With nakabi (the middle Sunday of the tournament) in the books, let’s take a look at the storylines we’ll be following until the July basho concludes a week from now.
The yusho race is promising to be an exciting one, with the greatest Yokozuna of all time sharing the 8-0 lead with the rikishi most likely to be his successor at the rank, shin-Ozeki Asanoyama. Should he and Hakuho stumble on their way to what is increasingly looking like a senshuraku showdown for all the marbles, the Sekiwake duo, Shodai and Mitakeumi, are waiting in the wings at 7-1, and lurking at the bottom of the banzuke with the same record in ex-Ozeki Terunofuji.
The future of the Ozeki corps is very much at stake in this tournament. East Ozeki Takakeisho (5-3) is kadoban, and needs 3 more victories to avoid losing his rank for the second time in his brief Ozeki career. His quest to clear kadoban is likely to go down to the wire, as he has yet to face his five highest-rank opponents, who have a combined 35-5 record. Should Asanoyama secure the Emperor’s Cup, or register an equivalent result such as a playoff loss, he could make his stay at Ozeki a brief stepping-stone to higher rank. And both Sekiwake would bolster their ambitions to rise in the rankings with strong double-digit winning records.
The Komusubi rank is subject to frequent turnover, but with Daieisho (5-3) and Okinoumi (4-4) surviving the typically tough first-week fight cards (in Daieisho’s case, greatly aided by his default win against Kakuryu), both are in solid position to hold serve. Should one or both fade and fail to record 8 wins, the best replacement candidate at the moment is M2 Takanosho, 5-3. Aside from M3 Kiribayama (4-4) and M5 Hokutofuji (5-3), the rest of the M1-M5 rank-and-filers sport a combined 14-42 record. “The meat grinder,” indeed.
The ex-Ozeki quartet down the banzuke is faring better than many expected. M11 Tochinoshin is 5-3, M13 Takayasu is 4-4, M14 Kotoshogiku is 6-2, and the aforementioned M17 Terunofuji is 7-1, for a combined 22-10 record. Of the six possible bouts among them, three have taken place, with Takayasu going 2-0, Tochinoshin 1-0, Terunofuji 0-1, and Kotoshogiku 0-2. It’ll be interesting to see if the schedulers complete the round-robin.
The demotion picture is still hazy after only 8 days, but some things are becoming clearer. Everyone from M1e to M9e should already be guaranteed a stay in the top division. Yes, even 0-8 M1 Yutakayama (no M1 has ever been demoted to Juryo since 1798) and 0-8 M2 Onosho (there was one demotion of an M2 in 1990, but that was when the banzuke only went down to M14). Also safe are M10 Myogiryu (6-2), as well as Tochinoshin and Kotoshogiku. Of the remaining rikishi, Kotoyuki has dug himself the deepest hole, needing 6 wins in 5 days to avoid a quick return to the second division. Nishikigi and Chiyomaru need 5 wins apiece, while Shimanoumi and Shohozan will be looking for 3. It’s worth mentioning the injured M13 Kotonowaka (4-4), who needs two wins for safety and would thus be demoted if he is unable to return.
Promotions from Juryo are clear as mud. Wakamotoharu leads the division at 7-1, but he is ranked all the way down at J8, and would probably need to finish 12-3 to have a strong promotion claim. The top man, J1e Meisei, is still the leading candidate at 5-3, but he’s dropped 3 of his last 4 bouts. No one else ranked J1-J4 has a winning record, and 22 rikishi in the 28-man division have between 3 and 5 wins. Personally, I’m hoping for strong finishes from J5 Ichinojo and J6 Hoshoryu, both 5-3, as they’re the two Juryo men I’d be most excited to see in the top division in September.