Understanding the Hierarchical Structure of Professional Sumo Wrestling


Sumo wrestling is known as Japan’s national sport, but many people, especially those outside of Japan, may not be familiar with its hierarchical structure called “banzuke.” In this article, we’ll explain the sumo rankings, particularly the highest division called “Makuuchi,” in a way that even middle school students can understand.


What is the Banzuke?

The banzuke is a ranking system in professional sumo wrestling that determines the hierarchy of wrestlers based on their strength and performance. Wrestlers aim to climb up the ranks through daily training and tournaments. The rankings change after each tournament, which is held six times a year.

Sumo Rankings

Here is a list of sumo rankings from highest to lowest:

Yokozuna (Grand Champion)Highest rank, certified by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council
OzekiSecond highest rank, requires at least 10 wins in a tournament
SekiwakeThird highest rank, one wrestler each for East and West
KomusubiFourth highest rank, two wrestlers each for East and West
MaegashiraFifth highest rank, Maegashira 1 to Maegashira 16
JuryoWrestlers frequently move between Juryo and Makuuchi
MakushitaWrestlers aim to be promoted to Juryo
SandanmeRank below Makushita
JonidanRank below Sandanme
JonokuchiRank below Jonidan
MaezumoLowest rank in professional sumo

The Makuuchi Division

Makuuchi is the highest division in professional sumo. The wrestlers in this division are listed on the banzuke, divided into East and West sides. There are approximately 40 wrestlers in the Makuuchi division.

Makuuchi wrestlers have the privilege of wearing an elaborate ceremonial apron called a “kesho-mawashi” during the ring-entering ceremony. They also receive higher salaries compared to lower-ranked wrestlers, and popular wrestlers may receive sponsorships.

Rankings within the Makuuchi Division

Within the Makuuchi division, there are further rankings. From highest to lowest, they are: Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, and Maegashira.

  • Yokozuna: The highest rank, only awarded to wrestlers certified by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council.
  • Ozeki: The second-highest rank, requiring at least 10 wins in a tournament.
  • Sekiwake: The third-highest rank, with one wrestler each for East and West.
  • Komusubi: The fourth-highest rank, with two wrestlers each for East and West.
  • Maegashira: The fifth-highest rank, divided into Maegashira 1 to Maegashira 16.

What is a “Makuuchi Debut Yusho”?

A “Makuuchi Debut Yusho” refers to a wrestler winning the championship in their first tournament after being promoted to the Makuuchi division. This feat is extremely rare, with the last instance occurring in 1914 by a wrestler named Ryogoku, ending a 110-year drought.

To achieve a Makuuchi Debut Yusho, a wrestler must rise quickly through the lower divisions and possess the skill to compete with the elite wrestlers in the Makuuchi division. Accomplishing this feat etches a wrestler’s name in sumo history and garners significant attention.


We hope this article has helped you understand the hierarchical structure of professional sumo wrestling, particularly the Makuuchi division. Sumo is a traditional Japanese cultural art, and the intense matches between wrestlers captivate many fans. If you have the opportunity, we encourage you to experience the excitement of a sumo tournament for yourself!