After the action on Nakabi (the middle Sunday of the tournament), the Kyushu basho is shaping up to be a fascinating one. Time to check in on the storylines we’ll be following as the tournament hurtles toward its conclusion next Sunday.
The Yusho Race
Since the start of the six-basho era in 1958, only four tournaments have been won by a Komusubi, and an additional eighteen by Maegashira rikishi. More than one basho has been won by wrestlers at these lower ranks in 1972, 1991, 1992 (a record of three), and 2000. Will 2018 join this short list? We’ve already seen Tochinoshin’s yusho from M3, as well as Mitakeumi’s somewhat less rare Sekiwake yusho. Now Komusubi Takakeisho leads the race with a 7-1 record. Usually, a Komusubi’s schedule gets much easier in the second week, but the depletion of the upper ranks has spread out the intra-sanyaku pairings, and he has yet to face Tochinoshin (tomorrow) or Takayasu. If the schedulers go by rank, the rest of his fight card would be Hokutofuji, Tochiozan, Tamawashi, Nishikigi, and Yoshikaze, but we may well see departures from this in favor of bouts with yusho implications for both sides.
Behind our leader, there’s quite a crowd. The 6-2 chase group includes rikishi ranked from Ozeki (Takayasu) to M13 (Onosho), with Tochiozan, Abi, Daieisho, and Aoiyama in between. Did you realize Aoiyama was in yusho contention?! Also in the hunt is a seven-rikishi 5-3 group, with includes notables such as Ozeki Goeido and Sekiwake Mitakeumi as well as afterthoughts such as M15 Meisei.
The Ozeki Corps
Takayasu enters the final week with a solid 6-2 record, is firmly in the yusho race, and while his remaining bouts will not be easy, he will probably be favored in all of them, and shouldn’t have any trouble picking up the two victories he needs to avoid kadoban status. Goeido is in the hunt at 5-3, and also looks to be in good shape to secure eight wins. Tochinoshin (4-4) is in a somewhat dicier position, having split his first eight matches. He can only afford three more losses if he is to avoid becoming kadoban for the second time in his short Ozeki tenure, and at least two of the four wins he needs will have to come against the slate of Takakeisho, Ichinojo, Mitakeumi, Takayasu, and Goeido.
The Sanyaku Ranks
The outcome of today’s Sekiwake clash has the two holders of sumo’s third-highest rank heading in opposite directions. Mitakeumi (5-3) is in the yusho hunt, as well as in good position to secure the 8 victories he needs to defend his rank. A strong second week could even still earn him a promotion to Ozeki, although he would need to be near-perfect against opposition that includes all three current Ozeki.
His meek loss left Ichinojo (2-6) on the brink of demotion, and while he turned around similarly dire predicaments in the last two tournaments, he will have to defeat at least two Ozeki to collect the six victories he still needs.
Takakeisho will secure his current rank with one more victory, and is pushing hard for higher rank. If he can get to 11 wins, he should earn a promotion to Sekiwake even if Ichinojo somehow manages to holds on to his slot. And, on the heels of 9 wins at Komusubi at Aki, we could start hearing talk of an Ozeki run. Kaisei (2-4-2), fighting valiantly on one leg, seems unlikely to win 6 of 7 and will probably drop back into the maegashira ranks.
While it’s too early to predict how many sanyaku slots will open up, and who will move up to occupy them, M2e Tochiozan (6-2) and M1w Hokutofuji (5-3) are currently in the best position for promotion, followed by M1e Myogiryu (4-4), M2w Tamawashi (4-4), and a long list of other contenders who can improve their fortunes with strong performances in the final week.
All the rikishi in the top division want to stay in the top division, but not everyone will be able to do so. In gravest danger of leaving are the two men who barely earned promotion from Juryo last time and hold down the lowest Makuuchi ranks: M16e Arawashi and M16w Chiyomaru. The former, at 1-7, has no margin for error, while the latter (2-6) can only afford a single loss the rest of the way. Both have also run out of low-ranked opponents to face, and Arawashi could have his fate sealed by 6-2 Daieisho tomorrow. After this pair, the rikishi with the most work left to do is M13w Takanosho (2-6), who can likely save himself with a final-week record of 3-4 or better. Others who still need to scrape together a couple of victories to reach safety include Daiamami, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Chiyoshoma, Yutakayama, and Meisei.
Depending on how this group fares, there may not be a lot of slots opening up for promotions from Juryo. As of now, that’s okay, because the top of Juryo hasn’t been setting the world on fire. J1e Yago, just barely passed over for promotion last time, merely needs a winning record to seal the deal, and is in good shape to do so with his 5-3 record. No one else has really built a case, although they have a week to do so. Currently, J5w Terutsuyoshi (7-1) has the next-strongest claim, and his promotion would please many at team Tachiai to no end. He is currently tied for the Juryo yusho lead with his fellow fun-size rikishi and Tachiai favorite Enho. With two 6-2 chasers and nine 5-3 men in the hunt, the second division promises another exciting finish.