With ten days of action left in the Summer basho, much is still to be decided, but we can begin to see the outlines of the stories that will define this tournament. Here are the storylines we’ll be following the rest of the way.
Who will take the yusho?
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it got late early. Judging by historical precedent, the yusho race is likely already down to two undefeated rikishi: Yokozuna Kakuryu and Sekiwake* Tochinoshin. How can I say this on Day 5? Well, although we all remember Tamawashi winning the Hatsu basho after a 3-2 start, that’s the only time this has happened in the last 20 years! Now, there have also been two tournament victors with 2-3 records on Day 5: Kyokutenho in 2012 and, memorably, Harumafuji in his final full tournament, Aki 2017. But with these rare exceptions, we can pretty much count on the winner racking up at least four shiroboshi by the 5th day.
Who else has met this threshold? We have M8 Asanoyama (5-0) and M4 Abi, M7 Shodai, M14 Enho, and M15 Kotoeko, all 4-1. Given the track record of this group, and the rarity of hiramaku (rank-and-file) yusho (four in the last 20 years), I just don’t see it.
Will Tochinoshin regain his Ozeki rank?
Everyone’s favorite Georgian has not only recorded five victories in five days, but has looked impressive in doing so. He needs to go 5-5 the rest of the way to reclaim his Ozeki rank one year after his promotion, and seems very likely to do if he stays healthy [crosses fingers, prays to all relevant kami]. Tochinoshin’s quest will be aided by the absences of Hakuho and Takakeisho, who accounted for two of his losses in Osaka. That leaves him with only four opponents ranked above him; he faces the first of these, fellow Sekiwake Ichinojo, (2-3) tomorrow.
We’ve seen some titanic battles between these two, but the head-to-head favors Tochinoshin 16-5, including 6 victories in a row, unsurprisingly all by yorikiri. Tochinoshin handed Ichinojo his only loss in Osaka, depriving him of a shot at the yusho and us of a first-ever playoff between 15-0 rikishi. Unless the big Mongolian draws strong motivation from that defeat, current form favors Tochinoshin.
Who will occupy the San’yaku ranks in July?
How are the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks faring? West Sekiwake* Tochinoshin seems likely to vacate his slot via promotion. West Komusubi Mitakeumi has put himself in a good position with a 3-2 record during the most difficult part of his fight card, and should be favored against his remaining opponents with the exception of Goeido and Tochinoshin (he won’t have to face his nemesis, Kaisei, who is too far down the banzuke). East Sekiwake Ichinojo has dug himself a bit of a hole with a 2-3 start, with his toughest bouts yet to come, and his fate really depends on whether he can reawaken his inner beast from Osaka. Finally, East Komusubi Aoiyama (1-4) will have to turn things around in a hurry if he wants to stay in the named ranks.
While it’s way to early to know who will be in contention to occupy any San’yaku slots that open up, M2 Daieisho (3-2) and M4 Abi (4-1) currently sport the only winning records among the upper maegashira.
Who will be in Makuuchi in July?
Five of the rikishi in the bottom 8 ranks (M13w-M17e) have posted a 2-3 score over the opening 5 days, so we could be in for another messy demotion picture. The positive exceptions are M14w Enho and M15w Kotoeko, who have sprinted out to 4-1 records while bringing exciting sumo to the dohyo every day. Each likely needs only 3 more victories to stay in the top division. On the flip side, we have M16w Ishiura (1-4). Barring yet more miraculous banzuke luck, he will need to go 7-3 or better the rest of the way, and do it mostly against higher-ranked opposition, for Hakuho’s dream of performing a dohyo-iri with his two uchi-deshi as attendants is to stay alive for Nagoya.
Down in Juryo, J1w Ikioi (0-5) continues to be a trainwreck, and it seems likely that we won’t see him back up in Makuuchi any time soon. On the other hand, fellow demotees J1e Toyonoshima (4-1) and J5e Yutakayama (4-1) are making strong pushes to keep their second-division visits brief. They are joined in the promotion queue by J2e Takagenji (5-0), who is seeking to make his top-division debut, and J3e Kyokushuho (4-1), who is seeking to return for the first time since March 2017. This quartet is also your Juryo yusho leaderboard.