The Sumo scene / Former Ozeki Asanoyama’s Uphill Climb Back to Top Ranks Has Long Way to Go

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asanoyama returned to the Nagoya tournament after missing four days with a left arm injury and finished with four consecutive wins.

While Hoshoryu was winning his first career title and securing promotion to ozeki at the recently completed Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, it was also a bit sad to see the group of popular former ozeki barely make their presence known.

Shodai and Mitakeumi, wrestling in the No. 2 maegashira slots, and No. 7 maegashira Takayasu all ended up with losing records. But what had to leave the fans the most disappointed was No. 4 maegashira Asanoyama, making his return to the upper echelon, being forced to sit out several days because of an injury.

While an ozeki, Asanoyama was caught violating the pandemic protocols of the Japan Sumo Association. He was slapped with a severe six-tournament ban, which caused him to plunge all the way down to the fourth-tier sandanme division.

Asanoyama returned to the ring exactly one year ago at last year’s Nagoya basho. He spent one tournament at sandanme, and two each at makushita and juryo. He was back in the uppermost makuuchi division for the Summer tournament in May this year as a No. 14 maegashira.

He compiled a 12-3 record at that low rank, propelling him into the high maegashira group for the tourney in Nagoya, where at No. 4 he would face a daily diet of clashes with the top-ranked wrestlers.

While the former ozeki had only himself to blame for his punishment after his misdeeds, expectations were exceedingly high for this immensely popular wrestler. “My aim is to win in double digits and capture the title,” Asanoyama had said in a show of his fierce determination to regain what he had lost.

But as the saying goes, clouds always follow the sunshine. Asanoyama suffered a left arm injury when Hoshoryu twisted him to the ground on the seventh day, and was forced to withdraw from the tournament the next day.

After four days, he recovered enough to return to action on the 12th day, and finished up the tournament with four straight wins. That tenacity left him with a winning record of 8-4-3 (the missed days count as losses for ranking purposes), but it will almost certainly not be enough to get him back into the sanyaku, the three ranks below yokozuna.

What was likely most humbling to Asanoyama was the way Hoshoryu had tossed him down, a sign of the current gap between them. Hoshoryu had only been a mid-maegashira wrestler when Asanoyama was an ozeki, but that loss best symbolized how the tables have turned as the young wrestler blossomed in his absence.

Looking ahead, what will Asanoyama do to bounce back, and can he regain the glow he once had as a marquee wrestler? The steamy ring of Nagoya provided him with a tough homework assignment.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.