The State of the Yokozuna
Yokozuna Hakuho (15-0) extended his own record by claiming an unprecedented 42nd top-division championship, a total equivalent to winning every single tournament for seven years. Hakuho is now ahead of second-place Taiho by 10 yusho, a number that by itself is generally considered the mark for Dai-Yokozuna status. Hakuho’s 15 zensho yusho is nearly double Taiho’s 8. There is a beautiful symmetry in winning all 15 bouts 15 times. That’s 225 victories in just his zensho tournaments—to put this in perspective, Kakuryu has 225 total victories as a Yokozuna!
It is concerning that in claiming this championship in a hard-fought match against Kakuryu, Hakuho injured his arm. Tachiai hopes that the cost was not too high, that the Dai-Yokozuna gets the necessary treatment and takes the time to recover, and that we will see him dominating on the dohyo again before too long.
Of the last 5 tournaments, Kakuryu sat out one, pulled out of two, and faded in the second week of the other two. He eked out the “Yokozuna kachi-koshi” of ten wins this time, and we’ll have to see how healthy and genki he is in May.
The State of the Ozeki
The big news, of course, is that we lose one Ozeki (at least temporarily) and gain another. Tochinoshin (7-8) will be ranked Sekiwake at Natsu, with a one-time shot to regain his rank with 10 victories. If he can get healthy, and that’s a big if, this should be doable. Many of us remember Kotoshogiku just missing out with 9 in his “Ozekiwake” basho. Sekiwake Takakeisho (10-5) will in fact be promoted after a very creditable Ozeki run of 13-2 Y, 11-4 J, 10-5. The promotion comes in only his 14th tournament in the top division, and Tachiai wishes him a long and successful career as Ozeki and possible future Yokozuna.
Goeido, who will take over the top O1e rank in May, had a great tournament at 12-3. His loss to Daieisho was basically an unfortunate inadvertent step-out, and his other two losses were to a rampaging Ichinojozilla and the zensho-yusho-winning greatest Yokozuna of all time. Goeido’s performance level would have been good enough to win many a recent tournament. Takayasu (10-5) also had a strong tournament despite fading at the end with three consecutive defeats. He lost to the same opponents as Goeido, plus Goeido himself and a promotion-seeking Takakeisho. These performances bode well for the future of the Ozeki corps.
The San’yaku Ranks
Ichinojo will be the East Sekiwake at Natsu. We’ve always known there’s a Yokozuna inside Ichinojo, but we weren’t sure it would ever be unleashed. If the big guy can maintain his focus and health, it wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to suggest that he could make Ozeki by July, and even take a run at the next rank by the end of the year. Hopefully, this time Lucy won’t pull away the football. Tochinoshin will attempt to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins from West Sekiwake.
Fighting spirit prize winner Aoiyama (M7, 12-3) will be East Komusubi, making his first San’yaku appearance since 2014. What about West Komusubi? The only solid promotion contender is former Ozeki Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-4), but his loss on senshuraku opens the door for East Komusubi Mitakeumi (7-8) to merely slide over to the West side.
The New Joi-Jin Maegashira
Who will hold the top 8 (or so) slots in the rank-and-file, which come with the dubious honor of getting pummeled by the named ranks? Two or three will go to the demoted San’yaku rikishi (Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, and possibly Mitakeumi). Four of the incumbents handed out 45 white stars among them and will be dropping far down the banzuke (yes Bruce, even Shodai, though not as far as Kaisei, Nishikigi, and especially Tochiozan). Ichinojo, of course, was in class by himself, and the only rikishi in the top eight to get his kachi-koshi. The other incumbents (Endo, Daieisho, and possibly Myogiryu) did enough to earn another spin in the meat grinder despite finishing with losing records. Joining them will be Kotoshogiku if he isn’t Komusubi, M5 Chiyotairyu, and likely one or both of the M6 duo Okinoumi and Abi, all 8-7.
The Make/Kachi Line
Of the eight rikishi going into senshuraku with 7-7 records, half were able to record victories: Chiyotairyu, Okinoumi, Abi, and Takarafuji. For three, failure to get to 8 wins had a considerable cost: loss of Ozeki rank for Tochinoshin, likely Juryo demotion for Chiyoshoma, and no Komusubi debut for Daieisho. In total, a whopping 10 rikishi finished the tournament with a minimal 7-8 make-koshi, one shy of the all-time record. This will play havoc with the banzuke-making for Natsu.
The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange
The final-day results cleared up the demotion/promotion scenarios somewhat, but it’s still a mess. Victories by Kotoeko (M15w, 7-8) and newcomers Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 6-9) and Daishoho (M16e, 7-8) should be just enough to keep them in the top division.
Chiyonokuni (M12e, 0-0-15) and Yutakayama (M16w, 3-12) will be dropping deep into Juryo. Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) should be joining them in the second division after 39 tournaments in Makuuchi, unless the banzuke committee decides to draw the promotion line at two, with the clearly promotable Shimanoumi (J1e, 13-2) and Chiyomaru (J1w, 10-5), and deny borderline candidates Enho (J2w, 8-7) and Tokushoryu (J4w, 9-6). Shimanoumi should make his top-division debut at one of the highest ranks in recent memory.
That leaves three other demotion candidates: Ishiura (M15e, 6-9), Toyonoshima (M14w, 5-10), and Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-8). I predict that Ishiura will survive despite sporting a demotable record, as the other two have stronger cases for demotion, and there are not enough legitimate promotion candidates to go around. Of the remaining duo, Toyonoshima has the worse combination of rank and record, while Chiyoshoma got his make-koshi at the very bottom of Makuuchi. They could keep both and deny the 4th promotion candidate (likely Tokushoryu), demote one and keep the other, or drop both and promote Takagenji (M4e, 8-7). I’m not sure how seriously to take the rumblings on Sumo Forum that the fact that the latter is a protégé of you-know-who might count against him. If Ishiura were to join the demotion crew, his spot would have to go to Wakatakakage (J5e, 8-7).