Alright, it’s a bit late, but here you go. Leave your own comments below, and add to the debate.
Creswell: It’s been an entire year since we’ve seen any new blood in the Sanyaku, going back to when Kakuryu and Tochiozan made komosubi back in Natsu 2009. However, with Baruto’s recent promotion to Ozeki and the performances we saw last basho, we seem to have a question mark as to who will be the next strong candidate for promotion to sumo’s penultimate rank. There is no lack of young guys bouncing around in sanyaku, most are between 23-26 with at least one younger guy knocking on the door and one slightly older guy still harassing the Yokozuna and Ozeki. Although there is no shortage of special prizes and kinboshi among them, no one in sanyaku or joi has recently had 2 consecutive 10 win bashos in maegashira (save Toyonoshima back in 2008) nor have they squeaked out a single yusho between them (and no I’m not counting Goeido’s recent 1 day tournament yusho because nobody cares about the outcome of those tournaments.) With that in mind… Who, in your opinion, will be the next rikishi to make a successful run for Ozeki promotion?
Here’s a good trivia question; of all active non-ozeki rikishi, who has the highest winning percentage against Hakuho? This could be a good barometer as to who deserves to be ozeki, right? Well, the answer…Wakanosato, with 6-8 (0.429). He’s made a few runs for ozeki in the past, but he’ll be 34 this year and he’s plain too old for promotion to ozeki. Okay, so who’s second? Next? Also from Naruto-beya, Kisenosato is 4-17 (0.190) with the Yokozuna. Four wins doesn’t mean a whole lot under most circumstances, but also consider that only three non-ozeki rikishi have achieved that many wins against Hakuho (Wakanosato, six; Miyabiyama, four; and Kisenosato, four). Among his contemporaries who are often considered future ozeki, such as Kotoshogiku and Goeido, Kisenosato can work under pressure. Kotoshogiku has only managed one win over the Yokozuna while Goeido never has.
Kisenosato will be 24 in July. He’s not too old to be promoted, even if it takes another five years to do so. Don’t forget Kotomitsuki was promoted when he was 31. Kisenosato is still working towards his prime. Unlike Kotoshogiku, who gets a powder-puff run each basho by not having to face ozeki-stalemates Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki, Kisenosato faces every ozeki. While this seems like a disadvantage in an individual basho, it’s better for developing how to deal with pressure and becoming a stronger rikishi.
If you assume that just because a rikishi has bounced around sub-ozeki sanyaku for a few years without achieving promotion means it never will happen, you’d be wrong. Kotomitsuki had bounced around sekiwake and komusubi most basho for seven years before getting his promotion. Recently promoted Baruto had bounced in and out of sanyaku for three years before finally becoming ozeki this basho.
The next ozeki could very well be one of those men who’ve clogged the jōi ranks here for so long. Check the last three promoted ozeki, and where was his successor was at the time of his promotion?
Shinozeki Hakuho May 2006 Kotomitsuki was Sekiwake, and had been in sanyaku for three years with only one exception.
Shinozeki Kotomitsuki Sept 2007 Ama was Komusubi, his fourth straight basho in sanyaku.
Shinozeki Hakumafuji Jan 2009 Baruto was Sekiwake, his third straight basho in sanyaku.
I don’t think I need to get into Kisenosato’s strengths and technical advantages because I covered that thoroughly in a previous Point-Counterpoint Dicussion (see Future Japanese Yokozuna from January). But mentally, there are just a handful of men out there who have half the arrogance and unyielding fighter spirit that Asashoryu had. The first of those men is Harumafuji, but more so back in the Ama days. Second is Hokutoriki, but his attitude is way beyond his strength and skill, making him just comical. The last is Kisenosato. Kisenosato hates losing, and hates not being at the top.
I’ll admit that seeing Kisenosato become Yokozuna is a stretch, but it is quite likely he will come up with a yusho or more before his career is up, and I expect that barring any misfortunate injuries, he will become ozeki in the next few years.