Former ozeki Asanoyama in line for return to juryo next year after 1-year suspension

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asanoyama, left, offers a hand to an opponent at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Sept. 12.

Former ozeki Asanoyama — who currently is No. 15 makushita — finished the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament with six wins and one loss, the latter depriving him of his chance for promotion to the juryo division until next year.

Asanoyama was suspended last June for a year for violating the Japan Sumo Association’s coronavirus protocols. He returned to the ring in July with a victory in the fourth-tier sandanme division at the Nagoya tourney.

His win was a matter of course. Even having plunged to the the third-tier makushita division, the former ozeki was still seen as unbeatable. But you can’t ever predict what will happen in sumo.

On Day 11 of the Autumn tournament, Asanoyama went up against Yuma, No. 28 makushita from the Onomatsu stable.

Asanoyama kept on the offensive from the very start, but on the edge of the dohyo ring — when his win looked certain — Yuma pirouetted away from his onslaught, causing Asanoyama to fall hands-first to the surface of the ring. The loss must have come as a shock to both himself and the crowd.

Rikishi of No. 15 or above in the makushita division are called makushita joi. If he had won all seven matches, there was a strong possibility that Asanoyama would have been promoted to juryo at the banzuke ranking meeting after the basho. Despite not being an absolute rule, such a preferential system comes from the sense that “A wrestler who wins all seven matches is unmatched in the makushita division.”

It was the judges’ measured considerations that resulted in Asanoyama being ranked No. 15 instead of 16 after he won the sandanme division at the Nagoya tourney.

It should be no surprise when a former ozeki claims victory, but strong wrestlers aren’t always guaranteed winners. By giving him a sense of pressure to fight for promotion as No. 15, the judges may also have wanted Asanoyama — in an affectionate way — to experience the difficulty of winning while he is in the makushita division.

The result was disappointing for Asanoyama, but on the last day of the tourney on Sept. 25, he dug in and finished with 6-1. He must’ve wanted to return to the juryo by winning all seven matches in the final tournament of the year in November.

Asanoyama has renewed his desire to start the new year with good results. The Kyushu tournament begins on Nov. 13 at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

— Miki is a sumo expert.