New Juryo for Haru

The Juryo promotions have been announced. We have two returnees: Tokushoryu, after a single basho in Makushita, and Tomokaze, who makes his long-awaited sekitori return after a long road back from a horrific leg injury in Kyushu 2019, just when he seemed to be on the cusp of top-division stardom.

And two rikishi make their salaried debuts. The first is 29-year-old Tamashoho, one of Tamawashi’s few stablemates as well as his brother-in-law. After 11 years in professional sumo, just making it to Juryo is a major career achievement for him.

Much more is expected of the other debutant, 19-year old Ochiai. The amateur star makes history by becoming the first modern rikishi to make it to Juryo after a single basho. He debuted at Ms15TD, and there was much debate regarding whether even a 7-0 record at that rank would be enough for promotion. Ochiai did his part by going undefeated to take the Makushita yusho, and looked dominant doing so. Now the banzuke committee has confirmed that Ms15TD is indeed within the extended promotion zone, and we can conclude that the reason Shimoda, the only previous man to go 7-0 at that rank, wasn’t promoted back in 2006 was lack of space. Tachiai looks forward to following Ochiai’s sekitori career with great interest.

The corresponding demotions are not announced, but looking at the records in Juryo, we can infer that in addition to the slot opened up by Okinoumi’s intai, three spots are being made available by dropping J13w Kaisho, J11e Chiyosakae, and J10w Terutsuyoshi, all 5-10, to the third division. The former two had their fates sealed before the final day, while Terutsuyoshi lost an exchange bout to Tamashoho, completing his fall from Makuuchi in November to Makushita in March. Tachiai wishes salt bae a speedy return to good health and the sekitori ranks, where his talent and fighting spirit belong.

The Case Against Yokozuna Takakeisho

Let’s not be too hasty.

First of all, I don’t understand why the need to rush what would be the weakest Yokozuna promotion in decades — not only based on the record of (12-3)x2 but based on strength of schedule. Terunofuji, the lone Yokozuna has been at home recovering for the last two tournaments, so that has meant Takakeisho fighting for the yusho in the musubi-no-ichiban twice in a row. That’s supposed to be thrilling, right? His senshuraku bouts have been against M9 Abi (he went 1 for 2) and M13 Kotoshoho. He has obviously faced zero Ozeki and zero Yokozuna over that time span yet still racked up three losses in each tournament.

A year ago, I was frankly worried that Takakeisho would be the next Ozeki to earn demotion. Thank God I was wrong about that. Over the last four tournaments, he’s turned in that impressive consistency that we expect from an Ozeki, with 45 wins or an average of just over 11 wins per tournament. Double-digit wins is what we expect from an Ozeki and he has accomplished it four tournaments in a row. Not bad. His last makekoshi record was a year ago, of which he’s had just six during his 21-tournament tenure at the rank (28.6%). That’s much better than Shodai’s 7 of 14.

But the comparisons to Kisenosato are unfair. Kisenosato was a staggeringly consistent Ozeki. Before his Yokozuna promotion, he had one make-koshi tournament out of, get this, 31 tournaments at the rank (3.2%). He averaged more than 10 wins per tournament over that entire span. That one make-koshi was a 7-8. And he did this against a full slate of Yokozuna and Ozeki, from Hakuho and Harumafuji to Kotoshogiku. In fact, a loss to Kotoshogiku was the only blemish on his 14-1 Yusho run, where he beat Ozeki Terunofuji and Yokozuna Hakuho on senshuraku. Let me say that again. He beat Hakuho on senshuraku to earn his rope. His tsuna-tori was accomplished with a storybook win over the GOAT. Let’s compare that to…checks notes…Kotoshoho? Come on.

Further, it would be a mistake to skip over the 12-3 Jun-Yusho and it’s a mistake to poo-poo that feat. He defeated each of the three Yokozuna, in succession — including obviously the yusho-winner, Kakuryu. Sadly, for Kisenosato, the storybook really ended after the next tournament with that dual victory over Terunofuji. The almost two years of kyujo is unfortunately how many remember his career but he was certainly deserving of the tsuna.

