Haru Story 1 – Shin Yokozuna Kisenosato

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Japan’s New Grand Champion

It has been the biggest story since Hatsu, and will continue to lead all other stories into Haru. Japan has gone stark raving bonkers for their first natively born Yokozuna in two decades. He is all over television, print, he is on instant noodle packages, he is what the bulk of what the Japanese sumo press discusses.

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But Kisenosato has, in the past, not operated well under hype, scrutiny and pressure. Fans will recall that the Yokozuna Deliberation Council put Kisenosato on notice that a yusho in September would result in his promotion. The result was an abysmal 10-5 record with Goeido surprising everyone and making a clean sweep of a fairly completive field.

To his credit, Kisenosato headed for the practice room, where he drilled, practiced and worked himself to exhaustion. He battled back to a somewhat questionable 12-3 Jun-Yusho in November. With all pressure seemingly off, Kisenosato fought well in January, and was handed a very lucky and fortunate series of situations that all broke his way. His 14-1 yusho was the crowning achievement of a long career of intense dedication to sumo, and he seemed almost dazed that it had finally happened.

What followed was an endless celebration where Kisenosato was the center of almost unbelievable attention, adoration and media coverage.  Everyone wanted to know what he thought about everything, and everyone wanted his involvement. It’s easy to get distracted when you find yourself thrust into the limelight, and suddenly a national hero.

But in just days, the shin Yokozuna will step on the clay once more, and this time he faces a complex and uncertain torikumi. In all likelihood, the Ozeki will be damaged and only partially functional if they can even show up at all. Harumafuji is likely still wounded, and lord knows if Kakuryu has his back and knees in working order this time.

The first week of any basho features the Yokozuna and Ozeki “warming up” against the upper Maegashira and the San’yaku. This time it is somewhat possible that it’s the San’yaku who may be hunting scalps in week one.

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In reports from the press, Kisenosato has perhaps let all of the fame and celebration get in the way of his sumo for the past couple of weeks. In a training session with Takayasu, Kisenosato could only manage 6 wins an 11 losses. While this is great news for Takayasu backers like myself, it does indicate that Kisenosato needs to focus on his sumo and prepare.

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The Tachiai team is genuinely looking forward to watching Kisenosato’s first tournament dohyo-iri, hopefully with his team wearing their (non borrowed) kesho-mawashi, and with Kisenosato’s personal sword. Word is it’s being made by the 25th Fujiwara Kanefusa – master sword smith.

Neil Fingleton has died at 36

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It is with sadness that I mention the death of Neil Fingleton. Many of you will know him from The Game of Thrones. I know him because we went to UNC-Chapel Hill together. At just over 7 and a half feet tall, he stood out on campus as the guy who seemed to be as tall as the street lights lining the quad and was actually taller than Brendan Haywood. While he didn’t exactly have a stellar career on the hard wood, he probably made more of a mark on Hollywood with small roles for giants and other big dudes.

The reason I mention his death is that it reminded me that many of our athletes live short lives. In Neil’s case, it was the gift of height that he was born with but for many others it’s the nature of the sport and the toll it (or “the life”) takes on the body which ultimately shortens the time which they have to enjoy it. Neil was heavily scouted and recruited to play basketball making it to the McDonald’s All-America prospect team.

With his passing, though, I can’t help but reflect on Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and other athletes who often pass before their time…though in Neil’s case it was startlingly young.

March Banzuke Released!

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Tachiai Formula Driven Ranking Comes Close

As expected, the banzuke for the Osaka tournament in March was published by the Japan Sumo Association this afternoon US time. Find it here. Much to our surprise, the formula defined after careful sifting of many past tournaments turned out to be fairly close in many cases. The most glaring miss was the demotion of Tochinoshin down to Maegashira 10, as opposed to rank velocity putting him only at Maegarshia 3. For future banzuke predictions, we will be adjusting the demotion scoring to try to get closer.

