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April 2014: A Changing of the Guard

They say that March “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb”, but at the Haru Basho (March Sumo Tournament) it was former ozeki Kotooshu who went out and former ozeki Kakuryu who went up. From start to finish, this tournament provided a lot of great matches and drama and also shook up the current state of the sumo world quite a bit.

The biggest story to emerge is the promotion of ozeki Kakuryu to the sport’s highest rank of yokozuna. Kakuryu becomes the sport’s 71st yokozuna after winning his first ever tournament which included wins over both current yokozuna, Hakuho and Harumafuji. He’s also the fourth Mongolian to hold the title and the sixth non-Japanese born yokozuna. Rumblings of his promotion came about after the end of the January tournament when he finished 14 - 1 and was the runner-up. Normally the only way to reach the highest rank is for an ozeki (the second highest rank) to win two tournaments back to back, but with the sport’s popularity in decline due to a lack of strong Japanese wrestlers the Yokozuna Deliberation Council has relaxed its standards in hope that Kisenosato would be able to obtain the rank. In the end, he failed, but what was Kisenosato’s blunder was Kakuryu’s window of opportunity and he was able to capitalize.

Kakuryu now joins the two other yokozuna, who are also Mongolian. The May basho will be the first tournament where there have been three yokozuna on the banzuke since November of 2000 when Akebono, Musashimaru and Takanohana were all atop the mountain at the same time. In May, there will also be more yokozuna ranked wrestlers than ozeki. The best prospect for a new ozeki at this time seems to be Goeido, who technically needs 13 wins next tournament to gain promotion. In May it will be his 12 straight appearance at the rank of sekiwake. The all time record is held by former ozeki Kaio, who made 13 consecutive appearances.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, long time ozeki Kotooshu of Bulgaria retired following his loss on day 10 to Hakuho which put him at 1 - 9 for the tournament, ensuring his demotion from the sanyaku ranks altogether. Kotooshu was the first European to ever reach the rank of ozeki and was also the first European to ever win a championship which he did in May of 2008. He spent 8 years as an ozeki putting him 4th on the all time list for most bouts at that rank.

It’s hard to believe that his fall from the rank was even faster than his rise to it. At the time, in 2004, Kotooshu set the record for the least amount of tournaments needed to reach the top division of sumo, needing only 11. Earlier this year in January it was his first tournament at sekiwake since November of 2005. Injures have plagued him for the last several years. His career at ozeki, besides the length he managed to hold onto the rank, and the tournament he won, was not that impressive in my opinion. He only managed to get more than 10 wins on two occasions out of 47 total tournaments as an ozeki, hardly something to brag about. Kotooshu, now 31 years old, is expected to stay in sumo as a coach having secured Japanese citizenship not long ago.

Another great story coming out of the Haru basho was the return of M11 ranked Osunaarashi, who pulled out of the tournament on day 10 citing an injury to his thigh, but would return on day 12 and eventually go on to secure his kachi-koshi (winning record) and promotion for next tournament on the final day.

An honorable mention must also go to fan favorite Endo who found himself at the undesirable M1 rank this tournament and got a good schooling from the top wrestlers. On day one he got a vicious slap from Kakuryu which drew blood from the left side of his face and continued to be reopened nearly every subsequent bout. He finishes at 6 - 9 and will be demoted in May.

The 2014 Natsu basho runs from the 11th to the 25th of May in Tokyo, Japan. Until then you can catch up on lots of great classic sumo action on FightBox, mainly in the mornings and afternoons. Make sure to check the schedule at or check out our great VOD library at

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid)


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