Having passed the mid-point of the September tournament, let’s take a look at the storylines we’ll be following the rest of the way, shall we?
The Yusho Race
Although races like this are common in Juryo, we’ve rarely witnessed one in the top division. Nine men, ranging in rank from Ozeki to maegashira 14, are tied for the lead with 6-2 records. Six additional wrestlers, including the pre-tournament favorite Asanoyama, are one off the lead at 5-3. This is only the 4th time in the six-basho era (since 1958) that no Makuuchi rikishi has posted 7 or more wins on nakabi (interestingly, two of the previous 3 such tournaments were won with a 13-2 record). With no clear favorite, the race should go down to the wire, and we could be in for an exciting final day and yet another surprise winner.
The Named Ranks
Ozeki Takakeisho is in the lead group, and a second career title would be the start of a Yokozuna challenge for him. His fellow Ozeki Asanoyama was the one widely expected to mount such a challenge, and has recovered from his disastrous 0-3 start to post 5 straight white stars, albeit with the last one coming by default. The yusho race could well come down to what is likely to be the final bout (musubi-no-ichiban) on the final day (senshuraku) between these two men atop the banzuke.
East Sekiwake Shodai (6-2) has looked dominant in some matches and vulnerable in others, but nevertheless finds himself tied for the lead on day 8. Although an Ozeki promotion for November looks extremely unlikely short of a 13-2 yusho, a strong second week would place him in a strong position to finish off the run next time out. West Sekiwake Mitakeumi didn’t wait until week 2 to start his customary fade, and is more likely to spend the next 7 days trying to save his rank than mounting a title challenge or maintaining Ozeki hopes.
Shin-Sekiwake Daieisho has predictably struggled at his career-high rank, but has fought well and is not in terrible shape at 3-5. Finally, both Komusubi, Okinoumi and Endo, are also 3-5, scoring some big wins but dropping bouts they shouldn’t. It remains to be seen who can pull off a 5-2 final week to hold rank, and how many san’yaku slots might be open for the rank-and-file to aspire to. The top maegashira, Terunofuji (6-2), isn’t waiting for slots to open, instead looking to crash through the door and reclaim his rightful spot in the named ranks.
We know Abi will be dropping down to Juryo as part of the punishment for his extracurricular activities. Hapless M15w Shohozan (0-8) probably needs to win out to avoid joining him. M16e Kyokutaisei (2-3-3) also looks headed down barring a miraculous reentry with 5 wins. Returning M13w Ishiura (1-0-7) somehow managed to beat Shimanoumi on one leg; he’ll need to repeat this feat 4-5 more times to survive in the top division. Others with a lot of work left to do during the final week to avoid demotion include Tokushoryu, Kaisei, Enho, Kotoshogiku, Shimanoumi, Ichinojo, and Hoshoryu.
Makuuchi men who might find themselves on the bubble will be heartened to know that there are only two Juryo rikishi who’ve staked a strong promotion claim during week 1: the J2 Sadagotake duo of Kotoyuki and Kotonowaka, both 6-2. A dark-horse candidate is the Juryo yusho leader and former Makuuchi mainstay Chiyonokuni, 7-1, who could make the leap from all the way down at J11w with a 14-1 or 13-2 championship.
I’ll take a look at the likely Makushita-Juryo exchanges, which are complicated by the mandated absences and uncertain banzuke fates of J7 Azumaryu and J14 Fujiazuma, a little later in the tournament, but fan favorite Ura (Ms5w) is very much in the hunt at 4-0.