Aki Wrap-up and Predictions for Kyushu

The smell of victory

Congratulations to Sekiwake Mitakeumi on lifting the Emperor’s Cup for the second time! While the path to the yusho wasn’t without controversy, I would argue that the best man won. Congratulations also to Sekiwake Ozeki Takakeisho, who not only achieved the 10 wins he needed to regain his rank against the expectations of many, but made it all the way into a championship playoff. Tachiai wishes good health to both (the early reports on Takakeisho after the playoff bout are worrying), and expects more titles from them in the future.

Takakeisho (O2e) and Goeido (O1e) will be ranked at Ozeki on the Kyushu banzuke, joining kadoban Ozeki Takayasu (O1w). We know that at least the first two will also be ranked at Ozeki for Hatsu 2020. Can Mitakeumi join them? He has 21 victories as a Sekiwake in the last two basho, which means that 12 more in November would give him the unofficial promotion standard of 33, and it’s hard to see the longtime san’yaku regular not getting the nod with a line of 9-12Y-12. Could we see him promoted with 11? It worked this decade for two other popular Japanese san’yaku mainstays

The Lower San’yaku

Mitakeumi will occupy the East Sekiwake slot for the 3rd straight basho, while newly re-demoted Tochinoshin will take over from Takakeisho as West Sekiwake, with the now all-too-familiar one-time shot to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins. This means that Abi (9-6) will continue at the East Komusubi rank, with Endo (8-7) remaining West Komusubi.

So, you ask, what will they do with M1e Hokutofuji (9-6) and M10w Asanoyama (10-5), who did more than enough to earn san’yaku promotions under normal circustances? A maegashira one east with nine wins has never failed to be promoted, while a maegashira two with ten has had to settle for M1e once in the modern era (Kotoshogiku, after Kyushu 2006). At the same time, an extra Komusubi slot hasn’t been created for an M1 since 2006 (Roho, with 10 wins), and for an M2 in over two decades. An extra complication is that while Hokutofuji would seem to have the stronger case for forcing an extra slot, as it’s the only way he can get a well-deserved promotion, Asanoyama should be ranked ahead of him based on rank and record. And that’s before we even get to the difficulty of filling the maegashira ranks without ridiculous over-promotions and under-demotions if these two are not there to hold down the M1e and M1w slots.

Upper Maegashira

The only other rikishi in the M1-M5 ranks to earn his kachi-koshi is M3e Daieisho (8-7), although M3w Tomokaze and M4e Tamawashi ended with minimal 7-8 make-koshi records, and M6w Myogiryu (8-5-2) fought enough of the upper-rankers to be considered a member of the joi. These four will be back in the joi in Fukuoka. They will be joined by well-performing mid-maegashira: M8e Okinoumi (11-4), M8w Takarafuji (9-6), and M10w Meisei (10-5). Beyond that, we have to reach for M1w Aoiyama (5-10), M5w Ryuden (7-8), and M9w Kotoyuki (9-6). This group slots in much more palatably at M2-M6 than they do at M1-M5.

Three other joi maegashira had disastrous tournaments and will plummet down the banzuke in November. M4w Shodai (3-12) should drop to around M11, and he will fare the best of the trio. For all the flack Shodai gets, he hadn’t been ranked lower than M7 since making his top-division debut in January of 2016 at M12w, and has been ranked M5 or better in 19 of his 23 Makuuchi tournaments. Tachiai hopes he comes back strong in November, where he should have the opportunity to clean up against much weaker opposition. M2e Ichinojo (1-4-10), who withdrew with an injury after his Day 4 bout against Kakuryu, should be ranked just below Shodai. And M5w Chiyotairyu, who managed a tournament-low 2 wins among rikishi competing for all 15 days, will fall even lower, into the group of “broken toys” holding down the last 10 or so slots in the top division (see below). Have I mentioned these are 3 of my favorite rikishi? 😢

Top-Division Demotions and Promotions

Going into the final day, we had two definite demotions—Toyonoshima and Takagenji—and two definite promotions—Takanosho and Chiyomaru. In Day 15 bouts, Terutsuyoshi extended his stay in Makuuchi with a victory, as did Kagayaki, simultaneously relegating Azumaryu to Juryo. He’ll be joined there by Tochiozan, who has previously never dropped from the top division since making his debut in March of 2007. Daishoho picked up his 10th loss, but should just survive given the lack of strong promotion candidates.

The places of Tochiozan and Azumaryu should be occupied by J3 Wakatakakage (9-6), marking his top-division debut, and J5 Daishomaru, making his return after 4 tournaments in the second division, which were preceded by a three-year run in Makuuchi.

