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The Next Yokozuna, Pt. 1

Updated: Dec 9, 2019


This is the first in a series, seeing if it's possible to identify who might be crowned Yokozuna next. As of this writing, it is unclear how many parts this will be.


“Future Yokozuna” is a phrase used not infrequently in sumo commentary. A young rikishi has the size and skills to be a “Future Yokozuna.” A recently promoted Ozeki has his sights set on becoming a “Future Yokozuna.” A “Future Yokozuna” could always be among the crop of recent recruits participating in maezumo.


Yet the very idea of a “Future Yokozuna” is a little strange. Only 72 men have been granted the title of Yokozuna in the history of sumo. In fact, the canonical first Yokozuna, Akashi Shiganozuke, might be entirely mythical and never really existed. He was included as the first Yokozuna by the 12th Yokozuna, Jinmaku Kyuguro when he installed a massive memorial to all Yokozunas in history in 1900. Akashi’s inclusion seemed to be Jinmaku’s choice, with little to back it up. Still, since 1789, when 4th Yokozuna Tanikaze Kajinosuke officially received the title of Yokozuna, there have been 69 Yokozuna over about 230 years.


So odds are most rikishi entering sumo will not be Future Yokozuna. Most won’t even get near the Juryo division and sekitori status. Looking at those entering sumo and trying to divine a future Yokozuna is basically an impossibility. However, we can look at the men who did make it all the way to Yokozuna and try and work backwards.


The following is an accounting of what each Yokozuna was like at the time of promotion going back to Akebono. Akebono was promoted to sumo’s ultimate rank in January 1993, ending a year long stretch without a Yokozuna. The Hawaii native was also the first non-Japanese Yokozuna, marking a new period of sumo. Akebono’s promotion provides a neat demarcation line in the history of Yokozuna.


That also gives a sample size of 9 Yokozuna, which is less than ideal. On the other hand, using any Yokozuna before Akebono provides examples from three decades ago, before anyone who currently might be labeled “Future Yokozuna” was likely born. None of this is definitive, because the sample size is so small. Despite the narrowness of this study, patterns do emerge. The different factors considered were Age at Promotion, Yusho Before Promotion, Jun-Yusho Before Promotion, Basho as Ozeki, Basho to Juryo, and Age at Maezumo.


If there is a single thing that ties all 9 Yokozuna looked at here together, it’s that they didn’t spend much time below Makuuchi. The most basho any recent Yokozuna took to get to the top division was 29, for Kakuryu. That’s less than five years, and Kakuryu entered professional sumo at 16. These were all men who made a mark on the top division early in their careers and/or at a young age. Most were in Makuuchi in less than three years from joining the pro ranks, and some under two. They also all spent less than a year as Juryo wrestlers. If someone lingers in the lower ranks, they are probably not a likely future Yokozuna.


Age at Maezumo is another commonality, and maybe even stronger. No Yokozuna elevated since Akebono entered sumo at an age above 19. The one 19 year old was Asashoryu, who also rocketed to Yokozuna status four years after participating in Maezumo. This is a striking fact. No University men have become Yokozuna in what’s considered here. It should be pointed out that the 63rd Yokozuna, Asahifuji, did go to University. He also left without completing a degree. The last University graduate to become a Yokozuna was Wajima, who made Yokozuna in 1973. Future Yokozunas are much more likely to be wrestlers who join a stable as teenagers.


Otherwise, the 9 Yokozunas can be divided into two groups. Hakuho, Asashoryu, Takanohana, and Akebono were the obvious Yokozuna. They were all 22 or 23 when they were promoted, and they had careers beforehand that spoke of dominance. They all also won multiple yusho and jun-yusho before being given the rope. When these men were first in Makuuchi, they could have been easily branded as future Yokozuna and they spent their time as Ozeki with people wondering when not if they would be promoted.


By contrast, Kisenosato, Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Musashimaru, and Wakanohana all worked hard from their time in lower Sanyaku and Ozeki into becoming Yokozuna. They were also all promoted between 27 and 30, with fewer Yusho before promotion. They did seem to collect Jun-Yusho, but they clearly had to grow into becoming Yokozuna. (Tellingly, these men were also less dominant as Yokozuna, although that was more of a mixed bag.) These five also spent much longer as Ozeki. A long serving Ozeki shouldn’t be counted out from promotion consideration, but a good Ozeki isn’t an obvious Future Yokozuna. And if they are 31 or older, they can probably be counted out.


All of the above is a general guideline, and you can see for yourself what the details were for each Yokozuna. The next edition of this series will consider what a theoretical future Yokozuna might look like.


Kisenosato Yutaka

Age at Promotion: 30

Yusho Before Promotion: 1

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 12

Basho as Ozeki: 31

Basho to Makuuchi: 15

Basho to Juryo: 12

Age at Maezumo: 15


Kakuryu Rikisaburo

Age at Promotion: 28

Yusho Before Promotion: 1

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 4

Basho as Ozeki: 12

Basho to Makuuchi: 29

Basho to Juryo: 24

Age at Maezumo: 16


Harumafuji Kohei

Age at Promotion: 28

Yusho Before Promotion: 4

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 3

Basho as Ozeki: 22

Basho to Makuuchi: 22

Basho to Juryo: 18

Age at Maezumo: 16


Hakuho Sho

Age at Promotion: 22

Yusho Before Promotion: 3

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 5

Basho as Ozeki: 7

Basho to Makuuchi: 18

Basho to Juryo: 16

Age at Maezumo: 16


Asashoryu Akinori

Age at Promotion: 23

Yusho Before Promotion: 2

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 2

Basho as Ozeki: 3

Basho to Makuuchi: 11

Basho to Juryo: 9

Age at Maezumo: 19


Musashimaru Koyo

Age at Promotion: 28

Yusho Before Promotion: 5

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 10

Basho as Ozeki: 32

Basho to Makuuchi: 12

Basho to Juryo: 10

Age at Maezumo: 18


Wakanohana Masaru

Age at Promotion: 27

Yusho Before Promotion: 5

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 7

Basho as Ozeki: 29

Basho to Makuuchi: 14

Basho to Juryo: 11

Age at Maezumo: 17


Takanohana Koji

Age at Promotion: 22

Yusho Before Promotion: 7

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 4

Basho as Ozeki: 11

Basho to Makuuchi: 14

Basho to Juryo: 9

Age at Maezumo: 16


Akebono Taro

Age at Promotion: 23

Yusho Before Promotion: 3

Jun-Yusho Before Promotion: 1

Basho as Ozeki: 4

Basho to Makuuchi: 14

Basho to Juryo: 11

Age at Maezumo: 18

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