Yokozuna, and finally future Yokozuna candidates.
Although that five-part series might not have had a final list with any men who have yet to make Yokzouna (and some who crashed and burned), it provided a start. Before Hatsu 2021, I made another list of possible Next Yokozuna. That did include the actual next Yokozuna, Terunofuji, but as a wild card. Although Terunofuji’s rise to Yokozuna was unusual, featuring multiple injuries and a drop down to Jonidan after being an Ozeki, he had a similar early career to other Yokozuna. That made the version of the next Yokozuna before Hatsu 2022 use similar criteria as previous lists.
Making an annual list of possible next Yokozuna is a great way to look foolish. Each of the previous lists have rikishi who struggled in the following year and are obviously not going to become one of the all-time elite sumo wrestlers. And a Yokozuna is an absolute elite sumotori. Terunofuji is the sport’s 73rd Yokozuna. The 1st one was Akashi, said to be born in 1600. And he may not even have been a real person. Most sekitori won’t make it to Makuuchi, much less Yokozuna.
For the 2023 version of the Next Yokozuna, I looked again at what would exclude anyone from Yokozuna consideration. No Yokozuna in the analysis I first did three years ago now was promoted after age 30, fought as a University wrestler, took more than 30 basho to make Maegashira, or made their Maegashira debut after the age of 24. I classified which current Makuuchi wrestlers and those in Makuuchi for Kyushu would be discounted by these criteria. So if anyone is on the below lists they were excluded from consideration.
That chart has a bunch of excellent rikishi on it, including some who are likely contenders for Hatsu 2023. There are also former Ozeki, current Sekiwake, and some young men with bright futures. Do not think that being in the exclusion list means they are terrible. Yokozuna are the cream of the crop, and becoming one is an extremely difficult task. Only the truly special rikishi will make it, and even many Yokozuna need some luck to get there.
Before we get to the list of men who could possibly be a Yokozuna, let’s consider a few who didn’t make any of the lists above but should probably be ruled out for being too near some of the other boundaries.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Daieisho is 29 years old and once again outside Sanyaku. He has a yusho to his name and a few basho in Sanyaku, but he never threatened an Ozeki run or made consistent hay. He’s about to hit the over 30 column, and then he would be excluded.
Ichinojo has looked like a future Yokozuna in the past, but has also had consistency issues throughout his career. Now he will be suspended for Hatsu for violating COVID protocols and is dealing with other controversies, making him likely fall to lower Maegashira at best and Juryo at worst. He won his yusho in 2022, but 2023 might have already sealed off even an Ozeki possibility for the massive Mongolian.
Abi just won a yusho, and he has double-digit wins in multiple recent basho. He is also 28 and seems to be able to only dominate from lower Maegashira. In Sanyaku, he has never done racked up double-digit wins. He has to climb pretty quickly to make it, and that may just be beyond him.
As a 21 year old in November 2017, Onosho was a Komusubi who held his rank with an 8-7. Then he got injured, and he has never been the same. In fact, he has never made it back to the Sanyaku ranks. 5 years on, Onosho isn’t in a position to leap up to Ozeki quickly and then make the extra step to Yokozuna. More strikingly, he hasn’t shown he is capable of winning enough to get back to Komusubi.
THE NEXT YOKOZUNA CONTENDERS
Takakeisho Mitsunobu | 貴景勝 光信
Stable: Tokiwayama |
Birthdate: August 5, 1996
Current Rank: Ozeki
Career Record: 383-207-58, 2 Yusho, 8 Jun-Yusho
This series has been going on for four years, and each time Takakeisho has led off the possible next Yokozuna. Time may be running out in some ways, but the reason he deserves to be here is that he still has the easiest road to Yokozuna. Two yusho in a row, and he gets in. There's even chatter a strong yusho for Hatsu will get him the promotion. Everyone else needs to first make it to Ozeki, which is no small feat.
Takakeisho has even had a chance to make a rope run in the past, but he couldn’t get a second consecutive yusho in January 2021. Injuries have been the main thing to stop him from winning more, although questions remain about his style. Likely, his all out pushing approach is really causing him problems by leading to injuries. It could also be that being built like a square isn’t the most sustainable body type in the long run.
Hoshoryu Tomokatsu | 豊昇龍 智勝
Birthdate: May 22, 1999
Current Rank: Sekiwake
Career Record: 198-140-2
Hoshoryu is 23 and may have just started an Ozeki run with 11 wins as a Sekiwake at Kyushu. He also shot through the lower divisions and is extremely talented. He is a little behind the curve for a dai-Yokozuna like his uncle Asashoryu. That’s a wild bar to set. Hoshoryu has never really dominated, but once he figures that out, the next stop is Ozeki. It's scary to think he may be an Ozeki before even hitting his peak. Once he’s there, he is just the back-to-back yusho (or equivalent) to make Yokozuna.
Of course, that is easier said than done.
