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The Next Yokozuna, 2024

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Before the Hatsu 2020 basho, I wrote a five-part series trying to work out who would be the Next Yokozuna. Seemed simple enough at the time. That began with an analysis of the then-nine men who were promoted to Yokozuna since 1990 and how they got there. Then I considered the Near Yokozuna, those Ozeki who won a yusho but didn't get the rope. After that, I identified exclusionary categories that meant a wrestler was unlikely to earn the rope. Finally, I developed a list of potential Future Yokozuna. I still stand behind the initial analysis, especially the writing about Near Yokozuna, but the list of potential Yokozuna doesn't look great. Neither did the 2021 or 2022 updates. The 2023 update may have a few better calls seeing how the next few years go.

In doing this annually, what has really been clear is that trying to say anyone has the look of a future Yokozuna is a great way to look ridiculous. I don't like going back and reading my hype of Toma or Nihonyanagi as future stars. Toma has retired, while Nihonyanagi hasn't made it out of Makushita. They aren't the only misses. I also only ever had Terunofuji listed as a "wild card" the year before he ascended to sumo's highest rank. Of course, Terunofuji has had a singular career.

The interesting one is Kirishima, who previously would have been listed as Kiribayama. He only made it on to one of these "Next Yokozuna" lists last year. Even then, it was based on the exclusionary criteria more than his looking like a Yokozuna. He had not graduated from University, made Makuuchi before the age of 24, made a Maegashira rank in under 30 tournaments, and still had the time to make it before turning 30. He was actually thrown in at the last minute, because he didn't make any of the specific exclusion lists. And Kirishima may just be the Next Yokozuna. Interestingly, his stablemaster, the first Kirishima, was one of those "Near Yokozuna" as an Ozeki who won a yusho but didn't get the rope.

Looking at the older lists, what stands out is who remains in this particular conversation. Most notably, Takakeisho topped each iteration until this year. His chance may seem to have slipped away, but he is still an Ozeki. He just needs the two consecutive yusho (or yusho equivalent.) In fact, he had two shots at the rope in 2023. Yet Hoshoryu has also been on each list, and Hokuseiho and Atamifuji have been on since they began competing. Kotoshoho, Oho, Kitanowaka, Setonoumi, Kazuto, and Rinko all dropped off the Next Yokozuna list between 2023 and 2024. They had less than stellar 2023s, and someone below could do the same in 2024. Or maybe they bounce back.

The candidates are listed below, with a small write-up. What's exciting is that there are lots of men already in Makuuchi. And although there is just one Juryo wrestler, there's a glut of talented, interesting rikishi in upper Makushita.

Kirishima Tetsuo | 霧島 鐵雄

Michinoku | Mongolia

Birthdate: April 24, 1996

Height: 186 cm | 6' 1"

Weight: 143 kg | 315 lbs

Highest Career Rank: Ozeki

Career Record: 335-222-17

Kirishima could be the actual next Yokozuna in a month. Even if he doesn’t get the rope this basho, he has been fighting very well as an Ozeki and is in the prime of his career. He will need luck, because becoming a Yokozuna is a remarkable achievement. That’s both injury luck and some luck with who he ends up fighting. He wouldn’t reshape any of the parameters for the Next Yokozuna analysis. He’ll just reinforce the boundaries.

Hoshoryu Tomokatsu | 豊昇龍 智勝

Tatsunami | Mongolia

Birthdate: May 22, 1999

Height: 188 cm | 6' 2"

Weight: 142 kg | 313 lbs

Highest Career Rank: Ozeki

Career Record: 257-171-2

Hoshoryu is frequently compared to his uncle, all-time great and highly controversial Yokozuna Asashoryu. He is also measured against fellow Ozeki, and his stated rival, Kirishima. Let’s consider him on his own. This is a 24 year old Ozeki with one yusho already under his belt.  He also has the feeling of someone with room to improve. Hoshoryu occasionally has a match where he gets too tricky, and he can really step up once he improves his consistency.

