Asanoyama stepped up to sumo’s second-highest rank when he was listed as the sport’s west ozeki in the Japan Sumo Association rankings published Monday ahead of May’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.
The 26-year-old earned the promotion by going 11-4 in March’s Spring Basho in Osaka, where the tournament was held behind closed doors for the first time amid efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I’ve achieved one of my goals, which is to become ozeki,” Asanoyama said in a telephone interview with reporters. “Seeing the banzuke, reality hit me again. It made me want to become a better leader in the sport and bring excitement to the sumo world.”
But in the period since the JSA approved his promotion, the threat from the virus has grown, raising concerns that the 15-day tourney at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan slated to start on May 24 — following a two-week delay due to the public health crisis — might not be held as scheduled. As of Saturday, six wrestlers and one sumo elder had tested positive for the virus, according to the JSA.
If it does go ahead, Asanoyama will fight as an ozeki, the highest of the three sanyaku ranks below yokozuna, after just three tournaments as a komusubi and sekiwake. This ties him with three other wrestlers for the second-fewest tourneys in the sanyaku ranks before becoming an ozeki for the first time.