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.