Hatsu Storylines, Day 5

Whose portrait is going up next?

The first third of the Hatsu basho is in the books, and while little has been decided, it’s worth taking a look at what’s at stake during the rest of the tournament.

The yusho race

With both Yokozuna out, are we going to see the first Ozeki yusho since Kisenosato last pulled off the feat exactly 3 years ago, or will we see another champion from the lower ranks? There have been 371 prior tournaments in the era of six basho per year (1958-2019). In 254 of these, the ultimate winner had a 5-0 record at this point in the basho; in 106, the record was 4-1. Only 9 champions overcame a 3-2 start, and only 2 claimed the yusho after starting 2-3. So 97 times out of 100, the winner starts 4-1 or better. The rate is lower for tournaments won by a non-Yokozuna, but it’s still 94% (119 out of 127 basho).

So the smart money is on someone who is currently 5-0 or 4-1 to win the tournament. This group includes Ozeki Takakeisho (4-1), M1 Endo (4-1), M2 Hokutofuji (4-1), M4 Shodai (5-0), M9 Yutakayama (4-1), M11 Kagayaki (5-0), M14 Terutsuyoshi (5-0), and M17 Tokushoryu (4-1). I would look for the winner to come from the first four rikishi on this list, which will either present Takakeisho with his first opportunity to earn promotion to Yokozuna in March, or give us yet another first-time champion.

The Ozeki ranks

No matter what happens, Takakeisho will be ranked Ozeki on the Haru banzuke. He may well be alone, though. Today’s loss dropped kadoban Goeido to 1-4, and he needs to go 7-3 or better the rest of the way to save his rank. Of the 41 Ozeki to start a basho 1-4 since 1958, only 8 managed to turn things around and finish kachi-koshi. Of course, the last one to pull this off was none other than Goeido himself, when he dropped the first four bouts last January but went 9-2 the rest of the way to finish 9-6. We’ll see if history can repeat itself.

Takayasu, 2-3, has one more win, but as a probationary Sekiwake, he needs 10 wins to be Ozeki in March, not 8, so he has an even steeper climb ahead of him, requiring an 8-2 finish. This looks like a very heavy lift (pun intended) given his form so far, as well as the fact that his arm is still clearly injured.

The prospect of only one Ozeki may lower the bar for Asanoyama’s promotion, as has happened in the past. Before the tournament, the NSK deemed the shin-Sekiwake not to be on an official Ozeki run, but it seemed likely that a sufficiently impressive victory total (13+ ?) would do the trick anyway. With the Ozeki ranks crumbling, that total probably doesn’t need to be as impressive—12 wins should be sufficient, and even 11 might do. But after starting 3-0, Asanoyama dropped consecutive bouts to Abi and Endo, and needs a very strong finish to not render this discussion moot.

That’s it for now; I’ll pick up these storylines and start tracking what the lower san’yaku ranks could look like in March and who is in danger of dropping out of the top division (looking at you, Ikioi) and who might replace them as we get deeper into the tournament.

12 thoughts on “Hatsu Storylines, Day 5

  1. For Takayasu’s sake, I hope he hasn’t re-injured his arm badly.

    If he pulls out, and then misses the next basho to recuperate, the next time we see him might be in juryo.

      • Happy to see Terunofuji winning, though. He might be back fast. however, is worrying seeing him reverting at times to the knee wrecking techniques.

        • I see Terunofuji on a similar career trajectory to Tochinoshin: does really well after recovering from injury, gets back into top division, hangs around for a bit, and then completely falls apart. I also don’t know how he’ll do against the top of the banzuke at this point either. It’s a total wrecking crew right now.

          • He’s a fair bit younger than Tochi was during his comeback…and “hangs around for a bit” downplays the fact that he made Ozeki, however briefly.

            • While he’s younger, his knees also blew out earlier and he’s dealing with diabetes on top of it. I’m not surprised he’s rolling through Juryo right now, but the demands on his body are going to increase the higher up the banzuke he goes. Also, he has to not “go back to the well” and use his previous sumo because that relies on healthy knees. It’s entirely possible that he’ll get back to Ozeki, but that is a long, hard road and I am incredibly doubtful his body is going to be up to the task.

  2. Considering the recent fragility of the ozeki division, I can’t see any urgent need to lower the bar to promotion, even if there is precedent. If ozeki is going to mean anything, it’d be better to wait and make sure before promoting new ones. As, I think, they did with Takakeisho, and that seems to be turning out alright.

    • I’m recalling a comment on Tachiai that one Ozeki (Yokozuna count) is required to hold a basho.

      So even if Goeido drops down, we have still have two “surplus” right now (looking at it positively).

      Back in January 1993, there were two Ozeki and No Yokozuna. Three Ozeki in March with Takanohana’s promotion.

      Takanohana had 35 wins, three Jun Yusho, and a 14-1 championship from Sanyaku slots immediately prior to his promotion. No evidence of a “rush to fill” there.

      Would be interesting to find the last time there was only one Ozeki in the banzuke.

      • Actually, you need two for it to be an official honbasho, though I’m sure they’d still hold one. The last time there were zero Ozeki (and the only time in the modern era) was Aki 1981, but there were 3 Yokozuna and Kotokaze was promoted to Ozeki afterwards. There was only one Ozeki for a couple of basho before and after, and this ended with January 1982, when Takanosato earned promotion. We’ve had at least two ever since.

        The only time we’ve been down to 2 Ozeki/Yokozuna is Hatsu 1993, when Akebono and Konishiki were the two (American!) Ozeki. Akebono was promoted to Yokozuna afterwards, and Takanohana (then Takahanada) to Ozeki.

    • ozeki is just the top regular rank
      it is not at all a special category of its own; only yokozuna stands apart and above regular ranks

      we’d all like to see ozekis actually earn their rank
      likewise for all ranks

      last decade demonstrates that we should not hold our breaths for such quality in sumo
      as elsewhere, we’re consigned to make the most of whatever we’ve got

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