The other interesting wrinkle was that the new Maegarshia promoted from Juryo were inserted higher in the banzuke than expected. Some highlights

Three Sekiwake – As predicted, there are three wrestlers ranked at Sekiwake for March. This is the normal two with the addition of demoted Kotoshogiku, who is at this rank while he attempts a 10 win comeback to re-secure Ozeki.

Komosubi Power CoupleMitakeumi and Shodai at Komusubi means there are no slackers in the San’yaku this tournament. This is going to be quite thrilling, I think. It also means that the Ozeki and Yokozuna are going to be vigorously challenged.

Takekaze top Maegashira – the veteran was strong in the January opener, and how he has a chance to really deliver the goods.

Takanoiwa was promoted to Maegarshira 2, vs the Maegarshira 4 predicted by the formula. As stated in the earlier posts, there is some hand modification done (it would seem) to get the banzuke “right”.

Hokutofuji was also 2 ranks higher, Maegashira 5 vs the predicted Maegashira 7. He had a strong run in January, and perhaps the NSK thinks it’s time for him to be tested above the middle of the pack.

Ura debuts in Makuuchi at Maegashira 12, I am hoping he makes the NHK World highlight show every day.

More in depth analysis coming from Tachiai now that we begin the march toward Haru. It’s time for sumo!

Sumo Fans – Break Time Is Over

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Osaka Banzuke Arrives Today

in between tournaments, it can be tough to be a sumo fan. Everything goes quiet and there is no source of news or events anywhere. You find yourself with “Learn Kanji” books trying to decode things on Japanese web sites, and all you come up with is Toyonoshima talking about his grannie’s recipe for Oden.

This time was somewhat different as the excitement of shin-Yokozuna kisenosato kept everything buzzing for several weeks after the end of the Hatsu tournament in January. But eventually the Kisenosato mania died out, and even the Japanese sumo press seemed to have run out of things to talk about.

All of that changes today as the banzuke (ranking sheet) for the March tournament in Osaka arrives in a bit under 9 hours. As always, Tachiai will bring you a box-car of sumo love throughout March, starting later today with our possibly painful comparison of the official banzuke with our amateur attempts to rank Sumo’s top men.

Ozeki Goeido Prepares For Haru

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Injured But Competing?

Readers will note that we have been following with great interest the story of Goeido’s injury on day 12 of Hatsubasho against Endo. It was clear the Ozeki, and Aki tournament winner, was seriously hurt in that bout. Later stories surfaced of significant damage to the Osaka native’s ankle, possibly requiring hardware to repair.

Now according to the Japanese sumo press, Goeido’s injuries were worse than originally feared, including a report of torn ligaments. As a result Goeido has been off of his ankle since his injury, and has not been able to take full training. He has compensated by focusing on his upper body only, doing push-ups, dumbells and other strength training that did not require him to stand.

In spite of his injuries and the slow nature of their recovery times, Goeido is quoted in the article as still intending to compete in Osaka. Goeido is a home-town favorite, and his zensho yusho in September only made him more of a star.

With the banzuke announcement only a few days away, we will soon see which of the damaged rikishis are going to be in, and who will have to sit.

Countdown to Haru Basho

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Just Over Two Weeks To Go

Attention Sumo fans! We are just a few days away from the official Osaka banzuke which will be quickly used to sweep away the questionable forecasts of the writers at Tachiai. Word from the sumo press is that most of the Beyas have actually started relocating to their temporary facilities in Osaka, and that rikishi are preparing themselves for the two week tournament.

There has also been word that one of the most important stories in Osaka is going to have a rough start. De-frocked Ozeki Kotoshogiku is still injured, and struggling to train. He has a one time chance to regain his Ozeki rank if he is able to secure 10 wins from his position at Sekiwake. As both Andy and I have stated, in his current condition it is likely impossible.

Tachiai will start our coverage of all the action leading up to Haru starting Sunday, when US fans get the banzuke during the afternoon hours. From there we will be wall-to-wall bringing you all things sumo leading up to and including the tournament itself.

