A special expanded edition of the “storylines” series today, going into senshuraku.
The Yusho Race
Yokozuna Hakuho (14-0) stands one victory away from his 42nd championship, and 15th zensho yusho. Tomorrow, he faces fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu (10-4), whom he’s bested in 42 of 49 prior encounters, in the traditional closing match of the tournament. By then, he’ll know if his sole pursuer, M4 Ichinojo (13-1), has matched him at 14 wins. Ichinojo gets the highest-ranked available opponent who had a winning record going into Day 14, M2 Daieisho (7-7). Ichinojo lost their first bout 3 years ago, but prevailed in the next 3.
The Ozeki Playoff
A few days ago, it seemed rather unlikely that the senshuraku match between Ozeki Tochinoshin (7-7) and Sekiwake Takakeisho (9-5) would be a de facto “exchange bout,” but all the stars aligned so that this is indeed the case. For Tochinoshin, a win secures his rank, while a loss will see him at “Ozekiwake” in May, needing 10 wins to immediately reascend to Ozeki. For Takakeisho, a win means likely if not certain promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank, while a loss at the very least delays it till May, and it would probably take a near-yusho-winning performance at Natsu to pull it off. Takakeisho has dominated their matchup 5-1, with his only loss coming during Tochinoshin’s yusho-winning campaign in January 2018.
The San’yaku Ranks
It looks like three slots will be open, with West Sekiwake Tamawashi (5-9), East Komusubi Mitakeumi (6-8), and West Komusubi Hokutofuji (6-8) all dropping into the rank-and-file. One Sekiwake slot should be occupied by the loser of the Tochinoshin-Takakeisho bout, unless Takakiesho wins but is denied promotion.
Win or lose, Ichinojo should be Sekiwake at Natsu, rejoining the rank he held for the final four basho of 2018. One Komusubi slot should go to Aoiyama (M7, 11-3); the other will be decided between Daieisho and Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-3).
Ichinojo should get one or more prizes for sure. Tomokaze should get a fighting spirit prize if he can reach double-digit victories in his Makuuchi debut by winning tomorrow; it won’t be easy, as he is matched with Aoiyama, who himself might claim a prize with a win. I’m not sure if, as a former Ozeki, Kotoshogiku would be in line for one even with a 12-3 record. Other possibilities are Takakeisho if he wins, and Meisei if he reaches double digits for the first time in Makuuchi.
The Make/Kachi Line
Eight rikishi have left their promotion/demotion fate to be decided on the final day, going into senshuraku with 7-7 records. One is the aforementioned Tochinoshin, who obviously has a lot more on the line than a mere winning vs. losing record. At the opposite end of the banzuke, the last man in Makuuchi, M17e Chiyoshoma, probably needs to win to stay in the top division. For the other six, pride and smaller moves up or down the banzuke are at stake. Some got off to a strong start only to fade; others have recorded most of their victories in the second week. Without further ado, the six are: M2 Daieisho (who could be in line for a San’yaku debut with a win), M5 Chiyotairyu, M6 Okinoumi, M6 Abi, M7 Takarafuji, and M8 Asanoyama. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no “Darwin bouts” matching 7-7 rikishi, so all eight men can succeed or fail in their quests to claim the all-important 8th victory.
The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange
This is a good basho to be bad in Makuuchi, as the performances in
Juryo did not create a lot of even borderline promotion candidates, and Chiyonokuni’s unfortunate kyujo accounts for one of the needed slots. Nevertheless, Yutakayama (M16w, 3-11) has managed to limbo under a very low bar, and will be in Juryo in May.
Who will be joining him? There is no shortage of candidates! Toyonoshima (M14w, 4-10) and Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) already sport records that would guarantee demotion in any normal tournament, but their victories today leave them hoping that a win tomorrow, combined with losses by others, could leave them clinging to the bottom of the top division by their fingernails. Who are the men they need to lose on senshuraku? Take your pick from among Daishoho (M16e, 6-8), Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 5-9), Kotoeko (M15w, 6-8), Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-7), and Ishiura (M15e, 6-8). That’s a whopping nine men at risk of demotion, if you’re counting. There’s only one grisly pairing between two of them: Terutsuyoshi vs. Ikioi, with the loser all but assured of a trip to Juryo.
Who wants to go up to Makuuchi in May? Anybody? If you have 8 wins in Juryo, raise your hand! Going into Day 15, there are only two records in the second division that would normally warrant promotion, and these belong to the J1 pair who got snubbed the last time. Shimanoumi (J1e, 12-2) will make his top-division debut after an impressive second-straight Juryo yusho, going J11 -> J1 -> mid-maegashira! Chiyomaru (J1w, 9-5) is set to join him.
Since these are not normal times, Enho (J2w, 8-6) should reach the top division even with an 8-7 record, and Tokushoryu (J4w, 8-6) might be able to do so from an even lower rank; Enho is certainly in with a victory, and Tokushoryu likely is too. And while their records would not be good enough even with senshuraku victories under any other circumstances, I’m not crossing Takagenji (M4e, 7-7), Kyokyshuho (J6e, 8-6), and Wakatakakage (J5e, 7-7) off the list just yet.