A Look Ahead to Hatsu 2020

Yokozuna and Ozeki

Hakuho (14-1) has once again confirmed his standing at the top of the sport, and this will be made official when he assumes the rank of East Yokozuna for a record 51st time in his storied career but the first since May. Kakuryu (0-1-14) will move over to the West side, and Tachiai hopes that he’ll be fit to fight in January.

Takakeisho (9-6) had a solid tournament and put up his first winning record as Ozeki. He’ll be the East Ozeki at Hatsu, joined on the West side by Goeido (0-2-13), who’ll be kadoban and looking for 8 wins to maintain his rank. Takayasu (3-5-7) failed in his attempt to clear kadoban, and will have his one shot to return to Ozeki by picking up 10 wins at Sekiwake. That mountain proved too high to climb for the second time for Tochinoshin (2-3-10), who says good-bye to his hopes of regaining the rank and should be ranked around M8, his lowest banzuke position since May 2017.

Sekiwake and Komusubi

The final-day results made a potentially messy situation fairly clear, unless the banzuke committee does something unexpected. There should be two Sekiwake and two Komusubi on the next banzuke, which, combined with only two Yokozuna and two Ozeki, will give us the smallest slate of san’yaku-ranked rikishi since November 2005. Consequently, the joi ranks will extend all the way down to M4w, even barring any absences, and we will see the reappearance of the M17w rank.

The key outcomes were losses by Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6-9) and Komusubi Endo (7-8), which should drop both into the rank-and-file along with Komusubi Hokutofuji (7-8), who was already make-koshi. For Mitakeumi, this would end a streak of 17 straight san’yaku appearances, second-longest in history and two basho short of the record. This leaves both Sekiwake slots open. The East Sekiwake rank should be occupied by Komusubi Asanoyama (11-4), while the West side is spoken for by Takayasu. East Komusubi Abi (9-6) will hold on to his rank, and the open West Komusubi slot should go to M1e Daieisho (8-7), removing the need for any extra slots.

Apparently, the shimpan department has declared that Asanoyama is not on an Ozeki run after posting records of M2 10-5 K 11-4 jun-yusho in the past two basho, but this probably just means that simply hitting 33 wins by going 12-3 at Hatsu won’t be enough, and it will take 13+ wins and/or a yusho.

Upper Maegashira

This is where things get crowded. Unless the baznuke committee goes against precedent and creates extra san’yaku slots without being forced to do so, there are four rikishi who warrant the M1 rank—Mitakeumi, the two 7-8 Komusubi, and M2e Myogiryu (8-7). My guess is that we will see Myogiryu, who must be promoted, at M1e, followed by the higher-ranked Komusubi, Endo, at M1w, with Hokutofuji and Mitakeumi having to settle for M2.

After that, the 8-7 M4 duo of Tamawashi and Kotoyuki should neatly move up in tandem to M3. M10w Shodai (11-4) should return from the lower ranks to the more familiar banzuke territory of M4, where he’ll probably be joined by M1w Okinoumi (6-9). And rounding out the top 10 maegashira at M5 should be M2w Meisei (6-9) and M6w Enho (8-7), who keeps proving his doubters wrong, delighting his fans, and moving ever higher up the banzuke.

Lower Maegashira

Somewhat unusually, none of the competing maegashira ended up on the bubble—they either clearly did enough to stay in the top division, or unambiguously earned a trip on Bruce’s infamous “Juryo barge.” In the latter group are M15w Daishoho (3-12), M14w Nishikigi (4-11), and M15e Daishomaru (5-10), all posting double-digit losses at the very bottom of Makuuchi. They’ll be joined in the second division by absent Ichinojo and injured Wakatakakage.

That’s five demotions, and as it happens, there are five clearly deserved promotions from Juryo. Three are Makuuchi mainstays making a return: Ikioi, Tochiozan, and Kaisei. One, Kiribayama, is a promising newcomer who shrugged off a senshuraku henka attempt by Chiyoshoma in a de facto promotion playoff, and whom Heruth has compared to Harumafuji. And last but not least, we have the Juryo yusho winner, Azumaryu, who defeated Ikioi and Kaisei in a playoff (avenging regulation losses to both). Azumaryu entered sumo 11 years ago, and has spent most of that time in Juryo, with 5 previous appearances in the top-division, most recently in September. He seems to be hitting a peak at age 32; this is his first yusho at any level, and he is likely exceed his career-high rank of M14e.

