With three rounds of third-division bouts complete, we can start looking at the yusho and promotion races. For fans of American college basketball, the lower division championship races look much like the March Madness single-elimination tournaments, which coincidentally have just kicked off. There’s a series of bouts between undefeated rikishi, with half of the contenders eliminated after each round until only one man is left standing.
In Makushita, we start with 120 rikishi on the banzuke. Note that this is not a power of 2, although it’s close to 128, which would be the perfect number for a seven-round single-elimination tournament. With withdrawals, we start with even fewer, and as a result, the current “sweet 16” is actually a “sweet 14.” I won’t go through all of them, but some key names are Ms1w Tochimaru (4-0 after today’s visit to Juryo), Juryo regular Ms6e Chiyonoumi, Ms14e Shonannoumi, Ukranian Ms17w Shishi, and the highly touted newcomer Ms34w Kinbozan, who debuted at Sd100 in November, won the 4th division yusho with a 7-0 record, and went 5-2 in his Makushita debut in January. Unlike recent tournaments, there is no heavy favorite like Abi or Ryuden.
To be considered for promotion to Juryo, a rikishi needs either a winning record at Ms1-Ms5 or an undefeated record at Ms15 or higher. Chiyonoumi and Shonannoumi are still in a position to take that harder path. Tochimaru has done enough for a promotable record, and hopefully it will finally allow him to make his sekitori debut after 11 years of toiling in the lower divisions. He has been passed over for promotion after a kachi-koshi in the Makushita top 10 a whopping 5 times, including what I thought was a harsh non-promotion in January in favor of keeping J13 Kotoyusho after a 6-9 demotable record. I’ll take a look at the rest of the promotion picture in the top 10 after a few more bouts have started to clear it up; currently, only the absent Asanoyama and Dewanoryu are out of it, although some of the rest are in much better position than others.