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.