The Kyushu basho has concluded, and while the Yusho race was largely a one-man affair, the rest of the proceedings were filled with unanticipated results. At the end of each basho, the banzuke gets reshuffled for the next one, and this is the most complex and unpredictable reshuffling I’ve seen. I will have a full banzuke forecast post once I’ve digested the final results, but here are some initial thoughts.
What makes the task difficult for the banzuke makers?
I’m glad you asked. We have a confluence of unusual events.
- Below the Yokozuna ranks, we had three rikishi who missed all or most of the tournament, ranging in rank from Sekiwake Terunofuji to M8 Takanoiwa to M16 Ura. Where should they be ranked in January?
- We have a 14-1 Juryo champion, erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay Sokukurai, who needs to be worked into the banzuke much higher than usual for rikishi promoted from Juryo.
- We have several 7-8 rikishi whose make-koshi records warrant demotion, but there is a dearth of rikishi with kachi-koshi records to place ahead of them.
- Several rikishi near the bottom of Makuuchi have records that aren’t quite good enough to make them safe from demotion to Juryo. Conversely, several rikishi near the top of Juryo have records that aren’t quite good enough to guarantee promotion to Makuuchi.
- Perhaps the greatest complication is that we have 5, count them, 5 rikishi whose records would usually warrant Sekiwake rank, and only 4 “normal” San’yaku slots to accommodate them. This doesn’t even include Ichinojo, who will miss out on San’yaku promotion despite accumulating double-digit wins at M4.
Who will be in San’yaku?
We already knew that Kotoshogiku will vacate his Komusubi slot; with today’s loss, Yoshikaze will drop from Sekiwake all the way into the maegashira ranks (I expect to see him at maegashira 1). We also know that Mitakeumi will retain his Sekiwake 1e slot by virtue of his 9-6 record.
Beyond that, things get complicated. Our shin-Komusubi, Onosho, turned things around in a big way and ended the basho with an 8-7 record that guarantees a second tournament in San’yaku. Normally, this record would also ensure a promotion to the open Sekiwake slot, but this time we have another strong contender in former Sekiwake Tamawashi, who went 11-4 from the M1e slot. In the past, there have been a couple of cases of an 8-7 Komusubi and a 10-5 M1 competing for a Sekiwake slot, and it’s played out in different ways. Going 11-4 makes Tamawashi’s claim stronger, but I’m not sure how this will play out.
Onosho’s friend and fellow rising star Takakeisho also went 11-4 from the M1w slot. Being on the West side puts him in line behind Tamawashi, and 11-4 is not strong enough to force an extra Sekiwake slot to open, so he will be shin-Komusubi at Hatsu. This fills up four San’yaku slots: S1e Mitakeumi, S1w/K1e Onosho/Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. So what to do with M3 Hokutofuji, who also delivered an amazing 11-4 performance? My guess is that this record is good enough to force the creation of an extra Komusubi slot, and that he will be K2e at Hatsu, but it’s not guaranteed. Having all four of the promising youngsters—Mitakeumi, Onosho, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji—in San’yaku, plus the formidable veteran Tamawashi, with Ichinojo knocking on the door, makes me really look forward to Hatsu. It’s going to be a long wait until January 14th!
Who will be in the joi?
The joi is a somewhat nebulous category of the top 16 or so rikishi who battle each other. In addition to the upper named ranks, it includes a number of the highest-ranked maegashira. How many? Well, that varies from tournament to tournament depending on the number of San’yaku members participating, and as we’ve seen recently, it can change during a tournament following withdrawals of upper-rank rikishi. In Kyushu, the line fell between M5e Takarafuji, who faced a number of the upper-rankers, and M5w Arawashi, who made only a couple of cameo appearances.
Drawing the line in the same place for Hatsu, the 9 rikishi projected to make up the joi include 4 current members and 5 wrestlers from lower down the banzuke who separated themselves from the rest. The returnees include the two demotees from San’yaku, Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, M2 Chiyotairyu, who fought his way to a respectable 7-8 record after a rough start, and Ichinojo. These four should make up the M1/M2 ranks. Rounding out the M3-M5e slots should be Tochinoshin, Arawashi, Shodai, Okinoumi and Endo; none are newcomers to this part of the banzuke.
Where will the Makuuchi/Juryo line fall?
Barring unusual circumstances (e.g., multiple retirements, court orders…), Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Takanoiwa, and Ura will be demoted from Makuuchi. Sokokurai and newcomer Abi have definitely earned their promotions from Juryo. I think Asanoyama and Nishikigi did just enough to avoid demotion by the skin of their teeth, and Ishiura and Yutakayama did just enough to return to Makuuchi after a one-tournament absence (but not enough to convince us they can make it an extended stay). The bubble is made up of Daiamami and Ryuden, who may or may not exchange spots in what would be a Makuuchi debut for Ryuden. Ryuden would have made this decision a lot easier had he defeated Daiamami head-to-head when they met on day 14.
I don’t envy the banzuke makers (or your humble prognosticator). If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer.