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Sumo New Year Predictions: Lacking a Dominant Wrestler, Titles Will Be Up for Grabs in 2023

With yokozuna Terunofuji's future in doubt, the door is wide open for others to move up the ranks, and other sumo New Year predictions for the year to come.

It's time for sumo New Year predictions. If 2023 is anything like the recently completed year in sumo,  there should be plenty of surprises on the dohyo when the action gets underway in January.

In 2022, the six sumo tournaments featured six different winners. Three of the six were rank-and-filers Ichinojo, Abi and Tamawashi. That's a rarity in Japan's ancient sport.

With yokozuna Terunofuji sitting out the final tournament of 2022 and questionable for the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, there will be plenty of opportunity for other wrestlers to win and move up the ranks.

The New Year Basho runs from January 8-22 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. 

Terunofuji is 31. He withdrew from the September tournament on Day 10 and had surgery on both knees in October. When, and if, he can come back in 2023 remains to be seen.

He may return in 2023 but it's fairly obvious that his days of dominance at the pinnacle of sumo are numbered. His only title in 2022 was at the May Basho where he went 12-3.

Will There Be a New Yokozuna in 2023?

The question is: Who else could become a yokozuna? Sumo officials want to make sure if they promote someone, he is worthy of the title.

The wrestlers at sumo's second-highest rank of ozeki have not impressed in recent years and it seems unlikely that one of them could become a grand champion.

Takakeisho is the only one who has been able to maintain his rank for the New Year tournament. Shodai and Mitakeumi both were demoted in 2022 and are headed in the wrong direction.

In addition to Ichinojo, Abi and Tamawashi, the other tournament winners in 2022 were sekiwake wrestlers Mitakeumi and Wakatakakage, along with Terunofuji.

Mongolian Tamawashi is 38 years old so he likely won't be promoted to anything higher than the sanyaku ranks. He is sumo's ironman and deserves plenty of respect, but at his age promotion to yokozuna is out of the question.

Ichinojo, also from Mongolia, is 29 but has been too inconsistent over the years to merit consideration for promotion to the sport's highest rank.

Out of the 2022 tournament champions, that leaves Abi and Wakatakakage and both are definitely wrestlers who are young enough and have promising futures.

Abi's Potential to Reach the Top

Abi came out of virtually nowhere to win the Kyushu tournament in November, which he won after a 12-3 record followed by a three-way playoff.

The 28-year-old native of Saitama Prefecture definitely has potential to someday reach yokozuna. But health is a concern. He sat out the September tournament with an injury.

In his career, Abi has three kinboshi upsets of yokozuna wrestlers, so he has shown he can compete against the tournament's top grapplers.

Abi's highest rank is sekiwake and November's title was his first career championship. He won the Kyushu Basho as a No. 9 maegashira.

His career is very much back on track after he was suspended for three tournaments in 2020 for visiting a hostess bar and violating COVID-19 protocols.

That experience appears to have allowed him to refocus on his career in the dohyo.

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Wakatakakage Appears Ready to Become an Ozeki

When he triumphed in the March tournament with a 12-3 record, Wakatakakage electrified the crowd and gave sumo fans hope that he may be the next big thing in the sport.

Unlike Abi, the 28-year-old native of Fukushima is small in stature compared to other wrestlers, but he uses his muscular build to his advantage.

It was a good year for sekiwake Wakatakakage. In addition to winning in March, he also took home a technique prize in the September tournament when he went 11-4.

He posted a winning record in every tournament in 2022, proof that he has plenty of potential. Promotion to ozeki in 2023 is a very real possibility.

Inconsistency Haunts Takakeisho

Takakeisho is the most stable of the ozeki wrestlers and technically is the closest to yokozuna. He has shown an annoying inconsistency in recent years and would need to have a very strong 2023 campaign to have a chance at promotion.

Takakeisho finished 2022 on a high by going 12-3 in the Kyushu Basho.

But the last time he won a tournament was in November 2020 when he captured his second career championship following up a win at the Kyushu tournament in 2018.

That success seems like a long time ago. At 26 years old, he still has plenty of time so promotion is not out of the question. But it will take something special to see him move up the ranks.

Other Wrestlers to Keep an Eye on in 2023

There are two wrestlers in the sanyaku ranks who have potential to be promoted and both are Mongolian.

One of those is Hoshoryu, the nephew of former yokozuna Asashoryu.

Sekiwake Hoshoryu is just 23 years old. He has shown a remarkable ability to use a wide variety of techniques and that could serve him well as he bids to move up the ranks.

Hoshoryu went 11-4 in the November tournament and took home the Technique Prize.

He posted a winning record in every tournament in 2022 so he is very much trending upwards. If he continues on this path, he could be in the conversation for promotion to ozeki in a fairly short amount of time. 

Another rising star is Kiribayama. Currently ranked as a komusubi, Kiribayama posted a winning record in every tournament in 2022 except for the New Year meet. While perhaps not as far along as Hoshoryu, the 26-year-old Kiribayama is worth keeping an eye on 2023.

Fearless Prediction

Hoshoryu and Wakatakakage will have impressive results in 2023 and move up the ranks. Terunofuji will struggle in his comeback from injury.

Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles here.

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