Kiribayama Tetsuo | 霧馬山 鐵雄
Birthdate: April 24, 1996
Current Rank: Komusubi
Career Record: 273-196-15
Maybe the Misty Horse Mountain doesn’t really belong here. Kiribayama didn’t reach any of the exclusion lists, but also doesn’t seem stamped as a future Yokozuna since he just cleared those specific hurdles.On the other hand, if you squint, you can see a path. If Kiribayama can take a leap forward, he would be able to dominate more. That would naturally lead to an Ozeki run. Then he could really become a force on the dohyo and make it to Yokozuna.
That’s not a high probability, but it also isn’t an impossibility. So he is here. He may also have a 2023 that shows he won’t be here next year.
Kotonowaka Masahiro | 琴ノ若 傑太
Birthdate: November 19, 1997
Current Rank: Komusubi
Career Record: 253-180-14
Like Kiribayama, Kotonowaka probably needs a lot to go right to make it to sumo’s ultimate rank. On the other hand, he is 18 months younger than Kiribayama and has four double-digit win Makuuchi basho to his name already. No one has better fundamentals than Kotonowaka in Makuuchi, and he is a tough customer to beat even when he doesn’t get his match. When he does get his match, he can overpower anyone.
A fun note about Kotonowaka is that he will get a new shikona if and when he makes Ozeki. Currently, he shares Kotonowaka with his father (who is also his stablemaster, Sadogataka-oyakata), a former Sekiwake. If he gets the Ozeki promotion, he’ll become Kotozakura. That was the shikona of his maternal grandfather, a Yokozuna in the 1970s.
Oho Konosuke | 王鵬 幸之介
Birthdate: February 14, 2000
Current Rank: Maegashira #8 East
Career Record: 168-116
Continuing with the Yokozuna grandfather theme, Oho is the grandson of legendary 1960s Yokozuna Taiho. Taiho was widely considered the greatest to ever do it until Hakuho. Oho might not quite be on his pace (Taiho got the rope at 21), but he is still relatively young and very talented. Kyushu was a bit of a coming out party for Oho. He was in the yusho race until late in the basho and ended on 10 wins.
If he wins throughout 2023 and has a few more 10+ win bashos, Oho will be a firm Sanyaku wrestler this time next year. If he doesn’t do that, you have to begin to wonder where his ceiling really lies.
Kotoshoho Yoshinari | 琴勝峰 吉成
Birthdate: August 26, 1999
Current Rank: Maegashira #13 East
Current Record: 187-148-12
Kotoshoho looked like one of the best future Yokozuna bets two years ago, when he was at Maegashira #1 as a 21 year old. Instead, he got injured and fell back to Juryo. He’s a Makuuchi man again, but he hasn’t been that great because he has been the wildest rikishi on the dohyo. Of course, his combo of size, athleticism, and skills mean he can often win even when his feet are sending him all over the dohyo. If he settles himself, he’ll overpower anyone. If he doesn’t, he won’t make this list in a year.
Hokuseiho Osamu | 北青鵬 治
Birthdate: November 12, 2001
Current Rank: Juryo #2 East
Career Record: 84-26-35
Hokuseiho is a gigantic rikishi (200 cm, or 6 feet, 7 inches) and has won whenever he has mounted the dohyo. The fact he has more absences than losses is a bit strange, but he only has one injury that made him miss time. Otherwise, he’s missed basho for COVID reasons. Now, he is knocking on the door of Makuuchi having just turned 21. There is a profound weirdness in watching Hokuseiho, as he often stands upright and let’s the other guy do the work. When you are a head taller than every opponent and strong as an ox, that can work. His first significant test may actually come in Makuuchi.
Atamifuji Sakutaro | 熱海富士 朔太郎
Birthdate: September 3, 2002
Current Rank: Juryo #3 East
Career Record: 77-47
Atamifuji made his Makuuchi debut at Kyushu and it did not go well. He got just four wins. That seemingly doesn't augur well for the future, but making Machuuchi at such a young age is impressive. And leading into that basho there was very little to doubt Atamifuji’s future stardom. He has prototypical size, as well as an ability to grab a hold and muscle people out in the lower divisions. The way he recovers from his disappointing shin-Maegashira performance, and learns to beat people closer to him in size and strength, will determine if he can reach his highest potential.
Kitanowaka Daisuke | 北の若 大輔
Birthdate: November 12, 2000
Current Rank: Juryo #8 West
Career Record: 116-74-5
Kitanowaka has been moving just alongside Atamifuji and Hokuseiho, while also having the look of a future high-level rikishi. He is a year older than Hokuseiho and two years older than Atamifuji, while also not having quite the record of dominance. But he also only turned 22 in November and is very, very good himself. He should make a Makuuchi debut in 2023, and if he does well initially, he’ll start rising up the Banzuke.
Mukainakano Shingo | 向中野 真豪
Birthdate: September 7, 2002
Current Rank: Makushita #13 West
Career Record: 41-14-7
Mukainakano is a Miyagino man, meaning he is under the tutelage of former Yokozuna Hakuho. The rikishi that he is actually most similar to is Takakeisho. He is not tall for a sumo star, but is built like a square and has a powerful pushing attack. In fact, like the Ozeki, his frequent wins by oshidashi belie a great sense of strategy and in-ring awareness. He was at Maegashira #33 in Kyushu, which meant he mostly faced much older veterans who would try and get him off his game. Mukainakano went 6-1. A 7-0 yusho might get him to Juryo by March, but performing as he has gets him a Sekitori debut in 2023. Makuuchi could happen shortly thereafter.
