Raiden is often mentioned as the greatest rikishi never to reach yokozuna.
Back when the Edo Period legend was dominating in the ring however, ozeki was the highest rank on the banzuke, with yokozuna still being an honorary title.
There are many theories as to why it wasn’t awarded to Raiden but none have anything to do with his feats on the clay.
In more modern times, however, there is one name that stands above all others when discussing who is the best wrestler never to make grand champion.
Ozeki Kaio lifted the Emperor’s Cup five times in a record setting 23-year career. That’s equal to — or more than — the number of championships won by 11 different yokozuna promoted since the initiation of the six-tournaments-a-year system.
With 11 runner-up finishes as well in the space of eight years, Kaio would likely have been promoted to sumo’s highest rank had he competed in a different era, but unfortunately for the Tomozuna stable man he was active at a time when the guidelines were more strictly applied.
Although he never earned promotion to yokozuna, Kaio holds the longevity records at ozeki and is also No. 2 all time in both career and top-division wins — second only to modern titan Hakuho.
Kaio was part of probably the greatest recruiting class of all time as he made his debut alongside three future yokozuna.
Between them, Kaio, Akebono, Takanohana and Wakanohana won 43 Emperor’s Cups and ruled sumo during the 1990s.
Kaio outlasted his illustrious classmates by about a decade though and was still competing long after both Akebono and Wakanohana had left sumo entirely.
The ozeki’s most fearsome weapon was an armlock throw — a move that generated so much torque that it often led to injuries to opponents’ elbows.
Kaio is now a sumo elder and head of Asakayama stable.