Photograph above courtesy of John Gunning’s “Inside Sport Japan” twitter feed.

*Additional photos, including the one below showing Otake Beya’s temporary training area in Osaka can be found at Otake’s web site.

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Andy’s Banzuke: Lower Maegashira

The wrestlers in my lower banzuke are a mix of three groups: young up-and-comers, injured vets, guys who aren’t going any higher.

Group 1: Young Up-And-Comers are headlined by Ura and Ishiura. I also include Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daieisho and Daishomaru in this group. However, I don’t see any sanyaku potential from any of these guys, yet. It will be more likely to see makekoshi records among these guys than 10+ wins. I don’t think any of these guys have reached the level of an Ikioi, Endo, or even Sokokurai. Chiyoshoma is tricky. I want to place him in this group but the guy has skill and may be ready to graduate and become a solid maegashira in his own right. He actually has a winning 2-1 record against all three solid maegashira: Ikioi, Endo, and Sokokurai. He and Kagayaki are probably the two wrestlers who will be fighting for advancement rather than just hoping to preserve their maegashira ranks.

Group 2: is the Injured Vets, led by Okinoumi, Myogiryu, Tochiozan, and Kotoyuki. These are veterans with strong skills who’ve got sanyaku experience when healthy. Okinoumi’s injury is painful and really inoperable if he wants to stay in sumo. He’ll probably try to muscle through for a while, but ouch *hat tip to Celina and Bruce*. The success of either of these guys depends on their injuries more than their skill. They have the ability to clean house down in these lower ranks. As they won’t be 100% but do have experience and skill, they will present great learning experiences for the younger wrestlers. I hope we don’t see any demotions into Juryo from this group and instead see some 10 or 11 win records.

Group 3: Guys who belong here and no higher. I’m not expecting stellar performances from these guys. These guys will bounce around the maegashira ranks, dip into Juryo, but likely won’t go much higher. They’ve been around a while but don’t demonstrate promise for serious advancement or long careers. Gagamaru would be my prototype for this group as he finds himself back in Juryo. Given his round physique, I’ll call these guys the yo-yos. Sadanoumi, Kyokushuho, Chiyoo (if he doesn’t get demoted), and Nishikigi. I’m tempted to drop Chiyoo into Juryo and will check the Japanese news to see if that decision’s already been made.

 

Rank East West
9 Kagayaki Sadanoumi
10 Chiyoshoma Daieisho
11 Ura Okinoumi
12 Kotoyuki Tochiozan
13 Myogiryu Ishiura
14 Takakeisho Daishomaru
15 Kyokushuho Nishikigi
16 Chiyoo

Andy’s Mock Banzuke, Part Deux: The Upper Maegashira

Here’s my prediction for the top half of the March 2017 banzuke. I have Tochinoshin plummeting to Maegashira 8. It’s been hard to find any recent examples of winless komusubi but Kotoyuki had an awful two-win record in Nagoya last year, ending up at Maegashira 8 for the Fall Tournament back in Tokyo. If we go back to Haru 2015, Okinoumi lost four and then went kyujo. He fell to Maegashira 10 in the next tournament. So, it’s not unprecedented to have a massive drop like this.

Given the strong performances by Tamawashi, Takayasu, and Mitakeumi, I don’t see how Shodai’s losing record keeps him in sanyaku. The kyokai needs ozekis so they need to bring the good performers up the banzuke. I like Andrew Michael Daley’s “nozeki” term. Only the Kyokai likely know how serious the situation really is, but it appears pretty dire from my armchair heya in DC.

Ikioi was the only maegashira with a winning record among the gauntlet ranks. His wins over Terunofuji, Giku, and Kakuryu were not that impressive given their own terrible records and catalog of injuries. But, those wins seem emblematic of the issues facing our champions. Add in there the fusen victory from Harumafuji’s injury and I think we’ve got a flavor for what we can expect in March: many white stars and even a few gold stars for the young challengers.

