Bruce likes to call the first five days of a tournament “Act One”, when ring rust is knocked off and we start to see the storylines that will define the basho emerging. Let’s take a look at where things stand at the end of Act One of the last tournament of 2019.
The yusho race
Obviously, it’s way too early, but we can make a couple of interesting observations. The first is that this is only the 14th time in the six-basho era that no rikishi are undefeated after Day 5, and the first since Aki 2001. That tournament ended with a victory by M2 Kotomitsuki, and we could be in for another unexpected finish. The second is that, although we saw Tamawashi do it in January, a yusho is rarely won by a man with more than one loss after Day 5—this has happened on only 11 occasions in the same timeframe. So the smart money has to be on one of the 4-1 rikishi to take the title. This group includes the GOAT with 42 titles, a one-time winner in Komusubi Asanoyama, and a motley crew of rank-and-filers that you could have gotten very long odds on before the basho, and probably still can: M2 Meisei, M6 Enho, M8 Sadanoumi, M9 Yutakayama, and M10 Shodai (I’m not counting the injured Wakatakakage).
The Ozeki and aspiring Ozeki
We could have had as many as five Ozeki at the Hatsu basho, but now it looks like the over/under is 2.5. Tochinoshin’s injury has ended his hopes of regaining the rank for the second time this year, and he will likely fall into the mid-maegashira ranks (in his “Ozekiwake” basho, Terunofuji went 0-5-10 and was ranked M10 for the following tournament). After 3 first-week losses, Mitakeumi’s chances of promotion hang by the thinnest of threads, and he will likely need to shift focus to extending his san’yaku streak to 18 basho, one short of the record. And kadoban Ozeki Takayasu, also 2-3, has his work cut out for him if he wants to avoid giving us an unprecedented fourth Ozekiwake basho in the span of a year. Only Goeido and Takakeisho are certain to appear on the Hatsu banzuke at sumo’s second-highest rank; the former will be kadoban for certain, and the latter needs a strong finish to avoid that dubious honor.
The San’yaku ranks
This tournament, we have an embarrassment of riches in six lower san’yaku rikishi; this number should go down to at most five, and likely the customary four, for Hatsu. Tochinoshin’s pending demotion will vacate one slot. Even an out-of-form Mitakeumi should be able to scrape together the 8 wins he needs to remain Sekiwake, or at least the 7 that would limit his demotion to Komusubi. Among the current Komusubi, the “extras”, Hokutofuji and Asanoyama, look likely to push for higher rank, while the higher-ranked duo of Abi and Endo are no sure bets to escape demotion to the rank-and-file. We’ll have to wait and see if any of the upper maegashira can stake a strong promotion claim and make things tricky for the banzuke committee and your humble prognosticator.
Three slots in the top division are set to open with the injury-driven demotions of Tomokaze (although he could just hang on to the bottom of Makuuchi, not that he’ll be competing at Hatsu), Ichinojo, and Wakatakakage. Aside from the unfortunate Tomokaze, everyone ranked M1e-M5e has already done enough to stay out of Juryo, as have M6w Enho, M7e Tsurugisho, and M8w Sadanoumi. Everyone else still needs to notch additional white stars, but most have plenty of bouts left to do so. The deepest hole after Day 5 belongs to M15w Daishoho (1-4), who’s looked lifeless and doesn’t have any room for error given his position one rung from the bottom of Makuuchi. The likes of M15e Daishomaru (2-3), M14w Nishikigi (2-3), M14e Terutsuyoshi (2-3), and M11e Ishiura (1-4) also need to start winning more frequently.