Lone yokozuna Asashoryu, who won five Emperor’s Cup titles in 2004, will occupy the prestigious east slot as the Japan Sumo Association released the rankings on Thursday for the upcoming New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
The fiery Mongolian grand champion will again be the odds-on favorite as he aims for his 10th career title when the 15-day meet kicks off at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Jan. 9.
Asashoryu went 13-2 to win the Kyushu meet in November but was stymied by ozeki Kaio, who went 12-3 while defeating the yokozuna on the final day of the meet at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
Kaio, who retains the east slot, will need another strong showing to be considered for sumo’s ultimate rank, while fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai, who is in danger of losing his rank for the sixth time, will have to notch at least eight wins to avoid demotion.
Meanwhile, Tochiazuma, who is struggling to recover from a left shoulder injury, has tumbled into the west sekiwake spot after losing his ozeki status twice in the same year.
Tochiazuma pulled out of the Kyushu Basho with a 3-3 record but is determined to compete at the New Year meet to avoid falling further down the sumo ladder.
With the retirement of Musoyama in November and the demotion of Tochiazuma, it is the first time that a tournament has been reduced by two ozeki at the same time.
Wakanosato, who has retained his rank in the “sanyaku” — the three ranks below yokozuna — for 19 straight tournaments, stays on the east at sekiwake as he aims for ozeki promotion while former ozeki Miyabiyama fills in the west slot.
Kotomitsuki occupies the east komusubi spot for the fifth consecutive basho while 19-year-old rising star Hakuho of Mongolia takes up the new komusubi position on the west.
Hakuho, whose 12-3 performance in Kyushu earned him the Outstanding Prize, is the third youngest wrestler in recent years, at 19 years and nine months, to be promoted to the sanyaku ranks after former yokozuna pair Takanohana and Kitanoumi.
Bulgarian behemoth Kotooshu, who claimed the Fighting Sprit Prize with an 11-4 showing, has moved up to take the east slot as a No. 4 maegashira while Russian Roho sits on the east side as a fifth-ranked maegashira.
The 20-year-old Kotoshogiku will be the only new addition to sumo’s top flight after a promotion from the juryo ranks.