Natsu Banzuke Video Podcast

The video edition of our discussion on the Natsu banzuke. Will we get to see sumo this May?

Segment 1 – Sumo news and the state of emergency in Japan surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. With rikishi from Takadagawa sick, and their oyakata in the hospital, we fear that the May 6th decision from the NSK will be to cancel the tournament. But even if they don’t, none of the rikishi are conducting practice matches. Would it be possible to even get the talent ready for a full on tournament just 3½ weeks from now?

Join us for 45 minutes of raging sumo fandom, and a whole swarm of mistakes (mostly by Bruce) in our discussion of a basho that may never happen.

24 thoughts on “Natsu Banzuke Video Podcast

  1. I dunno about Shodai turning any corner. I think it’s more that the joi is falling apart around him, which might be why Endo’s also been steady there recently. Yeah, he beat Hakuho last basho, but that’s how Shodai works. He plays spoiler when no one really expects him to.

  2. That little piece of information – that patient zero is also from Takadagawa beya – is significant.

    I think of each heya as a big family. I’m not alarmed by the fact that people in Naruto beya or Isegahama beya don’t practice social distancing. You don’t practice that within the same household. It’s pointless. You may try to do so once you have a confirmed case within the family to try to avoid any infection that didn’t happen by then, but none of us is keeping away from their children or elderly people who live within the house. We just wash our hands a lot and watch our outings.

    The big difference between now and Haru is that the NSK has put a stop to inter-heya interactions. No degeiko, no ichimon practices. Basically, it’s each family on its own, they have created some encapsulation. They don’t even have management meetings except remotely (which in their case, I suppose means landline phone and fax).

    Therefore, if the only cluster of infection in the sumo world is Takadagawa beya, then I can see a way to have Natsu basho. That is, if the state of emergency is not extended. If it’s extended, the decision is basically not in the NSK’s hands, but if it is, I can see it starting, sans Takadagawa beya.

    This is of course just my own idea, not something I’ve seen anybody bring up, but it could happen. They could give the Takadagawa rikishi some sort of rank protection for July, like ensuring nobody falls below the division they are in on the current Banzuke. Playing without Takadagawa beya would solve the problem that you raised, of “who wants to fight a Takadagawa rikishi?” – nobody will. Their yobidashi, gyoji etc. should also not be present.

    Another question which Takakeisho brought up is the shitaku-beya, which is a crowded, unventilated place where you have all the rikishi in one space. It’s a COVID-19 trap. Again, here is a possible solution: the venue is empty, no crowd, right? Assign a preparation space around the passages, separated by heya. All the rikishi from heya X know that they go directly to the assigned spot and stay there until it’s their turn to fight – then go back home to their heya. With good ventilation in the halls, it could be done.

    The thing is that the NSK is going to lose a lot of broadcast money if it doesn’t hold the tournament. And unlike other sports organizations, I can’t see them furloughing the rikishi to cover for the losses. How do you furlough someone who basically lives in the office? So, all expenses are still going on, but no income. They are going to be very motivated to find a working solution if at all possible.

    About the speculation about “resting and healing up” – I think the basic condition is to get the correct treatment first. If the recommended treatment is just rest and rehab, then fine, this period may give some rikishi the needed time. Not sure they will go out for rehab, though.

    But anybody who would have required surgery to begin with is not going to “heal naturally”. So if this happened in Kisenosato’s time, I don’t think it would have helped him one bit.

    About Ura, I also believe the proof will be in the Makushita joi. The fights there get very intense, and rikishi dive head first to save a fraction of a chance of winning. It’s the crazy place. And when he’s past that, he may be up to the part of Juryo where the intensity is the same to avoid demotion.

    The problem of most of the Ozeki in the “scrap heap” is that they are mixed with the heap of Kotos. So Kotoshogiku may be the lucky one in this case: he is not going to be facing Kotoshoho and Kotonowaka (or Kotoyuki in a good day or a tricky Kotoeko).

    Apropos that heap of Kotos, I think the same kind of arithmetic that applies to the joi applies here as well. Each will need to fight 15 non-Sadogatake opponents. Counting down from the bottom, this means they get to fight all the way up to M8 Ishiura. I don’t see them getting into the joi. Maybe they’ll go a bit up if there are injuries within their range – but then, there’s also a chance of visitors from Juryo, which I’ll bet will meet a Koto in every visit, except perhaps if there’s any Darwin involvement.

    • Excellent comments – I like the idea about having mini shitaku-beya around the Kokugikan. That could actually work.

    • I chortled at the idea of meeting by fax. I think you really laid out the only feasible roadmap to having Natsu. Making a whole heya go kyujo will be a challenge. I think they may even let some of Takadagawa beya participate. They have to figure out how to bring recovered wrestlers back into the fold at some point, right?

      Your point about finances is key. They need the income.

      You’re spot on that if they need external treatment/rehab, that’s likely out the window…but I wonder what they’re able to get from the Kokugikan clinic and if they’re all able to utilize that or other clinics for that matter.