OK, Takekaze’s not a young challenger – and neither is Sokokurai. These dudes are seasoned vets who are probably salivating as they get a whiff of ozekidom. Both wrestlers had 10+ wins last tournament. Add in to this Takanoiwa sitting on 11 wins. They can actually hope to get 10 more this time around. If they put together strong performances like that at M3, they will be in sanyaku with 20+ wins under their mawashi. This would be a worst-nightmare situation for the Kyokai. It will be interesting to see how they dance around elevation talk if either of them put together 33 wins now, even with 20 or more of those coming as rank-and-file wrestlers.

Terunofuji’s pre-promotion win-count included one tournament at M2. But he also had a yusho. Will they strengthen the requirement seeing as how their most recent ozeki promotions (Goeido and Terunofuji) have been busts? Can they even afford to with the nozeki situation looming? Right now, I’m sure the answer floating in their heads at the moment is, “This is fantasy. These guys can’t pick up double-digit wins ranked this high. Besides, Takayasu and Mitakeumi will be the next ozeki.” I actually agree but it’s fun to think of the possibilities. If Sokokurai puts up another 12, I’m going to enjoy the show, especially given his history, getting wrongly caught up in the yaocho scandal and then being reinstated after a two year banishment.

Yoshikaze is a sleeper. He’s not going to advance but he does pose a constant danger for serious upsets. Arawashi’s success may have been a fluke but it will be interesting to see where he’s seeded. I’ve got him falling out of the ranks where he’ll pose a danger to any sanyaku opponents. Rather, the  rest of these wrestlers should provide some great highlight bouts. The three heavyweights, Aoiyama, Ichinojo, and Kaisei will be great matchups (hopefully). They can be lethargic, inconsistent, and underwhelming but I’m thinking positively here.

 

Rank East West
M1 Shodai Ikioi
M2 Takekaze Sokokurai
M3 Takanoiwa Yoshikaze
M4 Shohozan Hokutofuji
M5 Chiyonokuni Aoiyama
M6 Ichinojo Takarafuji
M7 Arawashi Endo
M8 Kaisei Tochinoshin

Andy Takes a Crack at Mock Banzuke

I like Bruce’s systematic, mathematic approach to the banzuke. Mine, though, is based on gut. In my sanyaku projection, you’ll notice few differences. I flip Harumafuji and Kakuryu. Rather than basing it on wins, I based it on losses. Six losses for a yokozuna (Kakuryu)? Even injured it’s hard for me to put him in the top rank — so I didn’t. I preserve the two Sekiwake standard rather than making room for Takayasu. Also, I drop Shodai from the senior ranks and let him fall into the rank-and-file.

The Ozeki situation is just bizarre. Terunofuji is kadoban, again, and should be demoted. If by some (cough, cough, yaocho) miracle he wins eight and retains his rank, I command the NSK to sit his ass for two tournaments. Let him go kadoban after 0-0-15 in May, get demoted after 0-0-15 in July, and come back healthy with a shot to regain his rank in September. Meanwhile, Goeido’s injury appears very serious as well. He has the luxury of sitting out this tournament and coming back kadoban in May.

Given the apparent seriousness of both rikishi’s injuries, it is possible that we will not have any ozeki by July. Add in the injuries to two yokozuna, this opens the door very wide for a *new crop* (新米) of champions in sumo. The three at the top of my list are the three junior sanyaku rikishi: Tamawashi, Takayasu, and Mitakeumi. I believe there’s a 75% chance for new ozeki this summer, 100% chance of new ozeki (likely 2) by year end. If I’m wrong, I will eat a raw wasabi root – marinated in yuzukosho – and post the video on YouTube.

Key to any promotion is health. I will find that article my wife sent me which mentions Kisenosato’s anti-injury training this weekend and post again after the banzuke. He’s been incredibly resilient through his career. I seem to recognize a “tawara-awareness” where he doesn’t risk a nasty fall for a win on the edge. He fights but remains in control and on the dohyo.

