The yusho race
After all the turbulence, it comes down to a simple winner-take-all final bout between the two men atop the banzuke: East Yokozuna Hakuho vs. West Yokozuna Kakuryu. The last such showdown took place at Kyushu 2013, when Hakuho met Harumafuji with both men holding 13-1 records (Harumafuji prevailed in that one). The two have met 51 times in regulation (head-to-head: 43-8), 15 of them as Yokozuna (head-to-head: 11-4).
The Ozeki picture
The schedulers have pitted the one reigning Ozeki against an aspiring one. Takakeisho (7-7) takes on Asanoyama (10-4) with a lot at stake. A Takakeisho win would mean he doesn’t have to secure 8 wins in the next basho with his rank on the line, and almost certainly means Asanoyama would have to wait for his promotion. Based on the talk coming from the shimpan department, a win by the Sekiwake could well get him the nod, even if he’d have “only” 32 wins over 3 basho rather than the oft-mentioned guideline of 33. The head-to-head record is even at 3-3.
The san’yaku ranks
Asanoyama (10-4) will either be Ozeki or East Sekiwake. Should he be promoted, Shodai (8-6) will slide over to the East side; otherwise, he’ll stay West Sekiwake. Endo (7-7) needs to win on the final day against Takarafuji (head-to-head: 7-8) to retain his Komusubi rank and possibly move over to the East side or even up to West Sekiwake. Hokutofuji (4-10) will, of course, be demoted into the rank-and-file (though likely stay in the joi). So, going into the final day, we could still have as many as three open slots and as few as one.
There are two clear favorites for the open slots: M1e Daieisho (8-6) and M3w Mitakeumi (10-4). Unless Daieisho wins and Mitakeumi loses on the final day, Mitakeumi will have the stronger numerical case, but Daieisho should have first dibs but virtue of his position at the head of the maegashira ranks. Should only one regular slot be open, the banzuke committee will have a dilemma, especially if the choice is between an 8-7 Daieisho and an 11-4 Mitakeumi. Could we see an extra Komusubi slot created for the second time in six months, after it hadn’t happened in 13 years?
Should the maximum three slots open up, the four contenders are Takanosho, Okinoumi, Yutakayama, and Onosho, and it’ll come down to how they fare on the final day. And while Takanosho faces Shodai, whom he’s yet to defeat in 2 tries, and Onosho battles Mitakeumi, the other two are involved in…
Bruce’s favorite! Eight rikishi have left their fate until the final day as far a finishing with winning vs. losing records is concerned. And of course, aside from the aforementioned Takakeisho and Endo, they’ve been paired up. We have Meisei vs. Kagayaki, Yutakayama vs. Chiyomaru, and Okinoumi vs. Kotoshogiku.
We could have a bit of a logjam here. On the Makuuchi side, we have:
- Guaranteed or all-but guaranteed demotion: Tsurugisho, Daiamami, Azumaryu, Tochiozan.
- Needs a win for safety: Nishikigi.
- Probably safe but a win wouldn’t hurt: Meisei.
While on the Juryo side, the picture is as follows: Terunofuji has clinched one of the top 4 promotion records and will be back in the top division. Kotoyuki (7-7), should receive high promotion priority with a win by virtue of his J1e record, but is out with a loss. And then, there are four more rikishi in contention: Wakatakakage, Kotoshoho, Kotoeko, and Tobizaru. I’ve listed them by their current order of priority in the promotion queue, but this could be scrambled by losses among them, though Tobizaru is almost certainly out with a loss. So, victories by this quartet, Kotoyuki, Meisei, and Nishikigi would mean someone has to be on the receiving end of bad banzuke luck.
There’s also an imbalance in the numbers here. The Juryo demotions seem to be set at 3, with Yago joining Asagyokusei and Tomokaze in falling out of the salaried ranks. But there are 4 promotable rikishi at the top of Makushita: Ms2w Kotodaigo (4-3), Ms3e Asabenkei (6-1), Ms3w Fujiazuma (5-2), and Ms4e Chiyonoo (4-2). Asabenkei and Fujiazuma should join the sekitori ranks for sure. Chiyonoo fights Takagenji up in Juryo tomorrow; lose, and he misses out on promotion, but it’s not clear to me whether he jumps over Kotodaigo with a win (I don’t think this can be considered an “exchange bout” as I don’t think they’d force down J10 Takagenji even if he dropped to 6-9). Were they to decide to over-demote someone from Juryo instead, the men at some risk with a final-day loss are Mitoryu, Kizakiumi, Midorifuji, and Chiyonoumi.