Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball


I embark on this exercise with more trepidation than usual. As noted in my previous post, there is a convergence of factors that makes this banzuke the least predictable since I started making these forecasts. Since then, we’ve also had Harumafuji’s retirement thrown into the mix. Usually, prediction errors just switch the positions of two or three rikishi, without affecting the rest of the banzuke. This time around, there is a lot of potential for errors that have cascading effects on much of the banzuke: for instance, incorrectly predicting whether Hokutofuji is given an extra Komusubi slot. That said, the forecast should still give a good idea of where everyone will end up within a rank or two. How it will fair in Guess The Banzuke is another matter—the game may see a rather unusual distribution of scores.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Kisenosato
Y2 Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

This is the only straightforward part of the banzuke. The Kyushu yusho winner Hakuho once again takes over his customary top spot. By virtue of his partial participation and four wins, Kisenosato moves up to Y1w. Kakuryu occupies what would have been Harumafuji’s slot. Both Kisenosato and Kakuryu are under orders to go the full 15 days in the next tournament they enter, and perform at Yokozuna levels, or retire. Kakuryu is under greater pressure to make Hatsu that next tournament.

9-6 Goeido and 8-5-2 Takayasu maintain their respective Ozeki positions from Kyushu; neither is kadoban.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Tamawashi
K1 Takakeisho  Onosho
K2 Hokutofuji

Three rikishi will drop out of San’yaku: Sekiwake Yoshikaze and “Ozekiwake” Terunofuji, as well as Komusubi Kotoshogiku. Two incumbents remain. Mitakeumi defended his S1e rank and is the only definite placement among the San’yaku contenders.

Who gets the other Sekiwake slot? The contenders are Onosho, incumbent Komusubi who achieved a bare-minimum 8-7 kachi-koshi winning record, and the two rikishi ranked just below him who both went 11-4: M1e Tamawashi and M1w Takakeisho. Because Takakeisho is ranked below Tamawashi, he cannot jump over him with the same record, and is almost certainly out of the running for Sekiwake despite assembling a very strong record against tough competition and defeating Tamawashi head-to-head. Takakeisho will instead make his first San’yaku appearance as shin-Komusubi.

Onosho’s main claim to Sekiwake rank is that he achieved a winning record as Komusubi, and normally that gets first dibs on any open Sekiwake slot. He also defeated Tamawashi and Takakeisho head-to-head. But his overall record isn’t as strong. In addition to the wins over the two M1 rikishi, he defeated one Yokozuna, one Komusubi, M3 Hokutofuji, and three other rank-and-filers. He had six losses to San’yaku opponents, and also lost to the woeful Tochiozan.

By comparison, Tamawashi defeated two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, one Komusubi, and Hokutofuji, with no “bad” losses. Takakeisho was similarly impressive, defeating two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, and Tamawashi, and losing only to a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, and the two Komusubi. By the numbers, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and, for that matter, Hokutofuji, all performed better than Onosho. Since I’m a numbers guy, I’m going with the forecast above, but don’t be surprised if the NSK goes by rank instead, and the banzuke ends up with S1w Onosho, K1e Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. They could also give everyone a promotion with S1w Tamawashi, K1e Onosho, and K1w Takakeisho, although this would only increase the disparity between the two M1 rikishi.

A better solution to this mess might be to create an extra Sekiwake slot, but this seems highly unlikely, since an 11-4 record at M1 is not considered strong enough to “force” such an extra slot, and neither is an 8-7 record at Komusubi. Plus this still leaves out one of the deserving trio, and they’re certainly not creating two extra slots!

Finally, Hokutofuji more than earned an extra Komusubi slot—no rikishi with his rank and record has ever been left out of San’yaku. Given recent events, sumo could use both an extra rikishi in the upper ranks and a positive story, so I’m going with Hokutofuji at K2e, though this is also far from certain.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Ichinojo Yoshikaze
M2 Kotoshogiku Tochinoshin
M3 Chiyotairyu Arawashi
M4 Shodai Endo
M5 Okinoumi Takarafuji

If there are 10 rikishi in the named ranks as predicted, and if they all participate for the entire tournament, the M1-M3 ranks will constitute the joi, facing a full slate of San’yaku opponents. However, recent history suggests that some or all in the M4-M5 ranks will be drawn into the fray as well.

Ichinojo performed well enough in Kyushu to have received a San’yaku rank on many a banzuke, but he misses out on this top-heavy one. If he keeps bringing the same sumo, it’s only a matter of time. Okinoumi moves up 7 spots, and Endo moves up 5. I gave Endo the nod over Okinoumi because he is popular, and they owe him one after the “unorthodox” scheduling near the end of Kyushu.


M6 Ikioi Chiyonokuni
M7 Chiyoshoma Tochiozan
M8 Kaisei Chiyomaru
M9 Sokokurai Shohozan
M10 Aminishiki Terunofuji
M11 Kotoyuki Daishomaru
M12 Daieisho Kagayaki
M13 Abi Takekaze

Another potential minefield for predictions. With the exception of Ikioi, no current member of Makuuchi among this group achieved even 9 wins in Kyushu; everyone else is either getting promoted too much with a bare-minimum 8 wins, or not getting demoted enough. I’ve given Terunofuji the most generous placement I can justify. Sokokurai, who went 14-1 in Juryo, gets the highest placement for a promoted rikishi since May 2016. Abi makes his highly anticipated Makuuchi debut at M13.

Lower Maegashira

M14 Asanoyama Ishiura
M15 Yutakayama Nishikigi
M16 Daiamami Ryuden

Harumafuji’s retirement and Terunofuji’s demotion shrink San’yaku to either 9 or 10 members. I’m going with 10, and so my banzuke extends down to M16w. If Hokutofuji is left out of San’yaku, the banzuke would extend to M17 for the first time since July 2014.

Harumafuji’s retirement at least clarified the line between Makuuchi and Juryo. We don’t have to decide if Daiamami did just enough to earn a second chance, or if Ryuden did just enough to get promoted—both should be in the top division in January. They’ll be joined by Asanoyama, who’ll be looking to regain his Aki form, Ishiura, who gets another shot at showing that he belongs in Makuuchi, where he successfully fought for nearly a year before a disastrous Aki landed him in Juryo, Yutakayama, who will be looking to improve on his two previous one-and-done 4-11 top-division tournaments, and Nishikigi, who just barely survives yet again.

30 thoughts on “Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

  1. This will be a fun one to see play out. I’m playing devil’s advocate and going for Onosho as second Sekiwake and a lineup of three stacked Komusubi. I am super excited to see Ichinojo in the joi. I’m also glad to see Terunofuji among weaker company. He’ll surely participate and may fall further next tournament but among weaker opponents he may recover a bit in 2018.

    • I predict Terunofuji in Juryo by Haru. His state at the moment is such that he doesn’t even do much keiko, let alone bouts. Two days ago the report was that he tried to do some shiko, seemed to be in pain, did some push-ups and went down to the shitakubeya, not returning except for the dohyo-iri. If he can’t do shiko, he can’t compete against any sekitori. I have a feeling he only came to the Jungyo because he didn’t want to be left at Isegahama to deal with the shitstorm back there.

      • That seriously has me bummed. I’ve been trying to compare his condition to Endo or Osunaarashi or worse. Whether some time among lower caliber competition can give time to work back into production quality or if it’s a case of steady deterioration.

      • It really seems hopeless that he’s going to have a peaceful environment where he can heal and regain strength without constantly injuring himself. Maybe the new no-nonsense coach Harumafuji can take him under his wing and bring him back to fighting form by May. The Rocky franchise could always use a Mongolian version.

        At this point he’d probably be beaten by Hattorizakura, and that’s a damn shame. I’m going to take my new Teruno cell phone charm to get blessed, so maybe his luck is better in 2018.

        • First, I’d like to see “coach Harumafuji” actually materialize. Takanohana seems to be doing everything he can to prevent anybody from convincing Takanoiwa to settle out of court. I hope Harumafuji doesn’t end up having to spend all his time until his danpatsu-shiki on the Tottori-Tokyo line with his attorney.

          Second, I’m not sure that rest is what he needs at the moment. There’s something wrong with his meniscus. Either it’s treatable and he is not undergoing the treatment, or it’s not and he is fooling himself into believing that he can somehow overcome it and do sumo. At this point I think he should probably just get himself into a university and find a new calling in life, rather than go through all that pain and suffering for nothing. He seems to have brains enough (learned Japanese before he came to Japan).

          I’m also worried about the fact that he left Shunba behind at Isegahama beya.

          • True, Haruma might be stuck in legal limbo for a long time. Which is annoying, because I’m sure all the youngsters would benefit from the knowledge transfer and practice.

            Maybe Teru’s medical treatment orders fell into the same black hole that swallowed Takanoiwa? Not like we’ll ever know unless all the morning shows get bored…

            But if he wants a career where he doesn’t need knees there’s always game development. I could always use a gigantic intern and he wouldn’t look too out of place going to school around here. ;)

    • Given NSK traditionalism, I’d say Onosho is the odds-on favorite for that slot, but the analytics case for Tamawashi is so much stronger that I can bring myself to go against it. I’m wondering if Tamawashi gets any benefit of doubt from the committee for being a recent Sanyaku mainstay.

      All I can say about Terunofuji is 😭

  2. I’m always in awe of these posts, given the familiarity needed with past banzuke as guides to what the nsk might do. Sterling work.

    Terunofuji aside, these rankings feel to me very close to my ‘true’ rankings, ie where I would place each wrestler on a list if asked “So, who’s the best and who’s the weakest wrestler in makuuchi’, with less weight on very recent performance than the formal banzuke places. Feels like we’re settling down into a new sumo order.

  3. Terunofuji has always struck me as such an absolute monster when he’s healthy. When’s he not, he’s, literally, a push-over—-no balance, no strength, nothing. Where you rank him strikes me as virtually impossible. God only knows which Terunofuji will show up in January. What a tough sport this is.