Endo used to go for it all to try to pull off a win. I’ve noticed he’s trying to stay in control. If the opponent has position and isn’t off-balance (thus susceptible to a quick pivot) the best course of action is to step out. Don’t go out to a careless knee or back injury from an uncontrolled fall. If possible, tumble in a controlled fashion.

If I were to start a heya, controlled falls from the dohyo would be the first thing I’d teach my rikishi. I’d bring in Hollywood stunt doubles and Chinese tumbling acrobats to show my wrestlers how to brace and control their falls from any position. Then I’d say, if you can’t win with a pivot on the tawara, don’t destroy your knee. Just step out and beat the fucker gentleman over the head next time.

Below is my take on the sanyaku for March:

Rank East West
Y Hakuho Harumafuji
Y Kakuryu Kisenosato
O Goeido Terunofuji
S Kotoshogiku Tamawashi
K Takayasu Mitakeumi

Handicapping The Haru Banzuke – Part 3

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The Fish Tank & Fresh Faces

In the last of our series prognosticating the banzuke for Haru, we take a look at the lower half Makuuchi, including the rikishi who are likely to be demoted down to Juryo and promoted out of Juryo to the upper division.

The action during Hatsu in January saw some incredible winning records among rikishi ranked below Maegashira 4, several of whom racked up double digit records. This resulted in some dramatic shifts up and down the banzuke, with some names familiar to Tachiai readers poised for some of their lowest ranking in many tournaments.

Gone from the upper division are Chiyootori, who was only at Maegashira 14, but had a terrible rank velocity score of -3.3, which is identical to his stablemate Chiyotairyu. One of them is going back to Juryo most likely, and a flip of a coin gave me Chiyootori. The overwhelming swarm of Kokonoe beya wrestlers in January caused fits for scheduling, and frankly it will be good to thin the ranks a bit.

Likewise we can wave goodbye to Gagamaru, the massive Georgan turned in yet another terrible performance in January, with a rank velocity score of -5.5 from his 5-10 result. Sadly we are also losing Osunaarashi, who gave it everything he had but was just too injured to compete in January. His last demotion was brutal, and I have no idea how far down the banzuke he is going to drop.

Joining Makuuchi from Juryo are 3 favorites who have worked hard to win their upper-division slots: Juryo yusho winner DaieishoKyokushuho, and Tachiai favorite Ura.

Running everyone’s scores through the magic computations gives us the following list:

East Rank West
Chiyoshoma Maegashira 8 Kaisei
Okinoumi Maegashira 9 Kotoyuki
Tochiozan Maegashira 10 Kagayaki
Ishiura Maegashira 11 Myogiryu
Takakeisho Maegashira 12 Daishomaru
Sadanoumi Maegashira 13 Daieisho
Ura Maegashira 14 Nishikigi
Kyokushuho Maegashira 15 Chiyoo
Chiyotairyu Maegashira 16

First up at Maegashira 8, Chiyoshoma dropping 2 ranks from Maegashira 6. Chiyoshoma had a fairly decent performance at Hatsu, including wins over Maegashira 4 Endo and Maegashira 5 Takekaze. He is joined on the west by Kaisei, who has been struggling for several tournaments, but managed to get his kachi-koshi with a win over Gagamaru on the final day.

Leading up Maegashira 9 is the injured and struggling Okinoumi, who could only find 4 wins in January. He drops 6 ranks in a fairly brutal demotion that is more a testament to his injuries than his sumo skill. Joining him is Kotoyuki, another veteran who had a terrible tournament in January. He falls 3 ranks to take up the west position.

Tochiozan falls 6 ranks as well to take the Maegashira 10e slot. He managed only 3 wins in January and is really having trouble recapturing his former power and strength. Joining him is Kagayaki, who rises 1 rank on the back of his 8-7 kachi-koshi from January.

After an impressive debut performance in Kyushu, Ishiura struggled during Hatsu, managing only 6 wins. He drops two ranks to take up the Maegashira 11e slot. Myogiryu had a horrific Hatsu, with a 4-11 result. He drops 4 ranks to occupy the Maegashira 11w slot at Osaka.