Takakeisho Takanobu | 貴景勝 貴信

Tokiwayama | Hyogo

Birthdate: August 5, 1996

Height: 175 cm | 5' 9"

Weight: 165 kg | 364 lbs

Highest Career Rank: Ozeki #1 East

Career Record: 426-231-81

Takakeisho led this list in every previous edition, and this is the first time it doesn’t just look like he isn’t best positioned to be the Next Yokozuna but may never make Yokozuna. That isn’t because he doesn’t have the talent. Takakeisho has won four Yushos, including three as an Ozeki. 

Each of those meant he had a chance to make Yokozuna, but failed. He won the yusho in January, then pulled out of the next basho with an injury. After an 11-4 playoff Yusho in September, he went a just okay 9-6. The injuries are the bigger worry than consistency. His style of sumo, slam into the other guy and repeatedly hit him in a non-steady rhythm, can win. It also probably leads to injuries, especially as his particularly square body shape puts extra pressure on hips, knees, and ankles. He also has had a lingering neck issue. If you’re betting against Takakeisho getting the Yokozuna promotion, that’s your biggest argument.

But you should also be a little nervous about that bet. He is actually younger than Kirishima by a few months. He also has the best career so far of anyone on this list. A string of good luck can make Takakeisho a Yokozuna.

Kotonowaka Masahiro | 琴ノ若 傑太

Sadogatake | Chiba

Birthdate: November 19, 1997

Height: 189 cm | 6' 2"

Weight: 176 kg | 388 lbs

Highest Career Rank: Sekiwake

Career Record: 309-214-14

Kotonowaka turned 26 during the Kyushu basho, so he is just entering his prime. He is also a Sekiwake who has not had a losing tournament in a full basho in two years. (He missed the end of the July 2022 basho because of COVID cases in his stable.) He doesn’t need to make a leap forward to make Ozeki, just a step.

It is probably fair to wonder about Kotonowaka’s ceiling. He is big, but not especially known for his raw power or athleticism. Instead, he wins with fundamentals and rarely beating himself. That’s gotten him four 11-win basho and one 12-win basho. He only got his first Jun-Yusho last time out, because his 12 wins came in July 2021, when Hakuho retired with a 15-0 and Terunofuji got his Yokozuna promotion with a 14-1. That says a

lot. So far, Kotonowaka has been one of the very best, but never THE very best. That’s what makes a Yokozuna, and he still needs to show he could have that. At least he is consistently improving.

Atamifuji Sakutaro | 熱海富士 朔太郎

Isegahama | Shizuoka

Birthdate: September 3, 2002

Height: 185 cm | 6' 1"

Weight: 176 kg | 388 lbs

Career High Rank: Maegashira #1

Career Record: 134-76-4

Atamifuji lost the September basho in a playoff to Takakeisho after getting 11 wins. In November, he won a second Jun-Yusho with another 11 win performance. Those were his second and third career Makuuchi basho, and he turned 21 just before the Aki basho.

There may be other young rikishi listed below him who are more intriguing for other reasons, whether it is their style or amateur success. Atamifuji is the most exciting combo of youth and proximity to the top of the Banzuke. In theory, he could be an Ozeki within the year. He has won 11 matches in each of his last two basho, and maintaining that average for three more basho would mean an Ozeki promotion. Plus, he has got the majority of his career ahead of him, so he should only improve.

The reality will not be that simple. January brings a full Sanyaku slate, and he will have  weaknesses found out by opponents more easily here.The 2024 calendar year will likely not be a banner year for Atamifuji. He will probably struggle. Just remember when and if he does that he still has impressive size, considerable strength, and a previous record of steering matches to the kind of bout he wants. 2024 may not be Atamifuji’s year, but some year will be soon.

Hokuseiho Osamu | 北青鵬 治

Miyagino | Hokkaido

Birthdate: November 12, 2001

Height: 204 cm | 6' 8"

Weight: 185 kg | 408 lbs

Career High Rank: Maegashira #6

Career Record: 132-68-35

Hokuseiho’s biggest selling point might also be his biggest weakness. The man is absolutely massive, even for sumo. At 204 cm (6’8”), he is not just the tallest rikishi in Makuuchi, but towers over everyone. He presents a very thorny physics problem to anyone he faces.

That size is also a physics problem for Hokuseiho. If you watched only his wins, you’d think he’d beat everyone he faces. He stands up other rikishi, then uses his strength and leverage to wear them down. If you watched only his losses, you’d think he’s bound to lose to anyone. He stands so upright that he never has the ability to fully dominate a match.