    • The ranks don’t take into account health (or else Ura wouldn’t have been on the Kyushu banzuke at all). I’m fairly confident Terunofuji will be ranked around M10-M11. Whether he can compete at all, much less at that level, is a whole other question.

  4. I’m thinking about the Hakuho angle of this. He had a pretty easy basho at Kyushu, and still he looked pretty exhausted at the end. Of course, this may have been mental exhaustion. Who knows.

    So, taking your banzuke, and assuming that Kisenosato will be kyujo, Hakuho’s schedule should be tougher. Assuming all the ones that remain at joi are as good as they were, the differences are that he’ll have Kakuryu and Takayasu this time. Tochinoshin is stronger than Takarafuji (though Takarafuji did give the Yokozuna real trouble), Arawashi is better than Tochiozan. I predict at least two bouts lost, and not by a silly not-a-matta.

    • This requires a lot of assumptions about everyone’s health and fitness both going into and continuing through the basho. I’m sure The Boss, if healthy himself, will relish the challenge. And, once you get 40 yusho, everything else is gravy ;)

      • Gravy? Given his attitude at losing that silly bout to Yoshikaze, I don’t think he thinks of any official bout as “gravy”.

    • Terunofuji himself is quickly marching (or hobbling) towards the 200kg line… that’s part of his trouble.

  5. If Terunofuji’s knees are like that when Hatsu starts, he really must go kyujo. It’s better to fall down the banzuke than to fall out of the sport forever

  6. Looks like Sokokurai may be a major wildcard as well – I’ve got him all the way down at M13w in my provisional draft (with a 9-sanyaku setup).

    • It would be interesting to hear the reasoning about that from both of you, as someone to whom this whole banzuke prediction thing looks like black magic.

      • I believe I noted in my previous post that Sokokurai’s placement was one of the many complexities with this banzuke, though I’m surprised by how much we differ. You could look at it in several ways. Where does he belong in isolation? Going 14-1 at J7 puts this at about M10. There’s some penalty in rank for being promoted from Juryo, but it’s not applied consistently. Then there’s the question of the competition. To get Sokokurai down to M13, even with a 9-person San’yaku, I’d need to move up seven of the nine rikishi below him in the mid-maegashira section. As I noted, this is a very weak part of the banzuke, with everyone already over-promoted or under-demoted. Surely Abi should be ranked below Sokokurai given their Juryo ranks and performances, and Takekaze can’t move up after going make-koshi at M13. The other seven include Shohozan, Terunofuji, Daishomaru, and Daieisho, all with double-digit losses, Kagayaki, 7-8 at M12, and Aminishiki and Kotoyuki, who went 8-7 at M13 and M14, respectively. I didn’t think any of these cases were stronger than Sokokurai’s.

        You can also look at precedents. No recent direct precedents exist, as only one rikishi previously went 14-1 at J7, and that was in 1941. If we look for similar but not identical recent scenarios, they are all over the place (though generally on the low side). For instance, Shodai went 13-2 at J5 two years ago and was ranked M12 the following basho, but Shohozan went 13-2 at J6 one basho earlier and was ranked M10. So yeah, M9 seems on the high side, but I can’t find an alternative I like better :/

      • I tend to put the juryo KKs behind every makuuchi KK (with rare exceptions), and behind all makuuchi MKs that would still receive semi-reasonable demotions. The latter group can be pretty expansive in the current banzuke-making climate where they’re happy to e.g. drop 5-10’s by much less than five ranks.

        Anyway, my M13w solution wouldn’t work with 10 sanyaku because I have Kagayaki and Takekaze keeping their positions with 9, right ahead of Sokokurai. With the same approach and 10 sanyaku I’d be putting him at M12e, ahead of the two 7-8’s.

        lksumo’s version is clearly superior as far as the relative placement of Sokokurai and Abi goes…+6 ranks on their 3-win difference, in my version it’s only +3 (Sokokurai from two behind to one ahead). In my experience they don’t make much of an effort to consider that, though.

        I do think that Sokokurai is fairly certain to be behind Aminishiki and Kotoyuki, and probably also Terunofuji. That would mean M10w with 10 sanyaku and M11e with 9. Beyond that I’m just guessing.

    • I’ve got Sokokurai at around M10. I feel the 14-1 at his rank justifies it as well the general lack of good candidates in that area. There seem to be a lot of candidates for the very bottom of Makuuchi, including Nishikigi who should (again?) get the benefit of not moving relative to the bottom of Makuuchi (third from bottom) despite his MK.

      I went with 3 Komusubi. My rational is that they want to have as strong a Sanyaku presence as possible come the final day and to limit the number of Kinboshi.

  7. We have not considered the possibility that Takanohana and the Sumo Association are working together in perfect accord to push the Mongolians out of Sumo. That would explain a lot of things!

    • “Takanohana and the NSK are working together” currently seems to be the most counter-factual statement you could come up with. The secret conspiracy required for it to be true seems beyond even the capability of a House of Cards style organization…


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