Juryo-Makushita Exchanges

Five slots in the salaried ranks should open up for sure: one via retirement (Yoshikaze) and four via demotion: Seiro, Chiyonoumi, Takanofuji (unless he also “retires”) and Asagyokusei. Four should be occupied by Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, both 6-1, and Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, both 4-3. The 5th man going up to “heaven” will probably be Ms5w Akiseyama, who won his “Darwin bout” to go 4-3. The other contender is Ms6e Churanoumi (5-2), but someone at his rank hasn’t been promoted with that record since the exceptional situation in 2011. If one of the two isn’t promoted, that would mean keeping J13e Irodori (6-9), but once again, someone with that rank and record has most recently escaped demotion on the same 2011 banzuke. Well, will find out the promotions to sekitori and can deduce the corresponding demotions on Wednesday, unlike the rest of the banzuke, for which we will have to wait until October 28.

30 thoughts on “Aki Wrap-up and Predictions for Kyushu

  1. Short of the Sumo Association Gods changing the ‘rules’ so an injured wrestler can take the PROPER amount of time to heal – WITHOUT DEMOTION – then any wrestler, not just Tochinoshin, is at risk of permanent injury. Yes, sometimes an injury happens on the spot, in the moment that is permanent, but that’s not what this is.
    Tochinoshin has played Sumo rule game and obviously to his healing detriment. Of all the ‘traditions’ that Sumo prides itself in, the ‘heal in impossible time-lines or fall back’ is the one that needs changing. Sumo is having a hard time with new recruits – so – maybe they need to make it more realistic and wrestler friendly. Or many fan favorites that bring positive attention to it will continue to suffer the injury fate.
    Take your time, big guy, come back healed and healthy and show the rest!

    • For all the hand wringing people do over letting guys take unlimited amounts of time off for injury, no one’s ever presented a workable plan to prevent this from screwing up the rankings.

  2. I had forgotten about Takanofuji. There’s going to be so many juryo promotions this time out, should be very interesting.

    • … reason I am asking is that there’s a whole bunch of rikishi in the lower half of the banzuke with 9-6 or 10-5 records. So I’m guessing that might reduce what might otherwise have been a steep rise?

      • Iksumo has probably already prepared his excel sheet. I guess the normal range would be somewhere M8-M12, but he doesn’t have a lot of banzuke luck this time, so probably he will end up M10 or 11.

        • My first draft has him at M12 but that feels all wrong. My predictions for the lower maegashira are usually all over the place. My problem this time is that there were a lot of great results for the lower M guys but may real stinkers higher up, so you have to interleave them… badly in my case.

  3. I think its hard to justify promoting Akiseyama over Churanoumi by mathematics (+1win vs half a rank), but then again Ms5 is usually a very thick wall that separates matchups, but has been thinned considerably by injured/absent rikishi in the top 5 this time. Given that both shared 5 opponents, I would give the nod to Churanoumi in this case. My guess is that Irodori will remain, as a 4-3 at Ms5 is already a very weak promotion case, but Hoshoryu won an exchange match at least, which Akiseyama didn’t either.

  4. Thank you Team Tachiai for your fantastic coverage of this very exciting basho! The post-Hakuho era is starting to take shape!

    • That’s exactly what I was wondering, and looking at the results and rankings I now think it’s a near certainty. And I can hardly wait!

    • Ichinojo will fall to around M11, and Enho will rise to around M7. About half of the possible M7-M11 matchups have actually taken place over the last two years…

  5. I’ve been wondering whether a modified form of the old injury outage rule could work. How about this: At the start of their career, each wrestler is given one “major” injury exemption where he can miss up to 3 consecutive bashos without rank reduction and one “minor” injury exemption where he can miss up to 1 basho without reduction. Upon becoming sekitori, they receive one more major exemption. This allows a wrestler to get needed surgery and recover, but being able to go kosho a maximum of three times in their career prevents abuse.

    • If a wrestler can begin by taking a minor exemption and the issue is more serious than they thought, they can switch it to a major if they have one remaining. They can even take them consecutively if it’s really bad.

      Example: Ura has his first horrible injury in Aki 2017, where he went 1-2-12 at M4. He went kyujo for the next five tourneys. Instead, he would use a major and minor exemption to miss 4 and then drop from M4 to M16 in his return. He maintains M16 until Hatsu 2019, where he tears the knee ligaments again. He uses his remaining major exemption to hold at M16 until September, when his 0-0-15 drops him to the bottom of Juryo. If he misses another basho, he’ll start 2020 in upper-mid Makushita, but that’s a heck of a lot better than Jonokuchi or Maezumo.