Right now, both Hokuseihos exist. If he solves the bad Hokuseiho, he’ll start shooting up the Banzuke. Barely 22, that could easily happen for the big Miyagino man. On the other hand, Ichinojo could be a cautionary tale. He, too, was an impressively large rikishi who often couldn’t get out of his own way. The larger point is that he has the potential to make sumo’s highest rank.

Onosato Daiki | 大の里 泰輝

Nishonoseki | Ishikawa

Birthdate: June 7, 2000

Height: 192 cm | 6' 4"

Weight: 177 kg | 390 lbs

Career High Rank: Maegashira #15

Career Record: 34-10

One of the exclusionary factors for rikishi in determining who has the potential to become a Yokozuna is University competition. The last Yokozuna to have gone to University was Asahifuji, who went for one year and made Yokozuna in 1990. The only University graduate to make Yokozuna was Wajima, who earned the rope in 1973. Asanoyama, Shodai, and Mitakeumi are three recent University wrestlers to be Makuuchi standouts. That Ozeki trio never really came close to making Yokozuna.

So why is Onosato, a 23 year old University man, on this list? Well, he wasn’t just a University competitor, but dominated amateur sumo. He won 13 Amateur titles. This is the best Amateur competitor ever. He is also blessed with ideal size and incredible athletic gifts that standout among professionals. If you want to pick a University wrestler to make it, Onosato is the potential future Yokozuna.

The biggest reason University wrestlers don’t make Yokozuna is that time is against them. They join sumo at about age 22, and still must climb the rankings. That often puts them behind other young standouts in terms of age at Makuuchi debut and Sanyaku debut. Onosato got to join as a Makushita Tsukedashi and started at Makusita #10 in May. He is older than Atamifuji and Hokuseiho, so he’s behind the eight-ball a little bit already.

They are also not usually the obvious prospects with incredible size and strength, but Onosato probably could have done well if he joined the pro ranks at 18. University sumo wasn’t seasoning for him. He has also absolutely dominated so far. His career record is 34-10, and he needed just four tournaments to make Maegashira. 

For a University sumotori to make Yokozuna, he’d have to do everything just right. That means making Makuuchi, then Sanyaku, then Ozeki, as quickly as possible. Wajima did that in his early career. This path is still open to Onosato, but an injury or other hiccup will threaten his chances.

Tenshoho Shingo | 天照鵬 真豪

Miyagino | Mie

Birthdate: September 7, 2002

Height: 180 cm | 5’11” 

Weight: 175 kg | 386

Career High Rank: Juryo #10

Career Record: 71-43-7

Let’s revisit the concept of Inevitable and Eventual Yokozuna. Tenshoho, who was known by his birth name of Mukainakano until his September promotion to Juryo, is not going to become an Inevitable Yokozuna. Those guys include Akebono, Takanohana, Asashoryu, and Hakuho, so Atamifuji, Hakuoho, and Satorufuji are the only ones here close to joining that group. You need to be good from the jump and dominate immediately.

Tenshoho won’t join them, but he could fit the Eventual Yokozuna. Those are the guys who made sumo’s top rank by steadily improving. If Kirishima does it, he’s going to be the paragon of steadily improving. Tenshoho still has that chance. He is 21, and in Juryo. He did have a 5-10 record last time out, but he’s still in Juryo. Three or four winning records in a row, and he’s a Maegashira. If that happens, he’d still be young.

He also would need that to happen to realistically stay a contender for possibly making Yokozuna in the future. The chances aren’t dead just yet.

Satorufuji Teppei | 聖富士 哲平

Isegahama | Shizuoka

Birthdate: May 29, 2004

Height: 178 cm | 5’10”

Weight: 162 kg | 357 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #3

Career Record: 30-5

Satorufuji has rocketed through sumo’s lower-ranks. Since debuting a year ago, he’s proceeded all the way from Jonokuchi to the top of Makushita. His 30-5 career record includes a Jonidan yusho last May and a Makushita yusho in November. Interestingly, he has also had matches won by yorikiri and oshidashi in equal proportion in his young career with 11 each. He also has notched 4 uwatenage, 2 katasukashi, and 2 shitatenage. There’s some variety to his dominance.

