- Fantasy Basho
The Next Yokozuna, Pt. 5
Finally, we are here. In this fifth and final edition of The Next Yokozuna, actual rikishi who will be the next Yokozuna are going to be identified. Well, kind of. If there has been anything that has become obvious in this series, it is that becoming a Yokozuna is extremely difficult. While the odds of anyone joining sumo making it all the way to the top is obviously slim, it isn’t even common for some of the best rikishi. The modern six-basho-a-year structure came to sumo in 1958. In those 60 years, 63 men have been given the rank of Ozeki. Just 28 were given the ultimate promotion to Yokozuna.
So if it isn’t even a 50/50 chance for Ozeki to make it to Yokozuna, saying anyone is guaranteed to be a future Yokozuna is probably dumb. Yet trying to spot who still has a good chance can be worth it. No one on this list is a guaranteed future Yokozuna, and many reasons why they might not will be listed. But these are the rikishi who have done enough to fit in the profile of a Yokozuna, as laid out in Part 1 and Part 2. There will also be considerations about the Near Yokozuna from Part 3. And if you want to know who has been ruled out, check out Part 4.
On to the list.
In a way, Takakeisho is the safest odds of anyone on this last for making Yokozuna. After all, he is already an Ozeki at just 23 years of age. That means he just needs the proper Yokozuna promotion performance. That’s also not something out of his reach, as he already has a yusho and three jun-yusho.
He also has all of the necessary prerequisites. A high school sumo star at powerhouse Saitama Sakae, Takakeisho actually joined Takanohana stable before finishing high school. All he did upon joining was shoot straight up the Banzuke, gathering a yusho in Jonidan and Jonokuchi and two yusho in Makushita. By his 10th basho in pro sumo, he was a sekitori in Juryo. He needed only 4 basho there, including a 12 win yusho in his final one, to make it to Makuuchi. That was January of 2017, and ever since, Takakeisho has been one of Makuuchi’s standouts. And in that same time frame, his stablemaster had to leave sumo in bizarre circumstances, Takakeisho transferred stables, and he has had two significant injuries.
There are two major obstacles to Takakeisho becoming a Yokozuna. The first are those injuries, which can stall the momentum of even the best, and those are often a reason why many talented Ozeki don’t reach Yokozuna. The other obstacle is stylistic. Takakeisho is overwhelmingly an oshi-zumo wrestler. In fact, of his 237 wins in pro sumo, Takakeisho has won just three by yorikiri. It has been said a Yokozuna must be able to fight on the Mawashi. Actually, Akebono was mostly a pusher, and Asashoryu was in his early career. But predictability can be damaging long term.
But Takakeisho is special. He doesn’t just push and shove opponents. His straightforward style belies a tactical awareness. If Takakeisho fights someone looking for a particular grip, he will hit to block it. He is also masterful at timing his pushing to throw off any other rikishi. He wins alot, and if he can keep doing it and stay healthy, he will be a Yokozuna
Yokozuna Abi? The guy whose only game plan is to push both hands against the other guy’s throat? That Abi?
Well, this is more of a way of laying out who might be a Yokozuna contender, and Abi should not be discounted. He is a firm Komusubi at 25. He is not an Inevitable Yokozuna, of course. He would be a very eventual Yokozuna. Abi will need some steady improvement from here just to get to Ozeki, but it’s not impossible.
Since a very strange sojourn in Makushita after making his Juryo debut, Abi has made steady, if not always perfectly consistent, progress up the ranks. What Abi has really had is a series of winning and losing streaks.
That bizarrely basic style, if he doesn’t knock the other guy back his only move is to dance around the tawara, might indicate some potential growth. Abi doesn’t even need to become adept at grabbing the mawashi, just find some sort of counter throw. His arms are certainly long enough to allow this to happen. If it does happen, he could get to Yokozuna.
