The Crystal Ball may be clouded by the fog of all the COVID-related withdrawals, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try. Traditionally, the main purpose of holding a honbasho is to reshuffle the rankings, and as long as the tournament wasn’t cancelled, the banzuke show must go on.
What will they do with the COVID-kyujo?
Let’s begin straight away by addressing the elephant in the room. A whopping 15 rikishi, more than a third of the top division’s 42, missed at least one bout as a consequence of positive COVID tests in their heya. The previous precedent of freezing (or nearly freezing) ranks has been applied only to wrestlers who were absent from the start of the tournament, like Takayasu; perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time we’ve had mid-tournament withdrawals, starting with Mitakeumi on Day 7 and escalating from there. As a consequence, some rikishi already had 8 wins or 8 losses when they went kyujo, while others had records that could still go either way. Pretending that none of these bouts happened doesn’t seem either practical or fair, and would also be inconsistent with how previous unusual banzuke situations were dealt with. Let’s go through the 15 cases and consider how they could/should be handled.
M4w Takayasu (0-0-15). Absent from the start; should have his rank frozen.
The named rank “incompletes”
O1w Mitakeumi (kadoban, 2-4 on the dohyo). It would be unfair to strip the new Ozeki of his rank when he didn’t have a chance to fight for it. After all, his record when he was pulled was identical to Shodai’s. I expect him to get a mulligan, be ranked O2w and be kadoban again at Aki, and need 8 wins in September to save rank.
S1w Daieisho (6-6 on the dohyo). Again, I don’t think it would be fair to drop Daieisho, and I expect him to stay where he was. A drop to Komusubi is not out of the question, but there is no compelling banzuke reason to do so, and a drop to maegashira would implicitly assume that he would have lost his final three bouts.
The kachi-koshi couple
M6w Tobizaru and M8w Nishikigi both pulled out on Day 13 with their records standing at 8-4 at the time. I expect both to get healthy promotions, roughly equivalent to 9-6 records. Without this, filling out the upper maegashira ranks becomes even more of a nightmare than it already is.
Four rikishi cemented losing records before they withdrew: M16w Daiamami (2-10*), M5e Endo (3-9*), M7e Okinoumi (4-10*), and M7w Hokutofuji (6-8*). I expect these records to count, with Daiamami falling to Juryo, Endo and Okinoumi getting healthy demotions, and Hokutofuji getting either a nominal demotion or a rank freeze.
M3e Tamawashi and M14w Tsurugisho both left with their records standing at 5-7; either a mild demotion or a rank freeze seems appropriate.
M9w Kotoeko and M11e Kotoshoho both pulled out with 5-5 records; leaving them where they are seems the most straightforward solution.
The hard cases
We have two rikishi who pulled out early with positive but incomplete records. M2e Kotonowaka (7-3) was having a great tournament and gunning for the named ranks, while M13e Ichiyamamoto (6-2) was tied for the lead in the yusho race. At a minimum, they should have their ranks frozen, but promotions that would treat their records as roughly 9-6 would seem more fair, and would make banzuke construction easier.
This post is already getting long, so having gotten this issue out of the way (or at least discussed), let’s move on to the actual banzuke in Part 2.