What the Kyushu Results Mean for Hatsu

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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.

Kyushu Day 15 Highlights

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It’s going to be light for the commentary today, as I am traveling to faraway lands on business. There was some fantastic action today, including a great yusho speech from Hakuho. Scandal hounds are, however, locked to the pounce position waiting for the post-basho fireworks.

As I am sure lksumo will describe in due time, there is another San’yaku log-jam, with a crowd of high-performing rikishi all clamoring for a pair of vacated slots. While it’s great to see so many press for higher rank, this is a function of the devastated Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. Had the full roster been present and healthy, many of these men would be lucky to eke out an 8-7 kachi-koshi. Instead, we have, once again, significant score inflation due to a lack of top predators culling the herd. When there is Hakuho with his overwhelming sumo, and a crowd of everyone else, you have a rotating list of who gets to lose to Hakuho, and then everyone else slugging it out on more or less even footing. This makes the yusho race predictable, but it makes for exciting times lower down the banzuke.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Chiyoshoma – Uncle Sumo defeats the increasingly annoying Chiyoshoma to secure a storied kachi-koshi on the final day. Aminishiki was visibly emotional, and the Fukuoka Kokusai Center erupted in joy to see the veteran succeed in his quest. With his victory, he picks up the kanto-sho special prize.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takekaze – Takekaze delivered a brutal tachiai, but Chiyonokuni seems to fear no pain and blasts Takekaze over the edge. Sadly Chiyonokuni appeared genuinely injured after the match. The loss leaves Takekaze make-koshi.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Shohozan has fought well this basho, but he achieved an absolutely miserable 3-12 record. The win by Aoiyama in the final match may slightly cushion the man-mountain’s fall down the banzuke.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – The match itself was quite straightforward, as there was really nothing left for Okinoumi to push for. Takakeisho’s oshi-zumo is quite impressive, and the team at Tachiai are waiting to see if he broadens his sumo to include more mawashi attacks as he strives for higher rank.

Tamawashi defeats Hokutofuji – Tamawashi made short work of Hokutofuji, and both men finish the basho with impressive 11-4 records. As with the prior bout, neither rikishi was going to push too hard and risk an injury, as both had achieved much and secured healthy promotions for Hatsu.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – The red mawashi once again activated in a moment of need, powering Onosho over Takarafuji to place the mighty tadpole in competition for Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot. Onosho had this match at the tachiai and easily picked up his kachi-koshi win. Takarafuji battled well this tournament but leaves with a 7-8 make-koshi. Scoff at the red mawashi superstition, but after starting the basho 1-6, Onosho reverted to his red mawashi and racked up 7 wins over the final 8 matches. It may have been as simple as a physical change to allow Onosho to emotionally re-focus his sumo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – In spite of a matta and re-start, the tachiai was mistimed and sloppy. Fans of local rikishi Kotoshogiku were thrilled to see the “Kyushu-bulldozer” lower the blade and push the Mongolian giant around the dohyo and into the abyss. Ichinojo finishes 10-5 and is at long last looking to be a serious competitor once more.

Mitakeumi defeats Yoshikaze – The all-Sekiwake bout was all Mitakeumi. With Yoshikaze injured, he picked up his 9th loss, and will likely be out of San’yaku for Hatsu. Mitakeumi improved to 9-6 after struggling with injuries to his foot at the start, but is still under-performing to launch an Ozeki campaign.

Hakuho defeats Goeido – Goeido put a strong effort into his sumo today, but Hakuho has been unstoppable this tournament, and after going chest to chest, the Yokozuna dispatched Goeido with his preferred uwatenage.

Sansho Special Prizes Awarded for Kyushu Basho

With senshuraku underway, the sansho selection committee has announced the special prize recipients for the 2017 Kyushu basho. Unsurprisingly, both Hokutofuji and Okinoumi received awards for their tremendous performances, taking home the technique and fighting spirit prizes respectively.

