By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterSekiwake Tamawashi is the fourth makuuchi wrestler not ranked as a yokozuna or ozeki to win the Emperor’s Cup in 12 months since the New Year Grand Tournament last year. Four championships for rank-and-filers in seven tournaments is too many when there are three yokozuna and three ozeki (as of the January tournament this year).
No. 3 maegashira Tochinoshin, now an ozeki, garnered the title in last year’s New Year tournament. Since then, Kakuryu won two Emperor’s Cup in a row in the spring and summer tournaments and saved face for the yokozuna rank. In the Nagoya basho in July, sekiwake Mitakeumi fought his way to his first victory. In the autumn basho in September, yokozuna Hakuho won all 15 of his bouts and garnered his 41st championship. However, in November, komusubi Takakeisho won his first Emperor’s Cup in the Kyushu basho, and Tamawashi garnered his first victory in the latest tournament.
The common denominator that surfaces is that almost all yokozuna were absent at all those tournaments when rikishi of sekiwake rank or lower won the title, but when yokozuna do participate, they cannot be beaten. It also emerges that ozeki failed to make their presence felt at all in the recent tourneys.
After losing a third consecutive bout from the first day of the January tournament, yokozuna Kisenosato announced his retirement on the morning of the fourth day. Kakuryu and Hakuho dropped out on the sixth and 14th days of the tournament, respectively, while ozeki Tochinoshin dropped out on the fifth day after losing all of his bouts. Takayasu and Goeido fought through the tournament, but both only secured nine wins.
Over the past year, it was repeatedly said that Tochinoshin, Mitakeumi and Takakeisho will be put to the test in the next basho in which all three yokozuna are present. The latest tournament in January was somewhat different than usual. Unbeaten Hakuho had kept the lead but was defeated by Mitakeumi on the 11th day. The yokozuna then lost bouts to Tamawashi and Takakeisho, to make it three consecutive losses. He then put up the white flag.
The tide of generational change is coming to the sumo circle. This year, rank-and-file rikishi may drive out all ozeki and cause a drastic change in the structure of the banzuke ranking, where Hakuho and Kakuryu currently are on top. It will surely be interesting to watch the spring tournament and the following ones.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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