In the first post in this series, I considered the question of what might be done with the 15 rikishi who missed at least one bout as a consequence of positive COVID tests in their heya. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the named ranks.
Yokozuna and Ozeki
The top rank is simple: Terunofuji (11-4) will continue to occupy his position as the East Yokozuna. At Ozeki, Takakeisho (11-4) put up the best performance and will remain at O1e. Shodai (10-5) will move up to O1w. As discussed in my previous post, I expect Mitakeumi (kadoban, 2-4 on the dohyo) to be ranked O2w and get a do-over at Aki.
S1e Wakatakakage (8-7) will be back at the same rank, though any Ozeki talk will have to wait. I expect that S1w Daieisho (6-6 on the dohyo) will have his rank preserved. Were he to get demoted, and assuming that Mitakeumi isn’t dropped to Sekiwake, his spot would presumably be taken over by Hoshoryu (see below); I doubt Ichinojo would leapfrog the Komusubi.
This is where it gets interesting. At least the situation with the incumbents is fairly clear. Assuming Sekiwake goes as above, K1e Hoshoryu (9-6) and K1w Abi (8-7) made it to the end of the tournament with kachi-koshi, ensuring a stay, but did not put up enough wins to force promotion to Sekiwake. There is also no case for switching them.
Now usually, I am the first one to argue that the NSK will not create extra Komusubi slots. However, this time there is not one but two compelling cases. The top maegashira, M1e Kiribayama, got his kachi-koshi with four straight victories after a 4-7 start. There is nowhere else to promote him to, and the last time an M1e with a winning record got stuck there was 1967. Since then, we’ve had 3 instances of an 8-7 M1e getting an extra Komusubi slot, though none are more recent than 1995. We also have our yusho winner, M2w Ichinojo (12-3). No M2 with 11 or more wins has ever been denied san’yaku promotion.
The situation seems most analogous to that after Aki 2019, when there were no open san’yaku slots, Hokutofuji went 9-6 at M1e, and Asanoyama went 10-5 at M2w. Hokutofuji needed to get promoted, and Asanoyama had a better rank-record combination, so extra Komusubi slots were created for both, with Hokutofuji taking K2e and Asanoyama K2w. I expect something similar to happen here, except with Ichinojo occupying K2e ahead of Kiribayama based on the former’s much stronger record.
I think that this is the most likely and the most fair san’yaku solution. It would give us 10 men in the named ranks, leaving 32 for the maegashira, which means that M17 would not appear on the banzuke for the first time since March 2021. Filling these ranks will be tricky, especially near the top, as we’ll see in Part 3.