      • This doesn’t sound too horrible, but of course there will be situations where this fits and ones, where it doesn’t. You are still put in a dilemma, whether to use your exemption now or later and people may still return to early, especially to prevent fall from salaried ranks.
        Could also lead to basho, where you have A LOT of guys missing. You start the basho with 6 Makuuchi on their sabbatical and another 4 go kyujo mid basho … suddenly one fourth of the first division is missing. Not good for spectators, not good for tv.
        And then there is the cultural aspect … if it wasn’t for chiganoura oyakata, Takakeisho would be already done for. Outside of Hakuho, most of those guys don’t understand the idea of letting something PROPERLY heal.

        • Agreed. In addition I don’t actually believe it would change the perception of injuries all that much – instead of what we have now, you’d just get fans complaining about the system on behalf of rikishi who have already exhausted their exemptions (would Tochinoshin have any left?) or who refuse to sit out because they don’t think an injury is severe enough to use it.

      • My main critique of this idea is to question whether rikishi returning from major injury are actually prepared (as in conditioned, ring-ready) to return to competition at the higher levels. Even Ura, who should have blown through the lower divisions after taking ample time to recover, ended up blowing out his knee again in Makushita. Can you imagine how much worse it could have been, had he been fighting in Juryo or Makuuchi? With the intensity of competition so much higher in the upper divisions, the one advantage to the current system that I see is that the rikishi have the time to recondition their bodies against lower ranked opponents. My fear is that we’d end up seeing a lot of re-injuries, as rikishi are returned to a former rank newly healed but not necessarily ready to face the quality of competition.

        (I hope that made sense, like it did in my head. It’s the end of my day; the brain is shutting down.)

    • An important part that tends to be overlooked is that the majority of injuries happen during training, not in competition. Let’s say a guy injures his knee during honbasho and gets certified to sit out without penalty for however long a revised system would allow. While training to get back into shape he suffers an injury to his shoulder. Is that still covered by the same exemption? What about if it’s an injury to the same knee, but not quite the same type of injury? The devil is always in the details, which is why both the old kosho system and the current approach have tried to keep it as simple as possible.

      • It wouldn’t matter if he has a new shoulder injury. He’d be able to take up to 3 bashos off from his original claim, and then if he wanted to take more time off, he’d have to use another exemption if he has any left. Since they may well have multiple maladies (like most veteran NFL linemen), they wouldn’t need to tie kosho to one injury- it’s just “time off for whatever injuries you have.”

        Based on sumodb, my guess would be that Tochinoshin would’ve used a major in 2013, then perhaps a minor at the start of 2017, and his remaining major sometime over the last 18 months. As a fan, I would love to be arguing about this if it existed because it means there would already be more protections for wrestlers than there are currently. I may complain about having to watch over the Internet and not getting many bouts, but it’s a whole lot better for me now than if I had become a fan 25 years ago!

        • Surely it would have to be tied to an actual, specific, verifiable injury status. Otherwise there’s room for scenarios like an injury being cured in less than the maximum allotted time and the rikishi getting to sit out for free (which contributed to getting the old kosho system killed), or a Kyokutenho-type wrestler who makes it through his entire career relatively unscathed and then elects to sit out with no real injury but full pay shortly before his career comes to its end, just because he’s still got the exemption available.

          • It’s not clear to me why sitting out with full pay is a problem — it’s common for people retiring at the end of their career to reclaim time off they’re owed (literally owed; accrued time off is a liability on their employers’ books) — but it would be easy to work around it. For example the rule could be one’s pay for tournaments sat out can be clawed back if one doesn’t follow them with, say, either 4 wins or 8 losses in a honbasho or something like that.

            • And so we’re straight back to my earlier objection that any new kosho system can’t be too complex to administrate or it’ll be a non-starter. Any approach where rikishi may be required to pay back their salaries is never gonna work with how their employment contracts are structured – the monthly salaries are entirely dependent on ranking, trying to introduce a performance component would be a huge headache.

    • I think something that could actually help would be, if the path to return would be faster. There are good reasons, that you take time to move up the ranks, when you first enter sumo, but if you return after injury, you are in the same situation with little to no way to speed things up. If of think of tennis for example, top players who return after long injury often get wildcards to help speed up their return.

      • And not just wildcards, but also the special ranking (WTA) / protected ranking (ATP) system to allow returning players to enter tournaments they’re otherwise ineligible for after their real ranking has declined too far.

        I actually think this could work in sumo as well with some modifications, not that it’s ever going to actually happen.

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