Satorufuji was part of the high school championship sumo team, but had no individual honors. At 18, he joined Isegahama stable straight out of school. Isegahama, home to current Yokozuna Terunofuji, young star Atamifuji, and solid Maegashira Midorifuji and Takarafuji. They didn’t need more riches, but he’s turned into one. Satorufuji gets his test in the meat-grinder of upper Makushita starting in January, but he could struggle there for a year and still be a 20 year old on the cusp of Juryo. He has a bright future, and if he maintains his success over the past year, it will be extremely bright.

Kiryuko Hirokazu | 木竜皇 博一

Tatsunami | Tokyo

Birthdate: October 31, 2002

Height: 176 cm | 5’10”

Weight: 127 kg | 277 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #2

Career Record: 67-38

Kiryuko made this list last year after making mid-Makushita as a 20 year old with a 44-19 record. Maybe surviving Makushita with a 13-19 record isn’t a recommendation for keeping him on this list. He is now a 21 year old who can make Juryo with a 7-0 record, maybe a 6-1 or 5-2. 

Kiryuko did get a Makushita yusho in March of 2023, though. He takes a step forward, and Makuuchi isn’t far away. Compared to the meteoric rise of Atamifuji or the absolutely astonishing debuts of Hakuoho and Onosato, Kiryuko feels like he’s been left behind. But he’s not left behind, just in that Eventual Yokozuna possibility more than an Inevitable one. Kiryuko can keep up his shot for sumo’s top rank.

Makushita #5 West Hakuoho

Hakuoho Tetsuya | 伯桜鵬 哲也

Miyagino | Tottori

Birthdate: August 22, 2003

Height: 181 cm | 5' 11"

Weight: 162 kg | 357 lbs

Career High Rank: Maegashira #9

Career Record: 42-10-30

Hakuoho has had to miss the last two basho after shoulder surgery for a long-running issue. Let’s remember what he has already accomplished. 

As a 19 year old, he joined sumo after an Amateur Career strong enough he could enter as a Makushita Tsukedashi. That is unheard of, because he won the Corporate Yokozuna (one of the four big amateur championships) the year after graduating high school. Then he joined Grand Sumo and won a Makushita yusho. Immediately jumping to Juryo, he went 10-5 and 14-1 with a playoff loss. That made him a Maegashira before his 20th birthday. Then he got 11 wins and a pair of special prizes.

He’s now back in Makushita, so he will need to replicate his astonishing performance from the beginning of 2023 to make it back to Makuuchi soon. Once there, he still has to improve as a Maegashira. From there, he will need to climb the rankings to get to Sanyaku. He has already had injury issues. Hakuoho is not a guaranteed future consistent yusho contender. A lot still has to happen.

But he just needs to do what he has already done again and go from there.

Kototebakari Taiki | 琴手計 太希

Sadogatake | Chiba

Birthdate: July 8, 2003

Height: 183 cm | 6’0”

Weight: 121 kg | 271 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #5

Career Record: 52-24-1

Kototebakari is yet another youngster whose 2023 saw him stall out a bit. One year ago, he was a 19 year old Makushita #22 West with a 29-4-1 record. He looked like he was about to be a dominant sekitori in no time. Over the course of the last year, he went 23-19 to go from Makushita #22 to Makushita #8

The excitement over Kototebakari should be less than it was a year ago, but he’s still got a wealth of potential. Tall, with a good frame, he’s got the look of an athlete who can add strength. He also seems to have learned how to be trickier. Yorikiri wins have been less common, but he got 3 sotogake (outside leg trip) and 2 kirikaeshi (twisting backward knee trip) wins in 2023. He may have needed this difficult year to be able to take on sekitori opponents. And that difficult year still saw him win more than he lost against upper Makushita. Kototebakari isn’t a shooting star anymore, but he’s still got incredible potential.

Otsuji Riki | 大辻 理紀

Takadagawa | Hyogo

Birthdate: October 6, 2003

Height: 180 cm | 5’11”

Weight: 141 kg | 308 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #5

Career Record: 103-71-15

Otsuji is not the kind of guy who overwhelms on tape or on paper. He’s got okay size and an overall winning record. Yet he’s also an overwhelming oshidashi specialist, who is overmatched in a mawashi battle. He’s never even had a yusho in the lower divisions. He’s been in sumo since 2019 and still has not become a sekitori.

