We’ve reached nakabi, the middle Sunday of the tournament, halfway on the journey from shonichi to senshuraku. Let’s check in and see how things have evolved from a few days ago.
The yusho race
Yokozuna Hakuho is the sole leader at 7-1. He is also rapidly running out of credible opponents—the only rikishi in the named ranks still in the tournament that he hasn’t faced are Ozeki Takakeisho, Sekiwake Mitakeumi, and the Komusubi duo of Abi and Endo. The Yokozuna’s record against this group is 24-4. Tomorrow, Hakuho is matched with M4w Kotoyuki, likely followed by M5e Aoiyama and M5w Ryuden; against these maegashira opponents, he is undefeated in 24 tries.
One off the lead are Komusubi Asanoyama and, somewhat improbably, M13 Kagayaki. Nine rikishi stand one win further back at 5-3, most notably Takakeisho and M1e Daieisho. And then we have a whopping 14 men whose records are even at 4-4, and whose fate will be decided in the final week. Note that this is fully 1/3 of the top division, and 40% of those still competing.
The Ozeki and aspiring Ozeki
As Bruce has described, this group is a mess, and it looks like we’ll end up with the under on my over/under line of 2.5 Ozeki at Hatsu. We already knew that Tochinoshin’s injury ended his hopes of regaining the rank, and now it looks like a near-certainty that Takayasu’s injury woes will cost him his. Even if he can return after today’s fusen loss and tomorrow’s absence from the torikumi, the kadoban Ozeki would need to pick up 5 victories in at most 6 days, and against the toughest part of his fight card this seems exceedingly unlikely. Takayasu’s best hope is to try to heal up and get his 10 in January, which frankly would have been the right call instead of entering this basho.
The Ozeki hopeful Mitakeumi’s chances of promotion are almost certainly gone after a 4-4 start, and he can probably afford only one more loss if he is to keep the Ozeki run going into Hatsu. With Goeido absent and kadoban for January, it says something that still-recovering Takakeisho (5-3) is the last man standing with a good shot at being a “regular” Ozeki on the next banzuke.
The San’yaku ranks
At the moment, 5 of the 6 incumbents are holding serve: the aforementioned Mitakeumi and all four Komusubi: Abi (4-4), Endo (4-4), Hokutofuji (4-4) and Asanoyama (6-2). The latter has the inside lane for promotion to Sekiwake. And M1e Daieisho (5-3) could make things crowded for the second-straight basho by finishing with a winning record; we now have a clear precedent that he should be promoted with 9 wins, even if no “regular” slot opens up.
First, the absent injured: Ichinojo and Wakatakakage are set to be demoted to Juryo for Hatsu, and Tomokaze may or may not join them depending on how the rest of the demotion/promotion picture looks by the end of the basho. Among those competing, the deepest hole belongs to M15w Daishoho (2-6), who needs 6 victories in the remaining 7 days to be safe, and 5 to have any chance of escaping demotion. He is followed closely in the demotion queue by M14w Nishikigi (2-6) and M15e Daishomary (3-5). Others with work left to do include Terutsuyoshi, Kotoshogiku (!!), Takanosho, Shimanoumi, Chiyomaru, and Ishiura.
And for once, Juryo may produce a long list of deserving promotion contenders. These are led by J3 Ikioi (7-1) and also include J1 Azumaryu (5-3), J2 Tochiozan (5-3), J5 Kaisei (6-2) and J5 Kiribayama (6-2). Only the last of these would be making his Makuuchi debut, as most of the others are long-time top-division regulars seeking a return.