The Haru basho is in the books, and while the final day was filled with exciting bouts, the results did not make it easy on your humble prognosticator. Both the Sanyaku picture and the Makuuchi/Juryo exchange scenarios are quite muddy.
In the upper ranks, Kakuryu has solidified his standing as Yokozuna 1e with his fourth yusho. We hope that he is even more recovered from his injuries for Natsu, and that he is joined by at least one if not both of the other Yokozuna. Reports say that Hakuho is participating in the spring jungyo and that his toes are much improved. No word on Kisenosato. Both Ozeki got their kachi-koshi and so don’t have to worry about their rank in Natsu. There’s some talk about Takayasu being on a Yokozuna run with consecutive 12-3 jun-yusho, but I don’t buy it.
The Sekiwake ranks are also clear. After today’s bout between the two, Tochinoshin will move over to the S1e slot vacated by Mitakeumi, while Ichinojo will take over Tochinoshin’s current slot. With his 10-5 record following his 14-1 yusho at Hatsu, Tochinoshin is now on a legitimate Ozeki run, and will need at least ten wins at Natsu to claim sumo’s second-highest rank.
Komusubi is where things get complicated. There are four rikishi who each deserve to hold one of the two slots: Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7-8), M1e Endo and M1w Tamawashi, both 9-6, and M6 Kaisei, 12-3. In recent years, a 7-8 record at Sekiwake has guaranteed a demotion to no lower than Komusubi. An M1e with a 9-6 record has never missed out on promotion, and neither has an M6 with a 12-3 record (although there are fewer instances of the latter). An M1w with a 9-6 record missed out once—none other than Tochinoshin after the 2015 Natsu basho, under similar circumstances. I think this will play out as Endo making his Sanyaku debut at K1e, Mitakeumi falling to K1w (although they could easily switch sides), Tamawashi getting a hard-luck minimal promotion to M1e, and Kaisei rising to M1w. Tamawashi can’t jump over Endo with the same record, and none of the records are strong enough to force the creation of an extra Komusubi slot. It’s possible, but seems highly unlikely, that Kaisei would get the Komusubi slot over Endo.
The New Joi
Apart from the two strong M1 performances, the upper maegashira ranks returned to being the meat grinder, with only Shohozan earning a winning record. This should elevate him to M2, where he will be joined by Abi, who more than held his own at M7 in his second ever top-division tournament. Beyond that, it’s hard to find worthy candidates for the M3-M5 ranks. Daieisho and Yutakayama will be making big moves up the banzuke into the joi-jin, with Daieisho likely equaling and Yutakayama far exceeding their previous highest ranks. Chiyoshoma and Ikioi are the other candidates to move up into this range, while Shodai, Kotoshogiku, Chiyotairyu, and Takarafuji have claims to having their demotions not drop them below M5.
The Bottom of the Banzuke
Hanging on to spots in the M13-M17 range, and fighting again for survival at Natsu: Ishiura, Tochiozan, Aoiyama. Definitely demoted to Juryo: Hidenoumi, Kotoyuki, Sokokurai, Nishikigi (whose luck has finally run out after 5 basho in Makuuchi, always ranked M13 or lower, and never performing better than 8-7). The spots vacated by this quartet will be taken by Sadanoumi, Takekaze, Kyokutaisei, and Aminishiki. Yes, Uncle Sumo is back, and joined by the other elder statesman, Takekaze, both returning after one-tournament visits to Juryo. Sadanoumi returns after 3 basho away, and does it in style as the Juryo champ, while Kyokutaisei makes his long-awaited Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing promotion last time.
There are two other rikishi whose records would normally get them demoted. One is Myogiryu, who struggled to a 6-9 record at M15w and lost to two Juryo rikishi, including Aminishiki on senshuraku. The other is Onosho, who was kyujo (0-0-15) at M5w, which has always resulted in demotion since the kosho seido system was abolished. However, there’s a dearth of additional promotion candidates in Juryo. With several contenders near the top of the Juryo banzuke dropping to 7-8 on the last day, you’d have to reach all the way down to J8 Kotoeko (10-5) or way over-promote J5 Gagamaru (8-7), so Myogiryu and Onosho might dodge the bullet.