Onosho is just a month older than Takakeisho, with the two actually being school-age rivals. He has had an up and down last two years while Takakeisho has had the rocket ship on him. It is worth remembering that Onosho made it to Komusubi first, in November 2017, when he was just 21. Injuries then knocked him back down.
That talent is still there, and is still somewhat visible when he mounts the dohyo. Like Takakeisho and Abi, he is a pusher-thruster through and through. However, he might be more athletic, despite also being built like a square. Certainly, at his best, Onosho is surprisingly fast.
The tell on Onosho’s future will be over the next few basho. He needs to elevate back to Sanyaku in a hurry if he can make it to Yokozuna. But he is still relatively young and immensely talented.
Kotosho made his Juryo debut in November, where he was also rechristened from “Kototebakari.” This is a typical pattern for his Sadogatake-beya, which has a history of producing excellent sekitori (anyone with “Koto-” at the start of his shikona.) Kotoshoho might soon be the stable’s top wrestler, as he has an immense future.
Kotoshoho is yet another Saitama Sakae alumnus, which meant he was a standout amateur. After joining pro sumo at the end of 2017, he was a standout lower-level rikishi. Kotosho just kept winning. By 2 years in, he was in Juryo.
That was the most recent tournament, and he went 9-6. He has one losing tournament in his career, a 3-4 at Makushita 58 in September 2018. If he keeps up the winning records, he could be in Makuuchi by July. That would be before his 20th birthday. In addition to his stellar record, Kotoshoho also has great physical gifts, standing over 6 feet tall and having good bulk. He also has a range of skills, producing a balance of oshidashi and yorikiri in his victories. In fact, he is tending towards more yorikiri, showing some adaptability.
Kotoshoho is good, young, and built like a Yokozuna. He’s one to watch.
Hoshoryu also is a 20 year old who made his Juryo debut in November, just like Kotoshoho. He also made his debut in pro sumo in November 2017 after a high school sumo career. He, too, made quick if not overwhelming work of the lower divisions.
There is one big difference between Kotoshoho and Hoshoryu. Hoshoryu is the nephew of former Yokozuna Asashoryu. The Mongolian-born Hoshoryu came to Japan for high school and became obsessed with sumo. This drew him closer to his uncle, who constantly gave him advice as he entered the pro ranks. Initially, he was excellent and his family affiliation made waves.
Once Hoshoryu hit upper Makushita, he hit a small wall. He got past it, but he also went just 7-8 in his Juryo debut. There’s another small concern about Hoshoryu, which is that he is on the slender side for a sumotori. But he’s been very good at times, and he’s got real skills.
Naya is another young rikishi with a Yokozuna relative. In Naya’s case, his grandfather was Taiho, generally considered the greatest sumo wrestler of all time until Hakuho. That would be notable enough in and of itself, but Naya also had plenty of reasons on his own to be an exciting prospect. He, too, went to Saitama Sakae and was an outstanding amateur. Naya is also blessed with “Yokozuna size,” standing at 188 cm and weighing in at 166 kg.
Better than theoretical ability, Naya proved he was a standout as soon as he joined Otake stable (which used to be Taiho stable because it was set up by his grandfather.) After doing Mae-Zumo in January 2018, Naya started his career going 19-2 across the three lowest divisions. That made the sumo world think he was indeed a future star.
Naya has been in Makushita ever since, which isn’t really that long, and has tended more towards middle of the road records. On the other hand, Naya just got a kachi-koshi at Makushita 7 as a 19 year old during the Kyushu basho. He will be in a spot where another 4-3 in January will give him a promotion to Juryo. So Naya could be given sekitori status just before his 20th birthday.
He has been overwhelmingly reliant on pushing techniques, and he hasn’t dominated as he’s gone up the rankings. But Naya probably won’t need any crazy adjustments to show out as a future star in Juryo. If he can get there soon and begin to dominate, he’ll make noise in Makuuchi before too long.