Maegashira 12 seems to be a strange rank this tournament. Both occupants, Takakeisho in the east and Daishomaru in the west, were at this same rank for January, and ended up with 7-8 records. But because of the downward velocity of some other rikishi, they ended up here. Be aware that they may end up lower in the final, NSK banzuke.

Sadanoumi improves to Maegashira 13e for Haru after being Maegashira 15 in January, his 8-7 kachi-koshi record was enough to bring him forward 2 ranks. He is joined by the Juryo yusho winner, Daieisho, who is making his return to Makuuchi after 3 tournaments in Jury.

At Meagashira 14e, making his Makuuchi debut – none other than Ura. Only time will tell if he can survive in the top division, but many fans (including myself) are hopeful we can finally get a steady digest of Ura’s sumo acrobatics in our video feed. At 14 west, we find the hapless Nishikigi. Nishikigi’s record was worthy of demotion by the “rank velocity” formula, but it was necessary to round out Maegashira ranks, so being slightly less damaged than some of the others, I have him staying.

Also up from Juryo, Kyokushuho re-joins the top division, after spending Hatsu in Juryo. Also at Maegashira 15 is Chiyoo, who was chosen by coin toss from the 3 demotable Kokonoe wrestlers.

if there is a need for a single Maegashira 16 to even out Makuuchi, Tachiai predicts Chiyotairyu survive demotion back to Juryo in order to balance the banzuke. This will come down to how many of the injured rikishi actually state they will be able to compete, and may be decided at the last minute.

That’s Bruce’s guess for Haru 2017. As always, please feel free to post your ideas too!

Handicapping The Haru Banzuke – Part 2

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The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

In the first of our series speculating on the Haru banzuke, we took at look at the San’yaku ranks, which face fierce competition for the competitive ranks, and significant injury and problems in the “permanent” ranks.

Today we look at the rikishi who have hard work to earn their pay, the upper half of Maegashira ranks.  As with the first group, this is all purely speculative, and based on some formula concocted by myself in an attempt to guess where the Nippo Sumo Kyokai will rank the men for the March tournament in Osaka.

Plugging everyone’s win/loss record, the difficulty of their foes, a scoring factor for their rank (harder to move up the higher you were in the banzuke) and a few other magic elements, we get this prospective ranking:

East Rank West
Ikioi Maegashira 1 Takekaze
Takarafuji Maegashira 2 Sokokurai
Tochinoshin Maegashira 3 Shohozan
Arawashi Maegashira 4 Takanoiwa
Yoshikaze Maegashira 5 Endo
Ichinojo Maegashira 6 Chiyonokuni
Hokutofuji Maegashira 7 Aoiyama

Ikioi is an amazingly popular rikishi with the public, and his posting to Maegashira 1e for the Osaka basho will only ramp public interest higher, above and beyond the current Kisenosato mania sweeping Japan.  Ikioi’s sumo has been improving steadily, and the NSK probably assume it’s time to give him a test for a San’yaku slot in the near future. Interestingly enough, the sumotori with the highest “mathematical” rank is Sokokurai! Sokokurai had 11 wins, his “rank velocity” (win vs loss * rank factor * schedule difficulty) was an astounding 9.9, higher than anyone and well ahead of second highest Ichinojo. But I think the Maegashira 1 ranks are prized positions, and the Nippon Sumo Kyokai will likely put Ikioi’s impact on the popularity of sumo foremost. Takekaze moves up from Maegashira 5 to a Maegashira 1 spot at Haru, and we will see if the veteran can fend off the up-and-coming crowd.

Takarafuji benefits from the chaos and blood bath at the upper end of Makuuchi in January, landing solidly at Maegashira 2e, and a chance to rack up kinboshi against a wounded Yokozuna crew.  Joining him is Sokokurai at Maegashira 2w, the rikishi who computed out to the highest “rank velocity” of anyone coming out of Hatsu. If he continues his strong streak from Hatsu, he will present a really good opponent to many top rikishi.