The outstanding performance prize was awarded to Takakeisho for defeating two Yokozuna and one Ozeki. Takaksisho now has three sansho to his name, as he won his first outstanding performance prize in September and the fighting spirit prize in March.

Finally, everyone’s favorite uncle, Aminishiki, can earn a fighting spirit prize if he gets his kachi koshi in his day 15 match with Chiyoshoma. This would be his tenth career sansho prize and his second in the fighting spirit category. It has been a pleasure to watch Aminishiki perform his crafty brand of sumo at the ripe old age of 39, and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping he can get his eighth win and take home the hardware!

Update:
Uncle Sumo has his kachi koshi and will receive the kanto-sho prize for fighting spirit!!! Viewers can look forward to more of Aminishiki at the 2018 Hatsu basho.

Matches to Watch on Senshuraku

Today’s results drained some of the drama from the final day, but there are still several bouts with a lot at stake, as well as ones with high entertainment value.

At the top of the torikumi, Goeido faces Hakuho. This bout is for pride, as Goeido already has his kachi-koshi and Hakuho has clinched the Emperor’s Cup. Goeido is fighting to reach double-digit wins, and seeks to improve on his 6-35 lifetime record against Hakuho, while the Boss surely wants to punctuate his unprecedented 40th yusho with a victory on senshuraku.

Given today’s results, MitakeumiYoshikaze is not the “there can be only one (Sekiwake)” clash it might have been, as Mitakeumi earned his kachi-koshi and will remain S1e, while Yoshikaze was handed his make-koshi and will give up his rank after two tournaments. What’s at stake? With a win, Yoshikaze should only be demoted to Komusubi, while with a loss, he’ll drop out of San’yaku altogether.

KotoshogikuIchinojo could be a great bout from an entertainment standpoint, but there’s not a lot at stake. Even with an 11-4 record, Ichinojo is unlikely to get a San’yaku promotion, something that has never happened before to an M4 rikishi with that record, but the logjam ahead of him is also unprecedented.

Onosho, on the other hand, probably has the most at stake of any rikishi tomorrow when he faces Takarafuji. Both men are 7-7, so it’s a straight kachi/make-koshi playoff. For Onosho, the difference between outcomes is stark: win, and he probably gets Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot; lose, and he drops out of San’yaku altogether.

San’yaku promotion supremacy comes down to two bouts: TamawashiHokutofuji and OkinoumiTakakeisho. Right now, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji are essentially tied, and their pecking order is determined by their current rank. With a win, Tamawashi will claim the highest promotion slot. If Hokutofuji wins, then Takakeisho needs to win to stay ahead of him. However things play out, all three should be in San’yaku for Hatsu.

In addition to Onosho and Takarafuji, 3 others will have their make/kachi-koshi fate determined on the final day. Takekaze will look to earn his kachi-koshi against Chiyonokuni, while Chiyoshoma and Aminishiki go head-to-head. I hope Uncle Sumo has one last good trick left for this bout.

In what can’t have happened very often, Endo goes from his cameo at the very top of the torikumi to the very bottom, where he will try to achieve double-digit wins against Kagayaki.

The battle for Makuuchi remains a muddle, and may do so even after tomorrow’s matches. Nishikigi (against Daishomaru) and Daiamami (against Shodai) are fighting to avoid demotion; to a lesser extent, so is Asanoyama (against Chiyomaru). Their fate rests partly on the men down in Juryo, where Ryuden, Ishiura, and Yutakayama each need a senshuraku win to have a credible promotion case.

Hakuho Wins 40th Career Yusho

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With losses by both Okinoumi and Hokutofuji during day 14, Yokozuna Hakuho won his 40th Grand Sumo championship. He won his first yusho in 2006 at the Natsu basho in Tokyo and has been on a massive winning streak ever since. No rikishi in history has been this dominant in sumo, and few professional athletes have ever been this dominant in any sport.

Tachiai congratulates Hakuho on his 40th yusho, and look forward to his continued reign as “The Boss”.