The ōzeki (大関), or champion rank, is immediately below yokozuna in the ranking system. Until the yokozuna rank was introduced, ōzeki was the highest rank attainable.

Promotion to ōzekiEdit

The promotion of a wrestler to ōzeki is a multi-tournament process. A wrestler at the rank of sekiwake will be considered for promotion if he has achieved a total of at least 30 wins over the three most recent tournaments, including ten or more wins in the tournament just completed. Promotion is discretionary and there are no hard-and-fast rules, though a three-tournament record of 33 wins is considered a near-guarantee. Other factors toward promotion will include tangibles such as winning a tournament or defeating yokozuna, as well as the rikishi's overall consistency, prowess, and quality of sumo—for example, a record of illegal maneuvers or reliance on certain dodging techniques would count against the dignity expected of an ōzeki.

Promotions are recommended by the Judging Division to the Board of Directors of the Japan Sumo Association. If it is a first promotion to the rank a member of the Board of Directors will formally visit the wrestler's stable to inform the new ōzeki of his promotion. The ōzeki will usually make a speech on this occasion, promising to do his best to uphold the dignity of the rank.

During the Edo period, wrestlers often made their debuts as ōzeki based on size alone, though their real competitiveness had not been tested. The system was called "guest ōzeki" (看板大関 (kanban ōzeki)). Most of these vanished from the banzuke soon after, but a few wrestlers, notably Tanikaze Kajinosuke, remained as real wrestlers.

Demotion from ōzekiEdit

Like the other san'yaku ranks, but unlike a yokozuna, an ōzeki may be relegated. For an ōzeki, relegation is a two-step procedure. First, the ōzeki must lose more bouts than he wins in a tournament; losing a majority of bouts is called makekoshi. At this point, the ōzeki is called kadoban. If he wins a majority of bouts in the next tournament (which is called kachikoshi), he is restored to regular ōzeki status. If, on the other hand, he loses a majority of bouts while kadoban, he is relegated to sekiwake.

In the tournament immediately following his relegation from ōzeki, if a wrestler wins ten or more bouts, he is immediately restored to ōzeki status. However, if he fails to win ten or more matches in his first tournament back as sekiwake, he is treated just like any other wrestler in further attempts at being promoted back to ōzeki. This system has been in place since the Nagoya Tournament of 1969. Since that time, four wrestlers have managed an immediate return to ōzeki: Mienoumi, Takanonami, Musōyama and Tochiazuma (who managed it on two separate occasions).

Benefits of being an ōzekiEdit

In addition to a salary increase there are a number of perks associated with reaching ōzeki rank:

  • He is guaranteed a higher rank in the Sumo Association when he first retires.
  • He will be given a three-year temporary membership of the Sumo Association on his retirement if he does not yet own a share.
  • He will receive a special merit payment on his retirement (the amount decided by his strength and longevity as an ōzeki).
  • He has a parking space in the Sumo Association headquarters.
  • He can vote in the election of the Sumo Association directors.
  • Normally he will receive additional support from his stable in terms of junior wrestlers to act as his manservants.
  • He can wear purple fringed ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi)
  • An ōzeki can normally act as a dewsweeper or swordbearer for a yokozuna ring entrance ceremony.
  • He may be called on to represent the wrestlers on formal occasions such as when VIPs visit a sumo tournament, or on formal visits to Shinto shrines.

List of active ōzekiEdit