The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder
*Updated after reader lksumo pointed out that my spreadsheet had somehow skipped special prize winner Takakeisho.
After the relative ease of the San’yaku ranks, we enter the mine field of the upper Maegashira. In Osaka, the upper 3 Maegashira ranks all had painfully bad losing records, and each of them will be handed a significant demotion for the upcoming tournament. When this happens, it’s a complete toss up who will be placed where in the upper rank and file. As was evidenced by Yoshikaze at Maegashira 4 having an 8-7 record, but probably begin placed at Komusubi.
The upper Maegashira ranks are some of the toughest in sumo. They will face the San’yaku, which should be 11 rikishi this tournament, and will likely face a lot of losses. All of the sumotori know this, but that is how it goes.
As with Osaka, we are using a series of formulas that I have been working to refine to help predict where each rikishi will be placed on the banzuke. It takes into account the wins, losses, the relative strength of the opponent for each, and a scoring factor that reflects the fact that the higher up the banzuke you are, the more difficult it is to advance.
Pouring all of that into the model, we end up with this computed ranking:
Top of the rank-and-file corps this time is Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has been working himself silly to improve, and it really shows. He has also picked up considerable mass in the past year, and is better able to cope with massive beasts that inhabit Makuuchi. While his rank velocity was not massive, he had a stronger finish than most of the upper Maegashira. Joining him from the west is crowd favorite Endo who debuts at his highest rank ever. Many fans in Japan love Endo, and they are hoping that he can claim another kachi-koshi which would likely propel him into the San’yaku for July.
At Maegashira 2 we find Chiyoshoma, who launches up from Maegashira 5 on a comparatively strong record in March. This is his highest rank ever, and he has worked hard to reach this point. He is joined by veteran (and my wife’s favorite) Okinoumi, who has been battling injuries for some time. When he is well enough to compete, he is a significant factor in the tournament. We all hope he is in fighting shape this May.
At Maegashira 3 we surprisingly find Takarafuji. I can hear you asking: “Didn’t he finish with a make-koshi?”. The problem really is, who is worthy of Maegashira 3? The top 10 Maegashira ranked rikishi in March saw only two finish with winning records – Yoshikaze and Endo. Takarafuji finished with a 7-8, but surprisingly, that was better than most. Joining him is Shodai who has fallen three ranks from Komusubi
Tochiozan had a very strong finish in Osaka, and he will return to the upper Maegashira at 4e in May. The level of completion is quite different than his prior Maegashira 10 rank, and we hope he arrives at the basho ready to battle. Joining him is veteran Takekaze, who suffered a 10-5 record in March.
Ikioi take up a Maegashira 5 position for Natsu, after his terrible 10-5 record at Haru. Ikioi has a lot of potential, but has been terribly hit or miss for the past year. Joining him is Takanoiwa, who was also part of the group of upper Maegashira who had horrific records in Osaka.
Daieisho achieves his highest rank ever with a posting to Maegashira 6, moving up 5 places after a very strong tournament in March. Daieisho shows a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see his performance against higher ranked rikishi. He will likely face some of the San’yaku during this tournament. Aoiyama joins him. Aoiyama has not really been overly impressive for several tournaments, and this may be the extent of his sumo, but we always leave the door open for improvement.
Rounding out the upper Maegashira is Takakeisho at Maegashira 7. Takakeisho turned in a fantastic 11-4 record in March, and earned a special prize. He vaults 5 places up the banzuke to a fairly challenging rank. Joining him is Sokokurai. Sokokurai took home a brutal 4-11 record in March, and will be down in the much easier ranks for May.
Tune in Wednesday for the final installment, when I take a crack at the lower Maegashira.