With seven days of action left in the Spring basho, much is still to be decided, but we can begin to see the outlines of the stories that will define this tournament. Here’s what we’ll be following over the final days.
Who will take the yusho?
This is the one of the best races we’ve had on nakabi in recent times. After his amazing escape against Tochiozan today, Yokozuna Hakuho (8-0) is the sole undefeated leader. This is the 47th time that the Boss has clinched his kachi-koshi on Day 8, by far the most in history (in second place is the great Chiyonofuji with 25).
The one-off-the-pace chase group is deep and strong. It includes the other Yokozuna, Kakuryu, two Ozeki—Takayasu and Goeido—and two strong hiramaku challengers, Ichinojo and Aoiyama. And “don’t count me out” Sekiwake Takakeisho is in the hunt at 6-2. With all the top-rankers still to face each other, we could be in for an exciting finish.
Will Tochinoshin remain an Ozeki?
Everyone’s favorite Georgian needs 8 wins to clear kadoban status and retain his rank. His 5th victory today, against previously unbeaten Ichinojo, looms large (pun intended), as he now needs to find only 3 wins on a tough second-week fight card. Tomorrow, Tochinoshin faces the hapless and winless Shodai, who surprisingly holds a slight career edge (6-5 on the dohyo) against the Ozeki. After that, the schedule only gets tougher, with two Sekiwake, two Ozeki, and two Yokozuna. Encouragingly for his many fans, Tochinoshin has begun to once again display the strength of bear that has the strength of
two one-and-a-half bears in recent days.
Will we see anyone promoted to Ozeki?
We had two potential Ozeki runs at the start of the basho. Takakeisho, after being denied promotion last time despite going 9-6, 13-2, 11-4 to accumulate the customary 33 wins over 3 basho, was seeking a double-digit victory total to seal the deal. Sekiwake Tamawashi, the Hatsu yusho winner, himself had two-basho records of 9-6 and 13-2, and needed a minimum of 11 wins to be considered for a late-career promotion. How is the duo faring in their quests?
Well, Takakeisho’s run is going strong. He banked 6 wins from the first 8 bouts, and likely only needs to go 4-3 the rest of the way to ascend to sumo’s second-highest rank. Of course, he has yet to face any of the top 5 men on the banzuke, so it won’t be a cake-walk, but if he can put up the numbers, they will perforce include some quality wins.
Tamawashi’s run, on the other hand, is all but over. With a 4-4 record and a similarly tough fight card, he’d need an improbable 7-0 finish for a shot at promotion, and even the 5 or 6 wins that could keep the run alive might be out of reach.
Who will occupy the San’yaku ranks in May?
Of the four current occupants of the lower San’yaku ranks, none is a lock to still be there for Natsu. Takakeisho seems likely to vacate his slot via promotion. Tamawashi needs 4 victories to remain Sekiwake, and 3 to stay in San’yaku. After a strong start, East Komusubi Mitakeumi has stumbled to a 3-5 record and needs to go 5-2 the rest of the way to maintain his rank. The good news is that his schedule will get easier after his encounter with Hakuho tomorrow. West Komusubi Hokutofuji is having the usual rough debut in the upper ranks, with a 2-6 record against the 8 men ranked above him. Can he go 6-1 or better against lower-ranked opponents?
While it’s way to early to know who will be ready to occupy any San’yaku slots that open up, the leading contender at the moment is Ichinojo, who spent the last 5 basho of 2018 in the named ranks. He is followed by Aoiyama, Daieisho, and Chiyotairyu, but there is plenty of time for the current leaders to falter, and for other rikishi in the mix to make a promotion push.
Who will be in Makuuchi in May?
I have not seen any news on the injured Chiyonokuni, but at this point it seems likely that he is not coming back this basho [edit: see the comment from Herouth confirming this], which will result in a fall deep into Juryo. Tachiai wishes him a full and speedy recovery and a swift climb back up the ranks. Those who have left themselves the most work to do if they do not wish to join him in the second division include Yutakayama (M16w, 3-5), who just barely escaped demotion last time, and three of the most recent promotions to the top division: Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 2-6), Daishoho (M16e, 3-5), and Toyonoshima (M14w, 2-6). The schedulers better make that long-awaited Kotoshogiku-Toyonoshima reunion bout happen while they still can.
Meanwhile, down in Juryo, Shimanoumi (J1e, 7-1), who had a legitimate promotion case last time, is making an emphatic case by threatening to run away with a second consecutive yusho. His fellow J1 and promotion snub Chiyomaru is also in good shape at 5-3. And Tachiai favorite Enho seems to have recovered from his ill-fated visit to Makuuchi that resulted in a shoulder injury at the hands of Kotoeko, and has run his victory total to 5 from J2w, keeping him on track for promotion.