Who will lift the Emperor’s Cup?
I tend to take seriously only contenders from the upper half of the banzuke. By that measure, there are only two contenders with at most two losses: M4 Shodai (8-1) and Ozeki Takakeisho (7-2), who trails by a win as a result of their head-to-head bout today. As Bruce noted in the Day 10 preview, this completed Shodai’s fight card against the four highest-rankers left in the tournament. In the six-basho era, there have been 127 tournaments won by a rikishi ranked below Yokozuna; in only 3 of those did the winner have a 6-3 record after 9 days, and on only one of those occasions did the winner trail by as much as two wins. Only 6 champions were ranked M9 or lower. So either we’ll see something highly unusual, or it’s a race between Shodai and Takakeisho.
How many Ozeki will we have in Osaka?
One storyline ended today when probation Sekiwake Takayasu recorded his 6th loss and missed his one-time opportunity to immediately reascend to sumo’s second-highest rank. He now needs 5 wins in the remaining 6 days to remain Sekiwake, or 4 to limit his demotion to Komusubi; neither will be easy in his current state.
Kadoban Ozeki Goeido (3-6) has his back to the wall after today’s loss to Enho (how odd would this sentence have sounded very recently?). He needs to finish 5-1 or better to maintain his rank and not give us the unprecedented scenario of four straight tournaments with a demoted Ozeki. If Goeido can rally, could his fate come down to the final bout on the final day against a yusho-chasing Takakeisho?
This leaves us with one solid Ozeki, Takakeisho, who can secure the rank for the next two tournaments with his next win. Are reinforcements on the way? Sekiwake Asanoyama (6-3) kept his March promotion hopes on life support by defeating Daieisho today. A 6-0 finish could well see him move up, and 5-1 might just do if Goeido doesn’t pull a miraculous escape and the NSK decides that one Ozeki is too few, especially when combined with two frequently absent Yokozuna. Finish 4-2 and he can try again at Haru.
Who will fill the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks at Haru?
These ranks are known as lower or junior san’yaku. Asanoyama seems likely to remain the East Sekiwake. Takayasu will probably vacate the West Sekiwake slot, but it may well be filled by Goeido. Abi (5-4) needs to go 3-3 or better the rest of the way to hold down the East Komusubi slot for the 5th straight tournament after his crucial victory today against M1 Endo (6-3), who remains the leading san’yaku promotion candidate. A slot for him could be opened up by West Komusubi Daieisho, whose record stands at 3-6 in his san’yaku debut, and who needs to finish 5-1 or better to extend his stay in the named ranks. M2 Hokutofuji (6-3), M2 Mitakeumi (5-4), and Shodai fill out the rest of the promotion picture. It’ll take at least a couple more days before I can make confident predictions about how this is likely to shake out.
Who could be fighting in Juryo in March?
Two absent rikishi will be on the demotion bubble if they fail to re-enter and record another win: M3 Kotoyuki, who would finish with zero wins (which sent Tomokaze down from the same rank), and M5 Meisei, who would finish with one. Everyone else ranked M9e or higher has done enough to ensure another basho in Makuuchi.
Among the lower maegashira, the most endangered rikishi at the moment are M13 Kotoeko (2-7) and M15 Ikioi (3-6), who need 4 wins apiece to reach safety. M14 Shimanoumi (3-6) and M17 Kiribayama (5-4) need to go 50-50 or better in the remaining six bouts. Looking for two more wins are M11 Chiyotairyu, M12 Tsurugisho, M13 Kotoshogiku, and M15 Azumaryu. Injuries could make even that target hard to reach for the first two on this list. Finally, one more win will do it for M10 Ishiura, M12 Chiyomaru, and the M16 duo of Tochiozan and Kaisei.
Many rikishi on the danger list could be safe even if they miss the targets noted above, as the Juryo rikishi are not exactly forcing the issue. Pending how high J13 Terunofuji (9-0) can run up the score, the promotion queue currently looks like J2 Kotonowaka (5-4), J5 Daishoho (7-2), and that’s about it. Of course, 6 days is long enough for other second-division men to elevate themselves into the promotion picture with strong finishes, but we might not see a lot of divisional turnover come March.