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The great barrier
Ozeki is the second highest rank in sumo. Until 1890 the ozeki - the Champion - was the highest rank on the banzuke (ranking list). The rank of yokozuna1 or Grand Champion was not officially recognized until 1890, although tsuna (rope)-wearing ozeki has been depicted in ukiyoe (a Japanese drawing style) since 1789.

The ozeki rank is not achieved by simply winning more than losing, as is the case with all the previous ranks2; an ozeki is appointed by the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association). When a sekiwake has shown great promise and good results over a period of time, i.e. when he has had a number of double-digit wins3, and if he happens to succeed in defeating a yokozuna, the Kyokai takes his promotion up to consideration. If he proves worthy (his overall conduct and dignity will also affect the verdict) emissaries from the Kyokai will bring him the news. It is a great honour for both the wrestler and the heya (training school), and a cause for celebration.

Ozeki literally means "great barrier". Once this great barrier has been overcome the sumotori (sumo wrestler) is fairly "safe" as he will no longer be as easily demoted. An ozeki can suffer makekoshi (fewer wins than losses) in a basho, and still not be demoted. In the next basho he is kadoban (on the verge of demotion), and must get kachikoshi (more wins than losses) or lose his rank. Should he be demoted (to sekiwake) he will automatically regain his ozeki rank if he manages to win 10 or more bouts in his next basho. Failing that, he must strive for the rank anew4.

A few wrestlers (I believe it is 4, but I must say that I'm not sure) have been re-promoted since 1969, but only one has achieved this feat twice: long time Ozeki Tochiazuma.

The rules state that there must be two ozeki at all times on the banzuke, and on the rare occasions where there is only one ozeki a yokozuna will be marked as a "temporary ozeki". This is strictly technical, and does not affect the torikumi (starting list) as such.

Presently the ozeki are:

  1. Yoko is "wide" or "horizontal" and zuna (tsuna) is "rope"; namely the special white hemp-belt the yokozuna wears on special occasions.
  2. The ranks in the top division are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.
  3. A wrestler will fight 15 bouts during honbasho. Thus 8 wins or more will get him promoted. 10 wins or more is - of course - "double-digits".
  4. The rule of re-promotion was introduced in 1937. At the time it stated that an ozeki would be demoted after 3 makekoshi. In 1969 it was changed to the above described procedure.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, Sumo Information and Goo Sumo

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