In my humble opinion, Takakeisho has not got there — yet. His 12-3 playoff loss cannot be compared to Kisenosato’s — and certainly not to Kakuryu’s 14-1 playoff loss to Hakuho. But Takakeisho is now, deserving of his tsunatori (Rope Run). If he wins in Osaka, he will certainly be promoted. I’d put the odds at 50-50. Nishikifuji yusho, anyone?

The Case For Yokozuna Takakeisho

With the tournament now complete, I am eager to see what becomes of Takakeisho. There was a thought at the beginning of all of this, that he might begin March as the second Yokozuna alongside Terunofuji. Most likely that would have been contingent on a strong performance and a yusho. Some readers have pointed out that at 12-3 yusho against a Maegashira 13 is not at all strong. They are correct, but allow me to present the case why he many get the rope anyhow

Merit – At the end of Hatsu, Takakeisho had earned his third yusho, he had also just had a yusho doten, and the jun-yusho in July of 2022. Is that Hakuho level? Of course not, but it’s pretty close to Kakuryu level. But looking across the landscape of ozumo right now, who else is dominant in any sort of consistent fashion? No one, that’s who. There was a time a few tournaments ago, where it looked like Wakatakakage was going to hit and sustain a higher level of dominance, but he has since receded closer to his averages. Which takes us to our next point.

Safety – The Sumo Kyokai has a kanban rikishi problem. They have a Yokozuna, for as long as they can keep him going. There are likely regular update from Isegahama on his status, and they are well aware how his recovery is going. For a time they thought they might mint a new Ozeki this basho, and it would solve a thorny issue for them. Right now, they need Takakeisho if they are going to uphold the tradition of having at minimum 2 Ozeki on the banzuke. It may seem odd to westerners, but the sumo world really does love their traditions. There is a risk that Takakeisho might become injured in training, or worse yet in a match, and be 2 tournaments away from following Mitakeumi and Shodai down the banzuke. With no successor yet apparent, they need to give themselves some time should that happen. So, make Takakeisho a Yokozuna, and he can be on the banzuke even if he is taking a few months off to recover from some injury. Problem solved. It could also bring some beneifts…

Support – Sumo is largely a Japanese sport made for Japanese speaking fans living in Japan. Those who know and love Japan, understand that having a Japanese yokozuna is a big deal for the popularity of the sport nationally. Minting a new Yokozuna would boost interest and visibility of the sport, as it increasingly competes for attention of fans in a crowded media market. Simply put, it may be worth some much needed cash to mint a Japanese Yokozuna right now.

So there are my three points, I think he’s earned it, it solves a problem with the banzuke until such time as one of the next generation can get their sumo together, and it will be good for business. Feel free to chime in in the comment section below.

UPDATE: The Yokozuna Deliberation Council has now met, and while some members felt there should have been a promotion discussion by the JSA (there wasn’t one), most members believed that it wasn’t a high-level yusho, so there wasn’t much to discuss. The run is on for Haru, with promotion conditions unspecified. -lksumo, via Kintamayama over on Sumo Forum.

Looking Ahead to the Haru Banzuke: Wither Asanoyama?

Yokozuna and Ozeki

Absent Terunofuji will continue as the sole Yokozuna. It is unclear what the odds are that we’ll see him mount the dohyo in Osaka. Takakeisho will remain the lone Ozeki, with a shot at promotion with another yusho.

San’yaku

S1e Wakatakakage (9-6) and S1w Hoshoryu (8-7) have successfully defended their ranks, by a hair in the case of the latter (pun intended).

S2e Takayasu (1-5-8) and S2w Shodai (6-9) will fall into the maegashira ranks.

K1e Kiribayama (11-4) has met the standard that has traditionally forced an extra Sekiwake slot, and I expect him to debut at that rank in March. With 19 wins in his past two tournaments, he could be on a low-key Ozeki run, although it would take a very strong Haru basho to seal the deal.

