With a week to go before the March banzuke drops on February 28, it’s time for me to stick my neck out and predict what it will look like. Here’s a brief reminder of my process for those who haven’t read these posts before. First, I assign each rikishi a computed rank based on their rank and performance in the previous tournament. Then, I deal with all the cases that this algorithm doesn’t handle well. This includes ensuring that a rikishi with a losing record isn’t promoted, breaking ties when multiple wrestlers end up with the same computed rank, making adjustments for rikishi with especially large predicted moves, and deciding on the division exchanges and where to rank the predicted promotions from Juryo.
The top two ranks are easy: Terunofuji will remain the lone East Yokozuna. Shodai (6-9) will take over the more prestigious East Ozeki rank from Takakeisho (1-3-11) by virtue of his less disastrous performace. Both incumbents will be kadoban in Osaka and need winning records to avoid demotion. And, for the first time since July, we’ll have a third Ozeki on the banzuke: newly promoted Mitakeumi (13-2), who’ll occupy the lowest spot of the trio (O2w) as a newcomer to the rank.
Both Sekiwake slots are open. I predict that they will go to M1e Wakatakakage (9-6) and M6w Abi (12-3), in that order. This would be a career-high rank for both, and the first time we’d have two brand-new Sekiwake since Hatsu 2017, when the rank was shared by Tamawashi and Shodai. I’d say that Wakatakakage at Sekiwake is a certainty, but one could make a case for M2e Ura (8-7), M5e Onosho (10-5), or M6e Hoshoryu (11-4) over Abi, though I don’t find these cases compelling.
Both Komusubi slots also came open; one will be occupied by the dropping S1w Takanosho (7-8), and I think that he’ll only drop half a rank to K1e. The contenders for the other spot are the same ones as for Sekiwake above. I predict that Hoshoryu will make his eagerly-awaited san’yaku debut at K1w, though I would not be surprised if Onosho got the nod here. Ura would be more of a surprise but not a complete shock.
The Maegashira Ranks
Here’s the prediction. Scroll down to read what I see as the biggest areas of uncertainty (where to even start?).
- How will they solve the M1e-M3e puzzle? Whichever two rikishi don’t get the second Komusubi slot deserve to be ranked M1, Ichinojo and Tamawashi need to get promoted, and no 7-8 Komusubi has ever been demoted below M2, leaving us with 5 wrestlers vying for 4 slots. I’ve gone with a very unlucky under-promotion for Onosho, but nothing here would surprise me.
- In contrast to the logjam at the top of the rank-and-file, we have a giant hole in the middle (starting at M7w), which can only be solved by a slew of under-demotions and over-promotions, but how exactly will the banzuke committee accomplish this? I have rikishi with 8-7 records moving up 3.5 ranks (Sadanoumi), 6 ranks (Aoiyama), and even 6.5 ranks (Kotoeko), but I don’t see how to avoid this. Similarly, everyone with a 7-8 record gets to keep rank, while 6-9 records drop Tobizaru and Yutakayama only one rank, 5-win Shimanoumi falls only 2.5 ranks, and 4-11 Okinoumi only 4.
- How high will J2w Kotoshoho (11-4) go? He is desperately needed to help plug the above-mentioned hole. I’ve stuck with the rule-of-thumb that places the highest promotion from Juryo below Makuuchi incumbents with winning records, landing the second-division yusho winner at M11e, which would be the highest promotion since Takagenji’s M10w in July of 2019.
- How will the other divisional exchanges play out? Two rikishi who will obviously be demoted are the absent M9w Hidenoumi and M17w Kaisei (5-7-3). In addition to Kotoshoho (11-4), former top-division regulars J2e Nishikigi (9-6) and J1 Kagayaki (8-7), as well as newcomer J4w Kotokuzan (10-5), did enough to earn promotion. But whose places will they take? Three other Makuuchi incumbents finished with demotable records: M14w Ichiyamamoto (5-10), M16w Tsurugisho (6-9), and M18e Oho (7-8). It seems like there is no way to keep Oho, as with the M18e rank disappearing after Mitakeumi’s promotion, that would mean moving him to a higher rank despite a losing record. Tsurugisho and Ichiyamamoto have equivalent rank-record combinations that nearly always mean demotion. Each lost to Juryo promotion contenders, one on Day 14 and the other on Day 15. I’m predicting that both will drop, and that J5w Azumaryu (9-6) will get a very lucky promotion, but the banzuke committee could keep one, or even keep both and snub Kotokuzan (who a year ago was overlooked for what seemed like a sure promotion to Juryo).
We’ll find out how these decisions played out, and what unexpected surprises the banzuke committee might have up its sleeve, on the 28th. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments. If my predictions are right, Onosho would have by far the worst luck on what is otherwise a very lucky banzuke, with Kotoeko nosing out Aoiyama for the biggest positive disparity between his computed rank and where I predict he’ll end up.