With the first eight days of the January tournament in the books, here are the storylines we’ll be following as the concluding week unfolds.
The Yusho Race
Yokozuna Hakuho (8-0) leads by one in his quest for a record-extending 42nd yusho. He is chased by a trio of lower-ranked rikishi with 7-1 records: M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni. Still in the hunt at 6-2 are the two Sekiwake, Takakeisho and Tamawashi, as well as M6 Onosho and M12 Meisei. Hakuho’s opponent tomorrow is M4 Kotoshogiku, aganist whom he is 55-5 on the dohyo. Barring further withdrawals, the Yokozuna’s remaining opponents should include the two remaining Ozeki, the two Sekiwake, and two maegashira—probably Okinoumi and either Chiyotairyu, Onosho, or Kaisei, depending on their performances in the next couple of days.
How many of the Ozeki will be able to reach the eight wins required to not have their rank on the line in March? With today’s absence, Tochinoshin is mathematically unable to do so, and will need to accumulate eight wins in Osaka. After today’s losses, Takayasu will need to go at least 4-3 the rest of the way, while Goeido needs a 5-2 finish. Given their current form, this will be touch-and-go, even with the depleted field. A key bout tomorrow is Takayasu vs. Tamawashi. The two have met often, and their career series is nearly even at 11-10 in favor of the Ozeki, who reversed Tamawashi’s earlier edge by winning all five of their meetings last year.
Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run
The shin-Sekiwake picked up right where he left off in Kyushu, dropping only two bouts (to Mitakeumi and Tochiozan) on his way to a 6-2 record. With 11 wins likely needed for promotion, he needs a finish of 5-2 or better, which probably means running the table against his remaining maegashira opponents and picking up at least one victory against the three remaining Ozeki and Yokozuna. The quest continues tomorrow against M2 Nishikigi (4-4), who gave the Sekiwake a scare on senshuraku in what ended up being his yusho-clinching victory in Kyushu.
Takakeisho is enjoying a strong basho in his debut as Sekiwake, while Tamawashi looks set to defend the rank he seemed to own for a while before a five-basho hiatus. Mitakeumi’s unfortunate injury makes it unlikely that he’ll stay Komusubi (he’d need to return and pick up three victories against a tough slate of opponents), and Myogiryu (3-5) needs a near-perfect finish to make his return to sanyaku last more than a single tournament. It’s thus likely that either two or three slots in the named ranks will open up, depending on whether or not Takakeisho moves up. There is a lot of competition for these slots, and too many bouts are left to forecast how it will play out, but currently M1 Ichinojo (5-3) and M2 Hokutofuji (5-3) have a lead on the rest of the pack.
Normally, the number of demotions from the top division has to match the number of promotions from Juryo. However, we have the unusual situation of two retirements (Takanoiwa and Kisenosato) opening up two extra slots in Makuuchi, so there will be two more promotions than demotions. The only near-certainty right now is that M16 Daishomaru (0-8) will be going down to Juryo after a three-year run in the top division. Fellow M16 and heya-mate Daiamami (2-6) looks most likely to join him; among the other maegashira, M12 Kagayaki (1-7), M14 Chiyoshoma (3-5), and M15 Kotoeko (4-4) have the most work left to do.
Who is likely to take their places? J1 Terutsuyoshi (6-2) leads the promotion race by a sizable margin, and needs two more victories to clinch a top-division debut. Fellow M1 Daishoho (4-4) should join him if he can finish with a winning record. At the moment, J3 Ishiura (5-3) and J6 Chiyomaru (6-2) are in the best position to benefit from the extra openings in Makuuchi. Also in contention is J5 Toyonoshima (5-3), with undefeated Shimanoumi making a push from all the way down at J11. The veteran Toyonoshima has been in sumo since 2002, rising as high as Sekiwake, a rank he last held in March of 2016 before injuries dropped him into Makushita. Shimanoumi, about whom I didn’t know much until now, entered sumo in 2012, rapidly rising all the way to Makushita 4 (and picking up a Sandanme yusho along the way) before sitting out five basho and dropping all the way back to the lowest Jonokuchi division. Upon his return, he made quick work of Jonokuchi and Jonidan, with two 7-0 basho and two yusho, and then spent three years fighting through the Makushita wall, followed by five unremarkable tournaments in Juryo. Shimanoumi seems to be having a breakthrough basho, and perhaps someone who follows the lower divisions more closely than I do call tell us more about him, and what’s been different in this tournament.