A brief look at where things stand heading into the final week.
Among the yusho contenders in the upper ranks, Takayasu blinked first, falling to Shodai on Day 8 (M9 Hokutofuji also surrendered his first loss to Ryuden). So the two men at the top of the banzuke, East Yokozuna Kakuryu and West Yokozuna Hakuho, are now the sole undefeated leaders. I don’t think it’s likely that both men will pick up 3 losses in the final 7 days, so I’m going to predict that the yusho will be won with a record of 13-2 or better. That leaves the 7-1 quartet of Goeido, Takayasu, Hokutofuji and Ryuden in contention, and a quintet of 6-2 rikishi, headlined by Kisenosato and Mitakeumi, with a shot should those ahead of them falter.
Speaking of Kisenosato and Mitakeumi, all three men who really needed wins today lost (the third is kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin, who fell to 5-3). All three feature in the headline matches tomorrow. On the undercard, Mitakeumi goes up against a motivated, yusho-hunting Hakuho, with the Sekiwake desperately needing a win to shore up his flagging Ozeki run. Following a brief intermission during which Kakuryu gently dispatches hapless Endo, we have a musubi no ichiban clash of Kisenosato and Tochinoshin. The Georgian can only afford 4 more losses if he is to remain Ozeki, and with Kakuryu, Hakuho and Takayasu still on his fight card, he could pick up some much-needed breathing room by defeating the Yokozuna. Despite his 6-2 record, two consecutive losses have put Kisenosato in a difficult position. After Tochinoshin, he will face one maegashira (probably Endo), followed by both Sekiwake, Goeido, and the other two Yokozuna. Of the latter five, I would only favor him against Ichinojo. Given that 8 wins is the bare minimum for him to continue his career, the stakes tomorrow could hardly be higher for both men.
Ichinojo and both Komusubi currently have losing records, putting their san’yaku ranks in danger. Of the three, I would give 3-5 Takakeisho the best chance to turn things around in the second week—he needs “only” 5 more wins, has fought well, and will face easier opponents after his bout against Goeido tomorrow. Tamawashi needs to win out to save his rank, and while 2-6 Ichinojo can stay in san’yaku with a 7-8 record, he’s looked lethargic and still has two Yokozuna on his fight card.
So a number of san’yaku slots could open up for Kyushu. Who is in line to claim them? Given the devastation in the top half of the maegashira ranks, there are few contenders. These are led by 6-2 M5 Asanoyama, 5-3 M4 Abi, 5-3 M5 Myogiryu, and 7-1 M9 Hokutofuji. Amazingly, the only other men with non-losing records in the M1-M10 ranks are M7 Shohozan and M8 Kotoshogiku. Not a good basho for the rank-and-filers!
Finally, who is in danger of falling out of Makuuchi? First in line are the two M16s, Ishiura and Kotoyuki, followed by Kyokutaisei, who is apparently rushing back from injury in an ill-advised attempt to defend his spot in the top division, and Chiyomaru. Another dozen or so maegashira still have work to do to reach safety. And there’s a strong list of promotion contenders in upper Juryo, led by Makuuchi mainstay Arawashi, the ageless wonder Aminishiki, and Meisei, who seeks to bounce right back up to the top division.