Tochinoshin drops 3 slots from Komusubi to Maegashira 3, he had a terrible record before his injuries forced him to withdraw. To be honest, it will be interesting to see if he is even healed up enough to compete, but as always Tachiai wishes the big Georgain the best of fortune. Joining him at Maegashira 3w is Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s dew-sweeper, Shohozan.

Takanoiwa,  who has been really blowing the doors off of his competition, raises from Maegashira 10 to Maegashira 4. I put him on the west side, which draws a slightly easier schedule.  However, if there is a lack of fierce Ozeki class competition, we may once again see score inflation among the up-and-coming rikishi, and I would look for Takanoiwa to excel. Joining him is Arawashi falling from Maegashira 2 in January.

Yoshikaze (a favorite of mine) seems to have been ranked in a very comfortable spot, as the computation put him at the same rank, but moved him from West to East. Joining him at Maegashira 5 is fan favorite Endo, whose make-koshi in January pushed him down from M2.

Another of the levitating next-gen rikishi, Ichinojo, leaps to Maegashira 6 from his prior spot at Maegashira 13.  Frankly, I am not sure if he is ready for this intensity of competition, but we will see in March how he fares. His computed “rank velocity” was an impressive 7.7, which was more than Takanoiwa.  Joining him is Chiyonokuni, who turned in a solid performance in January at Maegashira 8.

Rounding out the upper portion of the Maegashira ranks, we the rather impressive Hokutofuji at Maegashira 7e, with man-mountain Aoiyama broadly occupying the Maegashira 7w position.  This is one of the cases where even though Aoiyama was able to turn in a winning record (8-7), there was a huge cohort with strong winning records, with victories over higher ranked rikishi, and they ended up passing him by.

Keep in mind – this exercise is for discussion purposes for the most part. So feel free to leave comments, and alternate opinions. I am hoping to tune my formulas over time, and this first attempt should not be taken too seriously.

Tune in Friday for part 3!

Handicapping The Haru Banzuke – Part 1

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Sizing up San’yaku.

We still have many weeks before the start of the March sumo tournament in Osaka, with 4 weeks until competition begins, and 2 weeks before the banzuke is released. But I was told something that fascinated me – the Nippon Sumo Kyokai creates a draft banzuke for the next tournament shortly after the prior one finishes, and then tweaks it in the intervening weeks. This may be completely fictitious, but if they can do it, why can’t we?

Being a technology guy who loves sumo, I started examining the ratios between rank, win / loss and position on the subsequent banzuke. It let me a couple of formulas, which may be useful, and a really overly complex spreadsheet. That gives us some ranks to start from, and a motivation for discussing what may drive the Haru basho. I am going to break these into a series of postings that span the Makuuchi banzuke. Up today, the San’yaku group.

East Rank West
Hakuho Yokozuna Kakuryu
Harumafuji Yokozuna Kisenosato
Goeido  Ozeki  Terunofuji
Kotoshogiku Sekiwake Tamawashi
Takayasu Sekiwake
Shodai Komusubi Mitakeumi

Yokozuna

Sort of the easy group, they don’t get demoted so they swap positions from tournament to tournament. During Hatsu, Harumafuji and Kakuryu both withdrew due to injuries, and Kiseonsato is the shin-Yokozuna. This puts Hakuho back Y1e again (where he belongs). I put Kakuryu at Y1w with Harumafuji at Y2e and Japan’s new celebrity hero, Kisenosato, at the starter slot in Y2w.

Harumafuji has started making public appearances again, but he reportedly tore a thigh muscle in January, and sometimes those things are tough to heal. Kisenosato, by all reports, is training his brains out after being on a whirlwind PR tour. Part of this may be making sure he lives up to the Yokozuna rank he takes great pride in, and part of it may be tuning up Takayasu for his Ozeki run.