The one wildcard is M3w Tomokaze (0-3-12). Sadly, we know he won’t be competing any time soon, but his banzuke position has historically usually been high enough to protect him from a fall to Juryo even with zero wins. But that’s not a certainty this time, as J1w Tokushoryu (8-7) has a strong if not ironclad promotion case. If I had to guess, I’d go with them promoting Tokushoryu, but this is a really tough call.

38 thoughts on “A Look Ahead to Hatsu 2020

    • I was very displeased with prerty much everything about the basho Asanoyama won. But in spite of that, the guy is the real deal and in all likelyhood the next Oseki. Not being in a run doesn’t hurt him that much, as racking up 12 wins would be a tall order anyway. But make no mistake, he will be Ozeki way, way before Abi has learned a second trick.

      • Most Ozeki candidates fail their first attempt. I think in terms of Asanoyama and whomever is going to follow him in 2020, it’s good to get that sort of thing out of the way.

  1. I feel a bit for Abi. He would’ve made sekiwake several times by now if it weren’t for all these crumbling ozeki.

    • You have to defeat the opponents placed in front of you. If Abi wins two or three more matches, especially when a number of upper ranked rikishi are out injured, then they couldn’t deny his promotion.

    • Abi is doing great, and he’s not being hampered by being at Komusubi. In addition, it looks like he is having a lot of fun. I am also quite certain he has been working on Abi-zumo 2.0, but right now there is no need to deploy it. He’s dominant enough for now.

    • If it wasn’t for all those crumbling Ozeki, he probably wouldn’t be in Sanyaku anymore. Look at his scorecard, whom he lost to. 2 more wins would have sealed a promotion … Takarafuji, Meisei, Okinoumi, Myogiryu … 2 of those 4 would have removed any dependency on banzuke luck. If he deserves it, he will get to sekiwake. So far he doesn’t. Not too long ago we had 2+1 Yokozuna and 3 mostly strong Ozeki and it was quite difficult to move up and stay in Sanyaku. At the moment it isn’t. There is almost no easier situation possible than now with half the maegashira also being veterans on the decline and the next generation still waiting to brek through. Abi hasn’t been good enough so far and it’s up to him to change that. You can’t complain on one side that the ozekis dropping block his spot, when only the weak performance of the Ozeki in the first place got him to kachikoshi.

  2. The shimpan are simply following their own recent precedent. They didn’t accept K1 9-6,K1 13-2 yusho and S1 11-4 from Takakeisho. These days, with weakened fields, they probably consider that the old idea of 33 wins over 3 basho isn’t quite enough. Asanaoyama’s last day loss to Shodai might have entered into their thinking too. Not what you’d expect from someone potentially on an Ozeki run. I thought he really needed a win there.

    • This sounds right to me too. I don’t blame the Shimpan for demanding consistency at this point based on the number of rikishi who are out injured and the recent Ozeki tenures of Goeido, Tochinoshin, and Takayasu. The point of the higher ranks is to establish an entrenched leadership for Sumo. Considering all of the flux at the top of the banzuke in the past year, I am not suprised at all with the “we’ll wait for better results” answer regarding Asanoyama’s Ozeki aspirations.

      • I still believe that Asanoyama will get the nod with a sufficiently dominant performance in January. Obviously, if he can’t reach double-digits, it’s moot, but if he records 10-12 wins, then a similar performance in March would seal the deal.

        • I am going to guess that January may see a somewhat better Asanoyama mount the dohyo. The fellow seems quite driven, and I think he has plenty of time to work into the next level. I am wondering if we should start a pool on which basho in 2020 knocks a Yokozuna into retirement, and which one of the rising stars will deliver that outcome.