Setonoumi Ryusho | 瀬戸の海 龍昇
Birthdate: June 11, 2004
Current Rank: Makushita #15 East
Career Record: 58-27-20
Setonoumi first joined pro sumo in March 2020, but essentially had to start over from scratch in September 2021 after injury problems. Despite that, he has made it to upper Makushita in under two years. He is also still just 18, and keeps winning. A reason to worry about him is that he is slightly undersized for a rikishi, at 179 cm and 108 kg (5’11” and 238 lbs). Of course, that’s NFL linebacker size, and he is wildly athletic. He is a guaranteed future fan favorite, since he’s always seeming to look to grab an arm and move sideways. He’s also already developed a remarkable ring sense and tawara dance. At the least, he'll be a popular Makuuchi mainstay if he stays healthy. He may even have a chance to make it all the way to sumo’s top rank.
Kiryuko Hirakazu | 木竜皇 博一
Birthdate: October 31, 2002
Current Rank: Makushita #17 West
Career Record: 44-19
Kiryuko has flown through the lower divisions, having joined sumo in May 2021 and is already in upper Makushita. The real story came before he joined the professional ranks, as he was set to join Tokitsukaze-beya with his father (former Maegashira Tokitsuumi) as his Oyakata. Instead, his father had to retire because of COVID protocol violations, making Kiryuko and his brother Shunrai join Tatsunami. He still looks like the son of a stablemaster, with an almost preternatural ability to get inside and under for a strongly leveraged position from the tachiai. He also stays in good position and rarely beats himself. He’s on a fast-track to Juryo, and he has a body and fighting style to take him quickly on to Makuuchi. From there, it's about staying ahead of the curve.
Kototebakari Taiki | 琴手計 太希
Birthdate: July 8, 2003
Current Rank: Makushita #22 West
Career Record: 29-5-1
The great likelihood is that no one on this list makes Yokozuna, because it is such a rare achievement. Many of the young men listed here have a chance, but will likely fail. If there is one rikishi who is leading the pack, it is Kototebakari.
In his five basho as a professional, he has never had a losing record and made it to mid-Maegashira as a 19 year old. In fact, he could be a sekitori before he turns 20. That will happen a day before the Nagoya basho starts. His five losses include a fusen one when his stable pulled out for COVID in July. He has won with 10 different kimarite in his 29 wins, and he has great size. We don’t even know what he looks like with a chonmage, because his hair is not yet long enough to tie up into a top-knot. This is the package of a future Yokozuna.
Of course, there’s still a tough road. Upper Makushita is a meat grinder filled with veterans who are working their hardest to make it to Juryo and up-and-coming youngsters on their way to Makuuchi. (The three wrestlers listed above him are just a sampling.) When he hits Juryo, he will face more people his size, as well as many rikishi who have the skills to overcome size deficits. That’s even more true of Makuuchi. Getting to the top rank of sumo is extraordinarily difficult,
And then there is the cautionary example of Kotoshoho, Kototebakari’s older brother. In fact, Kotoshoho fought as “Kototebakari” when he began in sumo. The name is their family name with the traditional Sadogataka-beya “Koto-” prefix, a formula all wrestlers in the stable start with. Kotoshoho looked just as impressive before he adopted his current shikona. Then he suffered an injury, and he has never looked the same.
But Kotoshoho is also still on this list despite looking like a train wreck recently. If the current Kototebakari avoids injuries or other issues, his name will go down in history. He just won’t be known as Kototebakari. We might learn what that name will be in 2023.
Kazuto Ko | 一翔 幸
Birthdate: December 13, 2003
Current Rank: Makushita #44 West
Career Record: 19-2
That 19-2 record is why Kazuto is so intriguing. He is slightly small for a high-level rikishi, and he has been very reliant on oshidashi to win. He has also, oddly, lost two playoff matches already. You can make his record 19-4 if you want, but that’s still damn good. He blasted through the three lower divisions, and now he gets the chance at Makushita in his age 19 year. It should be fun to see if he can keep it up.
Rinko Yoshikazu | 林虎 寛一
Birthdate: July 4, 2006
Current Rank: Sandanme #45 West
Career Record: 19-9
Rinko is in Sandanme, and he has been good not great in his brief professional sumo career. He is also 16 and mostly been facing men a few years older than him. The only wrestler near him in age is exactly his age, as his twin brother Hayashiryu was ranked alongside him. Sadly, Hayashiryu only managed a 2-5 in Kyushu, while Rinko got a 5-2. That’s an awfully fine margin in some ways, but the reason to keep Rinko in mind is that he is so young and beating much older opponents.
Someone will be Sumo’s next Yokozuna, and it may be one of the men on this list. Or it could be someone who has not even made their debut. What we do know is it takes a spectacular talent.