He’s also twenty and on the cusp of making Juryo. If he makes a jump, he’ll be able to make Makuuchi before he’s 21. Ostuji will still be a remarkably youthful Maegashira in that scenario. If he keeps having difficulty with upper Makushita, his future prospects get lowered a little. He’s on this list for now.

Kotokenryu Takeaki | 琴挙龍 武明

Sadogatake | Mongolia

Birthdate: January 19, 2004

Height: 186 cm | 6’1”

Weight: 148 kg | 326 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #14

Career Record: 52-24-1

Kotokenryu is Sadogatake-beya’s resident Mongolian, so he trains with everyone with a 琴 (Koto-) at the start of their shikona. There are two stablemates above him on that list, and five rikishi ranked above him overall. There are also four Makushita wrestlers below him. That’s a good way to improve, and Kotokenryu has throughout his young career. He had a playoff loss in Jonokuchi in his debut basho, but then hasn’t threatened a yusho. He has also only had two losing basho, so he’s generally been pretty good. 

Intriguingly, he also has some variety to his sumo. In his 52 wins, he has had 14 different kimarite. He turns 20 during the basho, and he would only get a Juryo promotion with a 7-0 record (plus some luck.) But he doesn’t need a huge run of success to make sekitori before he’s 21, just avoiding losing records.

Wakaikari Seigo | 若碇 成剛

Isenoumi | Tokyo

Birthdate: February 22, 2005

Height: 175 cm | 5’9” 

Weight: 107 kg | 236 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #15

Career Record: 29-6

Wakaikari is in the same spot as Kototebakari was a year ago. He has blasted through the lower divisions and now finds himself at mid-Makushita. Wakaikari has a shikona that means “Young Anchor,” (and should be read transliterated as Waka-Ikari). That is because he is the son of former Maegashira Oikari, which means the Grand Anchor. Oikari is now Kabutoyama, an elder who coaches at Isenoumi stable. Wakaikari joined that heya after a solid high school career.

So he’s got a good background, but what he’s done on the dohyo so far is actually kind of incredible. He is undersized for sumo at 175 cm and 107 kg, and he likely won’t get to be very big even in the prime of his career. But he does have variety. His most common winning kimarite is oshidashi in 8 victories, and he has just 2 yorikiri wins so far. He has also used 13 different kimarite. Largely, he seems to be someone who always shoves an opponent but also usually gets sideways on them and can win from there. 

Upper Makushita could easily find Wakaikari out. There are more rikishi with the combo of size, strength, and skill that can cause him problems. He’ll be a handful even if he starts losing more, though. Maybe he doesn’t really have the ceiling of a Yokozuna, but he could be a very fun Maegashira with a chance of more.

Anosho Yamato | 安大翔 大和

Ajigawa | Miyagi

Birthdate: March 2, 2005

Height: 175 cm | 5’9”

Weight: 159 kg | 350 lbs

Career High Rank: Makushita #57

Career Record: 19-2

Anosho is just in Makushita, after wiping aside most opponents in his short career. 19-2 stands out, and he is also the highest-ranked rikishi for Ajigawa stable. That is the new-ish heya opened by the former Aminishiki. Already, Anosho is helping Ajigawa-beya make a mark in sumo.

There may be some doubts about Anosho on paper. He is not particularly tall, but is already 159 kg. He’s built wide, but how he’ll carry weight past age 18 is worth considering. He is more inclined to pushing than grappling, but not overwhelmingly so. Like his winning, we’ll need to see if that holds up in Makushita.

Aonishiki Arata | 安青錦 新大

Ajigawa | Ukraine

Birthdate: March 23, 2004

Height: 180 cm | 5’11”

Weight: 125 kg | 276

Career High Rank: Jonidan #10

Career Record: 7-0

Like the wrestler listed immediately above him, Aonishiki fights out of Ajigawa-beya. Yet he is a little more notable as a Ukrainian born wrestler who is currently undefeated. That is only after one basho, as he won the Jonokuchi yusho in November. 

Aonishiki may not be world-beater, but he’s still yet to lose, so he’s worth watching. That can change in the next year, which is also true for most other wrestlers on this list. But that’s why we watch.

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