Roga is a bit of a mystery man. A Mongolian standout in Japanese high school competitions, Roga joined Futagoyama-beya in September 2018 in its first year of existence. It’s difficult to find his full, two-name shikona anywhere online. If he makes it to Juryo soon, he will be his stable’s first sekitori.
The main reason Roga is on this list is performance. He has only participated in six competitive basho, but has gone 19-2 and made it to Makushita 28 in that time. Roga has never had a losing record, or even lost more than 2 matches in a basho. He will likely be in a Makushita position that would guarantee a Juryo promotion with a winning record.
Roga announced himself to the sumo world in March 2019, when he got in a playoff for the Jonidan yusho with former Ozeki Terunofuji. Terunofuji was in his return basho after serious knee injuries and had shown he was too good for lower level competition. While Terunofuji was not at his peak athleticism, this was going to easily be Roga’s toughest bout. All Roga did was grab a deep moro-zashi hold, back Terunofuji to the bales, and toss him to clay with little trouble.
Roga has looked impressive so far, and he’s about to get a serious upgrade in competition. But he’s handled everything so far, and he’s done it like a future Yokozuna would.
Motobayashi actually violates one of the rules that should eliminate anyone from consideration, as he’s a University sumo man. Still, Motobayashi joined Naruto-beya in May and in his three tournaments actually competing has only won. Not only had winning records, but won. He is 21-0 in his professional career.
Maybe an excellent University competitor who is already 23 should be dominating teenagers just entering sumo. But it is rare. Only Jokoryu, Tochiazuma, Tokitenku, and Enho have done it since 1990. Jokoryu and Tokitenku topped out at Komusubi, while Enho is still writing his legacy. Tochiazuma did knock on the door of Yokozuna promotion in his Ozeki career.
But that University career started Motobayashi out much later than Tochiazuma. Tochiazuma was a Maegashira when he was 20 years old. Motobayashi is already 23. Motobayashi doesn’t just need to keep performing well, but need to continue dominating to make it to Yokozuna. If he wants to be the first University man to make Yokozuna since Wajima, he has to continue climbing the Banzuke in Wajima-like fashion.
Toma is a bit of an odd figure on the dohyo. When he joined sumo, he weighed 211 kg, which is large even among sumo wrestlers. He also looks unbelievably huge when he wrestles, seemingly unable to move his bulk around. It is perhaps more concerning that he is 19, and sumo has a habit of making men larger as they age.
He is one of Hakuho’s uchi-deshi, meaning he has joined sumo at the behest and with the guidance of the dai-Yokozuna. Supposedly, Hakuho has urged the younger man to try and lose weight. Whatever guidance he is giving Toma about in-ring competition is working. He has so far gone 22-6 across the bottom three divisions in four basho. He has also improved, going 6-1 in each of his last two tournaments.
Toma will see Makushita soon, and that brings many more veteran rikishi who might not be overwhelmed by his bulk. His weight also could be a problem for his sumo before too long. But he has been good enough to this point, and he has a legendary Yokozuna guiding him.
Kitanowaka just turned 19 during the Kyushu basho. He only joined sumo in March of 2019. Yet he has managed to go 23-5 and quickly climb up the ranks. His impressive record has not led to any yusho, but he has been close. This is the kind of record at such an age that warrants attention.
Kitanowaka has also been remarkably adaptable in his short career. In his 23 wins, he has used 8 different kimarite, with throws and special pushing techniques accompanying yorikiri and oshidashi. Kitanowaka, too, has the size to allow him to be competitive as he goes along. This is close to how someone would build an ideal future Yokozuna at the age of 19.
Kitanowaka is a member of Hakkaku stable, which is massive and includes two Makuuchi wrestlers, Hokutofuji and Okinoumi. Maybe that makes practice a little more intense and requires some more technique. No matter what, Kitanowaka is coming and probably pretty fast.
Again, it is most likely none of these wrestlers become Yokozuna. Injuries and rotten luck have stopped many people before. And there could always be a new recruit in January who sets the lower divisions on fire through 2020, causing reconsideration of this list.