Ozeki

Thanks to Kisenosato’s promotion and Kotoshogiku’s demotion, there are only 2 Ozeki going into Haru, one of them is gravely injured, and one of them is kadoban and a physical basket-case. Goeido is O1e, but it’s not certain he will be recovered enough to join in competition in Osaka (where he is a home-town favorite). Given that they re-assembled his ankle with plates and screws, he may in fact be forced to retire. As of today, Goeido has been canceling his public appearances and keeping a low profile in recovery. We dearly love Goeido 2.0, but fear he may never have a chance to shine again.

Terunofuji is kadoban, and faces a real chance of demotion this time. With the Sekiwake, Komusubi and upper Maegashira all strong and looking to advance, there will be no quarter given at Haru. Terunofuji’s injuries are complex and chronic, and there may be no way for him to resume the sumo he deployed that made him (at one time) a Yokozuna contender. Today, he can only hope to heal, or find a worthy exit path.

Sekiwake

There will be at least three Sekiwake ranked sumotori in Osaka, the normal two plus the demoted Kotoshogiku, provided he does not decide to retire before hand. That gives us Kotoshogiku as Sekiwake 1e, with Tamawashi as Sekiwake at 1w. Computationally, Takayasu came out higher than Tamawashi, but seeing that Tamawashi is retaining his rank, he has a slight edge over Takayasu, who shows up at the rather exotic rank of Sekiwake 2e.

Komusubi

As describe in a prior post, the competition for a Haru San’yaku slot was fierce, with records that would have typically promoted rikishi into the upper ranks, not getting them even close to a berth in the named positions. Rounding out at Komusubi, we have Shodai falling out of Sekiwake to 1e and Mitakeumi rising on a superb Hatsu record to 1w.

NHK Charity Tournament Saturday In Tokyo

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Another Sell Out Crowd.

Saturday in Tokyo, the best and brightest of the sumo world assembled for a one day charity tournament sponsored and conducted by NHK. Although it happened today, it won’t be broadcast until next weekend. As with the prior one-day knockout tournament, the Kokugikan was completely sold out.

All 4 Yokozuna participated, including dohyo-iri. This is a big deal because this is the first time that Harumafuji has made a public appearance since his injury mid-way through the Hatsu basho in January. He looked a bit tender, but it seems clear he is eager to get back on clay and return to sumo. Tachiai sincerely hope he is well and recovered, as stated earlier, Harumafuji has an important role to play in culling the herd for the upcoming tournaments. Although he is prone to donating kinboshi, his offense oriented style of sumo is unparalleled for overwhelming up and coming rikishi.

It’s clear from this, and other recent events that Japan has gone absolutely bonkers over Kisenosato and through extension sumo. Readers may have noticed reduced coverage, which is typical for periods outside of tournaments, but I dearly did not want tachiai to become the “Kisenosato Network”. Frankly the bulk of everything in the Japanese sumo press is all things Kisenosato. I am delighted to know he is enjoying his Yokozuna status, but it’s (at least for now) over the top. Today they were discussing why he didn’t visit his parent’s house on a trip to his home prefecture of Ibaraki.

Some video has snuck out prior to next week’s broadcast, including the three Mongolian Yokozuna singing. I will state that Kakuryu really can sing! We will endeavor to bring you full coverage once the video is broadcast.

41st One Day Tournament Results

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Thanks to the kind folks at sumoforum.net, Tachiai has been able to create a graphical chart showing all of the competitors and rounds of this past weekend’s 41st single day sumo tournament.

Some interesting notes from the event, Harumafuji, Goeido and Tochinoshin were absent. As stated earlier, there is some worry that these three have sustained serious injuries. Of course, as we all know, Kisenosato won and looked fairly good doing it.  There was some great effort put fort by Gagamaru, Shohozan, Takanoiwa and Tochiozan.

This is a fun / for charity event that does not effect standings, and many of the rikishi are not putting in an overwhelming effort, in part because no one wants to get hurt during this tournament.

For a more detailed PDF, click on the image above or you can find it here.