Haru Storylines, Nakabi

We’ve made it through nakabi, the middle Sunday and the midpoint of the basho. In these storylines posts, I’ve often used “if the tournament ended today” as a figure of speech, but we have to take that possibility more seriously this time. Every day of sumo we get is a gift that cannot be taken for granted.

What would NSK do if the basho were forced to end prematurely? Would the Emperor’s Cup be awarded to the leader? And how would abbreviated records factor into the rankings for the next tournament? Let’s hope we don’t find out!

The yusho race

Yokozuna Hakuho in the only undefeated rikishi in the top two divisions. He’s clinched a kachi-koshi (winning record) in the minimum possible time for a mind-boggling 49th time; the all-time great Chiyonofuji is second with 25 8-0 records on nakabi. On 33 of the 48 previous occasions, Hakuho ended up lifting the Emperor’s Cup.

While there are two 7-1 rikishi down the banzuke (M9 Takanosho and M13 Aoiyama), Hakuho has put two wins between himself and more credible contenders—fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu, Sekiwake Asanoyama, and M3 Mitakeumi. M11 Chiyotairyu, M12 Ishiura, and M18 Kotonowaka also hold 6-2 records.

The upper ranks

Our lone Ozeki, Takakeisho, hasn’t looked 100%. 5-3 is a decent first-week score, but with the meat of his fight card ahead of him, 3 losses to rank-and-filers is not great for an Ozeki. Still, Takakeisho should be able to pick up the 3 wins in 7 days he needs to avoid going kadoban. Any talk of a Yokozuna run is on hold.

Asanoyama’s Ozeki bid is looking shaky. Unless promotion criteria are relaxed, he needs to finish with a 12-3 record, which means going 6-1 or better the rest of the way, and he still has to face his four highest-ranked opponents. That starts tomorrow against fellow Sekiwake Shodai (4-4), who’s taken 3 of their prior 5 bouts, including the last two.

We can probably put to rest any talk of Ozeki runs by Shodai, Hokutofuji, and Endo, but at least Shodai and Endo hold even win-loss records and a decent chance of retaining san’yaku rank. At 2-6, Hokutofuji has left himself an awful lot of work to do to reach his eight, and while he’s been known to rally in the second week, he has not yet faced Shodai or Hakuho. At the moment, M1 Daieisho (5-3) and Mitakeumi are best-positioned to take over any san’yaku slots that open up.

Makuuchi/Juryo exchanges

It’s still early (we hope!) but injured Tsurugisho is almost certainly headed down. Nishikigi, Daiamami, and Meisei are currently in greatest demotion danger, with Tochiozan, the only winless sekitori among those still competing, not far behind. Terunofuji, Kotoeko, and Wakatakakage have stated the strongest early cases for a return to the top division.

14 thoughts on “Haru Storylines, Nakabi

  1. its the issue with the cup of water.
    is it half full, or half empty?

    prior to this basho most commenters were optimistic that a number of young-wild-ones will queue up during the next two bashos at the entrance to ozeki-reserved parking slots.

    at mid-term of osaka the picture is slightly (maybe even substantially) more depressing.
    with decreasing hopes for a change to the good during the remaining 8 days:

    the two yokozunas turn out (again) as the prime stablizing quality factors;
    the lone ozeki takakeisho hopefully will enter kachi-koshi without major problems, but hopes for 10+ are slim;
    the prime ozeki contender asanoyama presents a shaky status; 10+ wins won’t be easy, convincing wins of individual bouts are rare.
    the other ozeki contenders show substantial instability in their perfomance,
    be it shodai, endo or hokutofuji. they are out of the ozeki game for some time in fact.

    but there are enho and ishiura.
    they are skillful gems in this division.
    no matter if they win or lose.

    so the 2+1 situation at the top of the ranks is likely to become a mid term display.
    no whatsoever ozeki-rush hour is in sight …

    • Great points, but to me the defining criteria for Ozeki promotion is consistency of a strong winning record. Most rikishi fail their first attempt at Ozeki, but that first attempt is an indicator they have the skill needed to attain the rank. Mitakeumi is a great example, his sumo is very good, but he is not consistent – yet. If something terrible were to happen and we lose one or multiple of the 3 remaining Yokozeki, I am sure the NSK would find one shortly.

      • fully agreed, bruce. let me put it in a different way.
        we had just until recently a pretty stable team of 3 ozeki. that group literally „disintegrated“ within few months due to serious injuries. but not due to – lets call it „mental inconsistency“.
        the current list of ozeki candidates seem to have one thing in common – they lack the necessary mental strength and strategic consequence. to not only achieve individual outstanding results and then fall back again (like mitakeumi), but to maintain the 10+ level on the long run and withstand the pressure, associated with the ozeki status.
        a hasty promotion most likely will not solve this „problem“, but would contribute to the picture of less competitive ozekis.
        do we want that?

  2. From a “long game” perspective, I am wondering where Onosho, Yutakayama and Takanosho end up. I still expect at least one or both Yokozuna to take their final bow this year. The NSK must know that, and I am sure they are trying to figure out how to manage at least 1 more Ozeki before that happens. Takakeisho’s likely injury limited performance right now has to worry them.

    This would have been so much easier if they could have gotten Takayasu proper medical attention when that elbow got hurt.

    • The Yokozuna picture is so muddled now with this tournament close to being called off, Natsu may be right behind it…and no clear candidates ready to challenge Hakuho’s consistency.

    • Too early to tell with those three. Most rikishi who rise to the joi and even make san’yaku and hang around the upper ranks for years don’t reach Ozeki…see Tochiozan for a prime example.

  3. Tochiozan will, I think, need four wins from his last seven bouts to survive, and I can’t see where those wins are going to come from. I think it might be for him to cash in his kabu and get on with the next phase of his career. If there was such a thing as a dai-sekiwake he would have been one,

    Looking at the juryo promotion contenders, don’t overlook Kotoshoho. He will need a big second week but he is very good and has potential to burn.

    • Agree Kotoshoho has looked good; he’s just ranked a little too low to have stated a promotion case already, but something like a 5-2 finish could do it. It’s far too early to rule folks out in any case—Tobizaru is in decent shape, and both J1s could yet turn things around and get their eight…

  4. I think we’re past the point where a cancellation results in records being declared null and void. If they can work out the banzuke for lower divisions with just seven bouts, they can do the same with the sekitori. There would be questions about how far people should rise or fall without a complete schedule and I would expect leniency, but they can still configure a new banzuke with what they have. The biggest headache would be over Asanoyama’s Ozeki run and what his current 6-2 record contributes to his total. Would they exclude it and start him from 21 again in May, add it to the 21 and set him a lower target in May or extrapolate that as he’s 6-2 on Nakabi he is on a trajectory to win 12/13 and give him the nod anyway? I’m doubtful about #3 as it would seriously go against precedent and the way the Kyokai usually uses data. #2 seems the fairest option as his efforts so far shouldn’t be wasted, but knowing the Kyokai they will probably discount his record from the run and set him 11/12 again in May.

    • Agree they’d almost certainly start him at 21/30. He’s only faced those ranked below him. Now if he got to (say) 10-2 and then it was cancelled, maybe they’d just give him the nod.

      • I wonder what they’d do about, say, an 8-2 kachikoshi at the point of cancellation. It’s not enough for a promotion by itself but it’s also a hard one to write off completely. Perhaps in those circumstances they’d set him a kachikoshi target only for May. 10-11-8*-8 across four basho at Sekiwake is Ozeki level.

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