          • I’d say injuries + “it’s been long enough” will knock them out, not any of the rising stars. What would the latter even mean? Asanoyama beats Kakuryu in a playoff, and the latter calls it quits?

              • I guess you could say that he retired after losing to future Takanohana, but he’d already missed most of the previous two basho with injury, and fought for two more days after the loss, so I’d still chalk it up to injury/time.

              • Sure, but in his interviews following he said that when he lost to both Takahanada and Takatoriki in the opening 3 days of May 1991, he knew it was the end. He was no longer able to execute Yokozuna sumo. In terms of flat-out dominance of sumo, he is (to my mind) the closest analog to Hakuho. I would expect their departures to at least rhyme.

            • One thing to keep in mind in this context is Kakuryu’s possible bid for Japanese citizenship, which will keep him playing a survival game until it’s approved.

              It’s not actually certain that he applied for it, but he did talk about it about a year ago, and Izutsu’s widow alluded to someone “reviving Izutsu beya soon”, which, if it isn’t Kakuryu, will not really be reviving anything, just opening his own heya by the same name, like Kotooshu did with the Naruto name.

              Assuming he did, and based on Sokokurai’s experience, it will take quite a while. Like Sokokurai, Kakuryu doesn’t have the benefit of spousal acceleration.

              So he is not going to “retire of natural causes” if the speculations are right. As for Hakuho… Who knows what he plans. He said in his yusho interview that he cried when he was injured because he thought he’d never be able to win another yusho. That man is married to the Emperor’s Cup, or so he seems to believe. He’ll only retire when he is finally convinced he is not getting another one ever. Fast forward 78 years, His uchi-deshi are all grandfathers, Enho’s son is now Miyagino oyakata, and Hakuho arrives, leaves his walker at the hanamichi, and still manages to win more bouts than anybody else. Sigh.

  3. The article quoted by SumoForum says that the reason Asanoyama is not on an Ozeki run is that he started his streak as a maegashira. This means that probably not even a yusho will get him there. But of course, the shimpan department may always change its opinion

  4. I’ve got an identical banzuke down to M5, maybe I’m getting the hang of this. The potential fly in the ointment is Abi. Consensus seems to be that he will not be promoted but I’m not so sure… not many of us thought that we’d really get 4 komusubi last time, but look what happened. You could argue that his 9-6 makes him a natural promotion to the vacant slot and that Asanoyama’s 11-4 is the “forcing” result that creates a third sekiwake.

    • I like this theory!
      But then who would be the 2nd Komusubi? Promoting Myogiryu from M2 with an 8-7 record seems a little generous (though he is certainly worthy of the rank in general). Or would either Mitakeumi or Endo get an enormous slice of Banzuke luck and remain in sanyaku?

      • I would give the nod to Myogiryu, who looked better than his bare record. His best days are behind him but he’s a class act and I have him ahead of Endo and Mitakeumi in that order.

    • I mean, sure, they could do anything, but he was K1e 9-6 last time and they didn’t promote him, and nothing is different this time. Just in the last couple of years, Takakeisho and Mitakeumi stayed at Komusubi after posting 9-6 records. I hear people argue that he’s been Komusubi 3 basho in a row and thus should be promoted, but (a) rikishi have stayed at Komusubi for 4-5 basho if that’s how the banzuke played out and (b) rankings below Ozeki really don’t take history into consideration.

  5. On a slightly longer term reflection, with a large number of promising younger rikishi coming up and proving themselves in upper divisions and number of older rikishi losing their ranks due to injury and form, we may see a completely different field at Kyushu next year. I dare to say that this may be the last Kyushu in Makuuchi for the number of wonderful wrestlers who have entertained us for years:

    Hakuho
    Kakuryu
    Shohozan
    Tamawashi
    Tochinoshin
    Goeido
    Myogiryu
    Okinoumi
    Kotoshogiku
    Aoiyama

    and few Juryo ones about to return to the top division: Tochiozan, Kaisei, Ikioi and Azumaryu.

    Era of the Boss has been great, but I also look forward to a more even field at the top with uncertainty at every basho.

    Thank you team Tachiai for all your hard and dedicated work and looking forward to an exciting 2020.

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