K1w Kotonowaka (8-7) and K2w Wakamotoharu (9-6) should remain komusubi. I’ve heard talk that the latter could be bumped to Sekiwake, but I see no case to do so. K2e Meisei (5-10) will drop out of san’yaku.

So that’s 5 san’yaku slots accounted for by Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu, Kiribayama, Kotonowaka, and Wakamotoharu. Will there be any extra ones? I think we will have at least two additional Komusubi: M1w Daieisho (10-5), who probably did enough to force open a slot, and M1e Tobizaru (8-7), who earned a kachi-koshi at the top maegashira slot. The banzuke committee has given every indication that this guarantees promotion, and even if Daieisho could potentially slide over to M1e, it would be tough to leave him out with a better score at the same rank as Tobizaru. The one question mark is whether M2w Tamawashi (9-6) will join them, either as the 5th Komusubi, which has never happened, or if they keep the current 4S/4K by bumping up Wakamotoharu. I think Iron Man may have to settle for M1e.

Upper Maegashira

We don’t seem to have the type of historic crunch in this part of the banzuke that we did last time. In addition to Tamawashi, the rikishi who deserve to be ranked M4 or higher are the aforementioned san’yaku dropouts Shodai and Meisei, M2e Mitakeumi (7-8), M3e Abi (8-7), the M5 duo Ryuden and Nishikigi (both 9-6), and M8e Onosho (10-5). That’s 8 rikishi and 8 slots, for those keeping score.

Makuuchi <-> Juryo

This did not work out as neatly. Three spots in the top division are being vacated by the absences of Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, and Okinoumi due to suspension, injury, and retirement, respectively. A 4th slot is open by dropping M16w Chiyomaru (4-11), who’ll be taking a trip on the Juryo barge for the 7th time, the most among active rikishi.

Both other endangered incumbents won. M8w Oho (4-11) should now be completely safe, and M15w Mitoryu (7-8) has the numerical case to stay.

This would leave only four open slots, but we have 5 promotion cases: J1w Bushozan (9-6), J2e Hokuseiho (9-6), J5e Kinbozan (11-4), J6w Daishoho (12-3), and the Juryo yusho winner, former Ozeki Asanoyama, who went 14-1 at J12w. By conventional promotion criteria, Asanoyama is last in line, and should get stuck at J1e. Given his profile and the strength of his performance, will those criteria be bent to accommodate him somehow? The options seem to come down to promoting him over Hokuseiho, whom he defeated on the final day, or pushing down incumbent Mitoryu, which the banzuke committee has been unwilling to do in recent times. This is probably the most consequential decision on the entire banzuke, and while it seems unthinkable that they would make Asanoyama spend another basho in Juryo, the results shook out in a way that makes this difficult to avoid.

Juryo <-> Makushita:

Three Juryo spots were open before Day 15: one as a result of Okinoumi’s retirement plus two due to the performances of J13w Kaisho (5-10) and J11e Chiyosakae (5-10). J10w Terutsuyoshi (5-10) lost to Ms1e Tamashoho (4-3) in one exchange bout, while J12e Takakento (7-8) beat Ms5e Tsukahara (5-2) in the other. Takakento gets to stay, Tamashoho (whose main claim to fame is that he is Tamawashi’s stablemate and brother-in-law) will make his sekitori debut, while Terutsuyoshi and Tsukahara will almost certainly be ranked high in the Makushita promotion zone in March.

As for the other 3 open spots, two should be filled by former maegashira Ms2e Tomokaze and Ms2w Tokushoryu, both 4-3. I expect the third to go to the makushita champion, Ms15TD Ochiai (7-0). If he doesn’t get it, we’ll know that there’s a hard-and-fast rule against promotion for Ms15 tsukedashi, as the alternatives are Terutsuyoshi and Tsukahara, who lost their exchange bouts. For completeness, Ms5w Fujiseiun (5-2) is the only other rikishi with a potentially promotable record who is out of luck due to lack of space.

We’ll find out the Juryo promotions in a couple of days; for the rest, including Asanoyama’s fate, we’ll have to wait until February 27. I’ll post a full banzuke prediction closer to that time. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.