The San’yaku and Joi
As said in Bruce’s post, Tochinoshin is looking at the last leg of an Ozeki run (ten wins should be enough), and Takayasu could – in theory – be considered for Yokozuna with a particularly strong Yusho (and would finally have to take a shikona). These two are both very popular wrestlers in the English-speaking sumo community, so I’d expect all eyes to be on them for the first part of the tournament.
Mitakeumi got off very lightly. Not only did he luck out of having to face Yokozuna Kakuryu in March (he got Hokutofuji instead, and pulled out a win where an additional loss would almost certainly have resulted in him being demoted out of San’yaku altogether), the banzuke committee decided to let him keep the East side which gives him an edge in re-promotion.
Whether the torikumi will shake out in his favour is a question of which San’yaku show up. If everyone starts the basho, Mitakeumi gets treated to a day one bout against Hakuho. But if someone (probably Kisenosato) goes kyujo from the beginning, there will be not be enough combinations to have two intra-san’yaku bouts every day, and Mitakeumi’s first match will probably be against M3w Yutakayama. Regardless, his fellow Komusubi (and San’yaku newcomer) Endo gets to start off with the top-ranked Yokozuna. This is a career-high rank for Endo, and I for one wish him the absolute best. He had a difficult year clawing his way back up the banzuke following an ankle injury, and his efforts very much deserve the prestigious rank he now holds.
It’s a good bet that at least one of the Yokozuna will either not start the tournament or will drop out early, so the Joi – the group of upper-Maegashira who have to face San’yaku opponents – goes down to M4w Shodai. Most of these rikishi have been here before and frequently put in strong performances at their rank, but two stand out as likely to have a rough time of it: Daieisho was over-promoted from M8w to M3e with a 9-6 record. His previous visit to upper Maegashira, in Natsu 2017, was a 4-11 catastrophe in which he didn’t manage to beat a single San’yaku opponent. Yutakayama is at a career-high rank of M3w, leaping from M11w with a 10-5 record that would normally only get him to around M6. This is only his fourteenth ever Honbasho, and this time last year, he was getting pasted 4-11 at M16 before regrouping in Juryo. We’re all familiar with seeing a young rikishi go on a tear up the banzuke before hitting the San’yaku and bouncing off, and I fully expect it to happen again here.
Kaisei‘s impressive 12-3 Jun-yusho earned him one of the famously tough M1 spots. After a disastrous late 2016-early 2017 saw him slide back down into Juryo, he seems to have regained what made him great. It would not surprise me to see him regain his career-high Sekiwake rank later this year, but at the moment the top ranks have no shortage of very big and very strong rikishi, and Kaisei has never done well against the contingent of Yokozuna and Ozeki (of his five ever wins over Ozeki, one was against the ghost of Terunofuji and one against a fading Baruto. The other three were all against Goeido, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything but is somewhat amusing).
Abi‘s presence at M2w has been remarked upon. I don’t expect it to go very well for him, personally. The top ranks will know exactly what to look out for and will punish that over-commitment problem of his with a quick hatakikomi, just as they did with Onosho last year.
Kotoshogiku is just outside the likely joi. He may be a long way from his former Ozeki self, but I expect him to put in a good tournament at this rank. He won’t be facing the San’yaku who are familiar with his straightforward but effective sumo, and will instead get to employ the belly-bump on a group of mid-rankers who don’t know how to deal with it.
Also narrowly outside the joi: Ikioi! He put in a stellar effort last basho despite being obviously in considerable discomfort, turning in an 11-4 record, and while his final day loss may have caused him to miss out on a special prize, the nine-rank promotion is probably welcome compensation. Avoiding a battering from the San’yaku might well work out in his favour where a 12-3 would have almost certainly seen him in the joi.
Chiyoshoma really seemed to find his sumo in the second half of Haru, and his 9-6 record has left him at the M6e spot. I’m really hoping he can be just as strong – and as entertaining – at the start of this basho as he was at the end of the last!
Hokutofuji is one of those who hit the Joi and bounced off. Hopefully he’ll be able to arrest his slide down the banzuke at M9e. He has no shortage of talent but he’s had a rough time of it in the last couple of bashos. I’m looking forward to seeing him challenging the upper ranks again.
Takakeisho‘s unfortunate and injury-affected record dropped him to M10w. Takakeisho is far more than a mid-Maegashira talent, and if he is free from injury, there’s a good chance he will simply demolish all around him.
Arawashi‘s shambolic 2-13 record sees him drop to M12e, where I’m actually quite happy to see him. His judo-like throws don’t seem to work too well on the most experienced guys at the top of the banzuke, but in the middle, he’s a very entertaining wildcard.
Aoiyama goes up a slightly silly four ranks from a bare-minimum kachi-koshi, but we’ve already seen he can do just fine at higher ranks.
The Juryo-Makuuchi promotion line
The Tachiai.org team noticed that lower Makuuchi had a lot of demotion candidates while upper Juryo was short on people to promote into their vacated spaces. Since the sizes of the upper two divisions are fixed, this led to some tough decisions for the banzuke committee.
Those we thought were likely demotion candidates:
- Hidenoumi, 3-12 from M16w.
- Myogiryu, 6-9 from M15w. (Spared at M16w)
- Sokokurai, 5-7-3 from M15e.
- Nishikigi, 5-10 from M14w. (Spared at a skin-of-his-teeth M17e)
- Kotoyuki, 1-13-1 M12w .
- Onosho, held the respectable rank of M5w but was Kyujo all tournament.
Sokokurai and Onosho fell to the J1 spots, which really feels like Sokokurai got off very lightly, and gives me hope to see them both back in Makuuchi sooner rather than later. Sometimes it feels like Nishikigi is attached to the bottom of Makuuchi with duct tape, but it seems very unlikely that the banzuke committee will let him get away with another make-koshi this time.
The hard-working promotees:
- Kyokutaisei, from J1e to M15w with 8-7, his first time ranked in Makuuchi. Let’s see if he can make it last!
- Takekaze, from J1w to M14w with 9-6. A long way from his career-high rank of Sekiwake, but at the age of 38 he’s the second-oldest rikishi still competing above sandanme.
- …and here’s the oldest. Aminishiki, Uncle Sumo, Isegahama-beya’s lone victorious Sekitori, most likely rikishi to be described as “wily”, oldest rikishi ever to return to Makuuchi from Juryo… and now he’s done it a second time. From J2e to M16w with an 8-7 record, and while I don’t exactly expect him to do great things, he should be very happy to be back in the top division.
- A third veteran, Sadanoumi, took the Juryo Yusho with an 11-4 record from J4e, and has been rewarded with a jump to M14e. He’s a good deal younger than Takekaze and Aminishiki, though, and he may well be hoping to start climbing back towards his career-high M1 rank.