    • I would hope that if Takadagawa beya is barred from the basho the healthy wrestlers would get full rank protection.

  3. Great show guys with some interesting talking points.

    On the ozeki scrap heap debate, I reckon Takayasu and Terunofuji may be able to hang around for a while longer assuming they don’t sustain any more catastrophic injuries, albeit at a mid to lower maegashira level.

    Sadly, Tochinoshin has looked like his race is run the last few basho, in fact the only solid performance I can remember from him in the last couple of years was the first of his two Ozekiwake basho.

    I think Kotoshogiku has kept it going as long as possible but fear he is now in a terminal decline that will take him to Juryo very soon. And whether he has the appetite to compete there must be questionable.

    Am I right in thinking that the general rule / principle was that a former Ozeki would go intai if they dropped to makushita, but an exception was made for Terunofuji due to his young age?

    • I think it’s kind of up to the Ozeki. Goeido chose immediate retirement over loss of rank, some draw the line at Juryo … what Terunofuji did is certainly unusual, but I don’t think it required any sort of NSK approval.

    • There is no such rule. In fact, Terunofuji said in an interview that he wanted to quit several times, but Isegahama oyakata refused to allow him to do that.

  4. Hugely entertaining and thought-provoking, as usual. Thanks, guys!
    I am always interested in Mitakeumi. Is it possible that he sees a career in which he is mostly at sekiwake with the occasional shot at a yusho as more appealing than one in which he bears down to achieve ozeki status? Someone with his talent is supposed to want to push on to the next level- perhaps he just doesn’t, and if he doesn’t, he shouldn’t.

    • I think once we sunset the Yokozuna, we are going to see another Mitakeumi push for rank. He has proven he can beat both current Ozeki.

    • Interesting what would be considered a more successful career, a high rank of Sekiwake with 2 yusho or Ozeki with no yusho (eg Takayasu).

      I listened to some really interesting Chris Gould YouTube broadcasts today in which he reads extracts from Harumafuji’s autobiography. Basically after a disappointing 8-7 at Ozeki he realised that by only having the ambition to succeed as an Ozeki he was struggling at that rank as he had peaked in his ambitions. He reset his goals and actively sought to become Yokozuna, we know the rest. I wonder if Mitakeumi needs to similarly make it his overriding goal to make Ozeki and work through the process and steps to make it happen. That’s really where he should be with his talent and (inconsistent) success

      • I would rather be a Sanyaku wrestler with a few yusho than an Ozeki with a sole yusho or none at all, and in equal measure, an Ozeki with a few yusho rather a Yokozuna with 2 or less. It’s interesting to note that from the last 10 Ozeki, 9 have only 1 yusho with Takayasu having none. Just shows how volatile the rank is without match fixing.

        • That also depends on what his post-active career plans are. It’s quite a bit easier to rise in the Kyokai’s executive hierarchy as a former ozeki than as a former sekiwake. Ditto for yokozuna vs. ozeki.

      • I’d rather be ozeki with no yusho, than a 1-2 yusho career high sekiwake. My reasoning is that one can win the yusho from any rank in the division, whereas one can attain ozeki only by consistently performing well from sanyaku. So while anyone can win the yusho with luck and a freak performance, a promotion to ozeki is closed to anyone with maegashira before their name.

    • I think anyone would want to be Ozeki. The perks of having been promoted would outweigh any negatives of a short career.

    • I once predicted that Mitakeumi would make yokozuna on the basis that everyone better than him was older than him, and he would be sucked to the top by the vacuum created as the dominant guys of the last decade retired or faded. Well we’ve seen the end of Harumafuji, Kisenosato and Goeido while the woes of the fading ex-ozeki have been well documented, and guess what, our boy is still stuck at sekiwake. I still don’t think it’s a completely barmy idea though: he’s only two months older than Asanoyama, and the 23-year-old Takakeisho has probably gone has far as he’s likely to.

    • Everything I’ve ever seen from Mitakeumi in terms of media comments would seem to indicate that he’s very motivated to make the Ozeki rank.

      But you do raise an interesting question as to what would be the better career

      I think if you’re targeting a life in sumo (including oyakata status), becoming an Ozeki – yusho or otherwise – certainly confers certain privileges to make that life a lot better lived

      That being said, I also subscribe to the “flags fly forever” philosophy, and not reaching Ozeki of course doesn’t mean he can’t later become an elder.

      I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer.

  5. Thanks for another excellent video for us sumo-starved masses! I was also somewhat gratified, although saddened, that my take on Terunofuji was in line with the Tachiai Three Wise Men. Having time on our hands, my husband and I had a chance to watch the Juryo from Haru, and we just didn’t see a big comeback happening, Seems to me that you are only as good as your knees, and while skill can play a part, it can only go so far. The encouraging thing was the energy and talent in Juryo, and the spirited matches-we are really looking forward to following Juryo, when, whenever that may be.

    Stay well everybody.


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