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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.