I’ve focused quite a bit on mathematics in my first couple of posts, so I wanted to formulate a minor Natsu banzuke prediction in this post based more on history. As I detailed in looking at the shift in first week results, much of the change we’re seeing has come down to those at the Sekiwake rank punching above their weight. And much of the debate around the new banzuke seems to be focused on how many such ranked rikishi we may see as we prepare for the next tournament in Tokyo.
So let’s go back 45 years and look at an interesting turn of results that led the banzuke to shift from the standard 2 Sekiwake up to an incredible 5:
Kyushu 1971: Two rikishi entered the final tournament of 1971: Takanohana (not that one) and Hasegawa. Both grabbed a narrow kachi-koshi and held their rank heading into Hatsu ’72. Meanwhile, Mienoumi, who had been ranked Komusubi, grabbed 11 wins and forced a third spot in Sekiwake for Hatsu ’72.
Hatsu 1972: Mienoumi’s performance didn’t set the precedent in ’72 however, as Wajima was able to force a promotion for himself with a 10 win performance during the Hatsu tournament. It’s not clear whether that would have been enough to force a fourth spot, however, as Takanohana fell to a make-koshi at Hatsu and was demoted back to Maegashira.
Haru 1972 started with the aforementioned Mienoumi, Hasegawa and Wajima in the Sekiwake positions. This time, all three Sekiwake held rank (with Hasegawa adding the Yusho). As Ozeki Maenoyama had been kadoban at Haru, however, and he was unable to finish with a winning record, a fourth spot was forced for Natsu.
Natsu 1972: This basho thus opened with Mienoumi, Hasegawa (now properly on an Ozeki run) and Wajima holding their spots and Maenoyama joining them. Maenoyama crashed at the first hurdle, ending up with a narrow make-koshi. Wajima grabbed the Yusho this time and Hasegawa was unable to finish the job for his promotion totting up just 8 wins, so they (along with Mienoumi) held on for yet another basho at the Sekiwake rank.
With Maenoyama having been sent down the banzuke never to return, Takanohana was able to grab 11 wins at Komusubi to reclaim his spot and Kaiketsu followed suit, forcing an unprecedented 5th Sekiwake slot for Nagoya. Peak Sekiwake was reached! The Nagoya basho was interesting in terms of the point it played contextually in the careers of the rikishi involved:
- S1E Wajima, coming off that Yusho, just hung on with a narrow kachi-koshi secured on day 14. He’d only been in professional sumo for a couple years, but that final win proved crucial: retaining his status allowed him to reach Ozeki by the year’s end. And it would remain his worst performance in a healthy tournament, as he went on to become the 54th Yokozuna and grabbed 13 more Yusho along the way.
- S1W Takanohana was also at the verge of joining the upper ranks: he too reached Ozeki by year’s end and stayed there for an impressive 9 years before retiring.
- S2E Mienoumi had been building some momentum, but he went kyujo in this tournament and it took him a full 3 years to finally reach Ozeki. He then of course became the 57th Yokozuna, enjoying fleeting success at the top before retiring shortly thereafter.
- S2W Kaiketsu had a fascinating career, briefly reaching Ozeki twice, in two completely separate stints, going kadoban after a couple tournaments, and falling out of the rank in the first year each time and then missing his chance to return from Sekiwake level. After impressively coming back up to Ozeki from a stint in Maegashira, he didn’t recover after dropping out a second time and eventually retired as a rank & filer.
- S3E Hasegawa, who had been on an Ozeki run, was demoted and never meaningfully challenged the upper san’yaku ranks again (making a few unimpressive appearances in lower san’yaku before retiring as a rank & filer).
The somewhat amazing thing here is that for all intents and purposes, it actually didn’t have to stop there. Unlike today, where the banzuke features four Yokozuna and a couple of Ozeki, there were only 4 upper san’yaku in total, and so a big portion (at least half) of the schedule for these rikishi would have still been made up of wrestlers who were junior in rank – especially after Mienoumi dropped out halfway through. And it was a Maegashira in Takamiyama who grabbed the Yusho, knocking off 3 Sekiwake in the process (2 of whom still finished with winning records). Had a couple of these guys fared just a couple wins better, the schedulers could have been looking at 6 Sekiwake for Aki!
As it happened, there were 4 Sekiwake at Aki that year, and the decks were cleared: Wajima and Takanohana were promoted and the others were demoted, and order was restored to the banzuke.
1972 perhaps showed many parallels with what we’re experiencing in 2017 – out of the crop of Sekiwake banging on the door, a couple went on to later greatness while the rest never quite again scaled those heights. It’s not hard to see Takayasu or Mitakeumi eventually establishing themselves at the top, while it may eventually only be downhill for the likes of Tamawashi and Kotoshogiku – both of whom are approaching their mid-30s.
20 years later, a 4th Sekiwake slot was also seen at Kyushu ’92, the product of the 3 Sekiwake who held rank at Aki being joined by Takanahada, who would go on to be known as the great Takanohana (yes that one). This time, it took a 14 win Yusho to force the 4th slot open.
Because of this historical precedent, I think perhaps it’s likely that Mitakeumi has to settle for another stop at Komusubi level. And maybe that’s for the best. The crowded field in front of him will work itself out, and another run at Komusubi now may allow him to consolidate and improve his record, forcing a way in for Nagoya. And what price on the injured, kadoban Goeido falling through the trap door to meet him and the current 3 Sekiwake there? The only thing for sure is that it’s going to be an interesting summer for the banzuke.