It’s time for your faithful prognosticator to once again stick his neck out and try to guess the new top-division rankings ahead of the official banzuke announcement on February 25th. This is one of the trickier banzuke prediction exercises, daunting even the gurus who play Guess the Banzuke. For my reasoning, keep reading. To see my prediction, scroll to the end.
The difficulties are largely confined to the top two thirds of the maegashira rankings, as detailed below. We’ll start with the easier named ranks. The only changes among the Yokozuna/Ozeki are (1) that Hakuho and Kakuryu will move up one spot following Kisenosato’s retirement and (2) that with an even number of Yokozuna on the banzuke, Tochinoshin will finally move over the East side.
Both Sekiwake will keep their rank, but I’m going to predict that the banzuke committee will follow the precedent they set following the Nagoya basho and move the yusho winner Tamawashi to the East side, with Takakeisho displaced to West Sekiwake despite his 11-4 record. Mitakeumi will move over to the East Komusubi slot vacated by Myogiryu, and his West Komusubi slot will be occupied by Hokutofuji, the only rikishi among the top ten maegashira to get his kachi-koshi (KK) at Hatsu.
Now, time to sort the rank-and-file. As I described in an earlier post, the easy part of drawing up a banzuke is figuring out where each rikishi “should” be ranked based on their rank and performance in the previous basho, ignoring the placement of other rikishi and various banzuke constraints. The hard part is resolving all the conflicts that arise when too few or too many rikishi should occupy the same rank.
The main feature of the Haru banzuke that makes it difficult to predict is that a baker’s dozen of wrestlers should all be ranked in the seven slots between M3e and M6e, with little to separate them. Some must receive generous promotions or lenient demotions in order to fill the M1/M2 ranks that nobody “earned” based on their performance, while others have to fall down a rank or two below what they “deserve.” This in turn creates a cascading effect of pushing down those who might otherwise occupy the M7-M10 slots. This is what is meant by “banzuke luck”: given the constraint of exactly two rikishi occupying each rank (sort of like the Pauli exclusion principle in quantum mechanics), some end up at much higher ranks than their rank and record would usually indicate, while others end up lower.
Kaisei (M8e, 10-5) should be the clear big beneficiary of generous promotion, as he is the only plausible candidate for the top East Maegashira 1 rank. After that, a number of solutions are possible for the next seven slots. Because make-koshi (MK) rikishi can’t receive promotions, the only candidates for M1w are the KK maegashira from well down the banzuke, unless Myogiryu (K1e, 5-10) receives the most lenient demotion in history for a Komusubi with that record. I’ve gone with Endo (M9w, 10-5) at this rank, and Daieisho (M7w, 9-6) at M2e, but the two could easily be flipped, or one of them could be pushed down by the MK joi members I have ranked just below them. Given the recent lenient treatment of MK Komusubi, I’ve placed Myogiryu next at M2w. As a result, Nishikigi (M2e, 7-8) drops exactly the one expected rank to M3e, followed by Tochiozan (M1e, 6-9), Shodai (M3e, 7-8), and Ichinojo (M1w, 6-9). You can make a case either way for the sides to be occupied by Shodai and Ichinojo at M4.
After this tricky area, the M6 duo of Chiyotairyu and Onosho, both 8-7, slot in easily at M5. This pushes Okinoumi and Abi to M6, lower than they otherwise would be, with the displacement propagating down to Aoiyama, Kotoshogiku, Takarafuji, Sadanoumi, Ikioi, Shohozan, Ryuden, and Yago. Only Asanoyama (M8w, 8-7) is at his expected rank of M7w in this middle portion of the banzuke.
After the crowding above, there’s plenty of room in the lower ranks. Meisei (M12w, 8-7) moves up to M11w, and Yoshikaze falls to M12e, a soft landing for someone who went 3-12 at M5w. He is followed by Chiyonokuni (M15e, 8-7) and Kagayaki (M12e, 6-9). The last three rikishi I have staying in the top division—Kotoeko (M15w, 7-8), Yutakayama (M14e, 6-9), and Chiyoshoma (M14w, 6-9)—occupy the bottom 3 rungs (which extend down to 17e after Kisenosato’s retirement reduced the sanyaku ranks to nine). The five Juryo men I have coming up to Makuuchi slot into the gap between Kagayaki and Kotoeko, in the following order: Tomokaze, Terutsuyoshi, Daishoho, Ishiura, and Toyonoshima (Tomokaze is the only one to separate himself from the rest with his 10-5 record at J4e; the others are ranked in their order on the Hatsu Juryo banzuke). And with that, we are done. We’ll find out how close this forecast is to the real thing in a couple of weeks.