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. In the second part, I took a look at the named ranks. Now it’s time for the maegashira. Buckle up, it’s going to be a rough ride!
Why is this banzuke so hard? Surprisingly, it’s actually not primarily due to the COVID withdrawals. Rather, it’s the strong performances by the upper ranks, matched by correspondingly dismal performances lower down. The 12 rikishi ranked between M2 and Yokozuna had a win-loss differential of 28 (36 if you leave out Mitakeumi and Takanosho). Those extra wins had to come from somewhere, and indeed, the ranks from M3 to M7 had a win-loss differential of -25, with only a single kachi-koshi. As a result, there is a giant hole in the upper half of the banzuke.
The term joi-jin informally refers to roughly the top 16 rikishi on the banzuke. Often, the named ranks are treated separately, and “the joi” means the top maegashira who face them. In Nagoya, for instance, M4e Wakamotoharu, the 15th man on the banzuke, faced a full san’yaku schedule. With #16 Takayasu absent, M5e Endo had 4 san’yaku opponents, and M5w Sadanoumi got two, including the Yokozuna. Who will be fighting it out with the upper rankers at Aki?
Our problems start right at M1e. With none of the lower san’yaku wrestlers dropping, and if I am correct that M1e Kiribayama and M2w Ichinojo will be promoted to Komusubi, the next available rikishi with a winning record is [checks notes] M6w Tobizaru, who withdrew with an 8-4 record on Day 13. If we ask for a winning record and tournament completion, we need to look all the way down to M10w Meisei! This is why I think that simply freezing the ranks of all rikishi who didn’t finish the tournament due to COVID is a complete nonstarter.
While large over-promotions and lenient under-demotions cannot be avoided, we do have a creative solution for M1e—promote M2e Kotonowaka, who left on day 11 when his record stood at 7-3. Sure, he could have lost his last 5, but this seems like an unfair assumption for someone who was in the thick of the yusho race at the time, had his hardest fights behind him, and already defeated two Ozeki, one Sekiwake, and the yusho winner Ichinojo. He could just as easily have gone 12-3 and been in the running for the title and a Komusubi slot. Let’s go with what actually happened on the dohyo and treat his win-loss differential of 4 as equivalent to somewhere between 9-6 and 10-5, more than enough for a one-rank promotion.
After that, I don’t think there’s really any alternative to slotting in the aforementioned Tobizaru at M1w, followed by M8w Nishikigi (8-4*) at M2e and [checks notes again, adjusts computer screen] M11w Midorifuji (10-5) at M2w. Yes, I’ve checked the database, and there’s precedent for boosting someone with his rank and record this high up, though under more normal circumstances he’d end up around M4.
We’re not out of the woods yet. M3w Ura (7-8) can do no better than hold his rank, so let’s slot him in there. You could make an argument for freezing M3e Tamawashi (5-7*), although it might be a bit odd to treat him equivalently to Ura. The other option is to pull up the aforementioned Meisei to M3e and have Tamawashi at M4e, although flip-flopping him with Ura isn’t out of the question either. Slot in completely absent Takayasu at his old rank of M4w and breathe a small sigh of relief. Are we done with the weirdness yet? Not by a long shot.
We’re only at M5e, and we’ve already placed all but 6 rikishi with winning records; the remaining one were all ranked M12 or lower. So in addition to over-promoting M12w Takarafuji (9-6), M15e Onosho (10-5), M14e Myogiryu (9-6), and M17e Nishikifuji (10-5), we have to place J1e Ryuden (12-3) higher than those moving up from Juryo usually go, plus treat rikishi with losing or incomplete records very leniently. This likely means rank freezes for anyone with a 7-8 make-koshi (M5w Sadanoumi, M8e Tochinoshin) as well as for those who did not hit more than 8 losses before withdrawing (Hokutofuji, Kotoeko, Kotoshoho), and only minimal demotions for those with a 6-9 record (M4e Wakamotoharu, M6e Aoiyama). Promote M13e Ichiyamamoto based on his 6-2 record on the dohyo, throw in a lenient demotion for M5e Endo (3-9*), and we’ve filled the ranks from M5 to M11, after which some sanity returns.
The Lower Maegashira, with Juryo Exchanges
With the M17 rank likely to disappear as noted in my previous post, we only need to find another 10 rikishi to fill the M12-M16 ranks, and we are done. Phew. Here we’ll find the rest of the make-koshi crew—M7e Okinoumi (4-10*), M10e Chiyotairyu (6-9), M1w Takanosho, who managed just one win and 5 losses before withdrawing due to injury, M13w Chiyoshoma (7-8), and M12e Terutsuyoshi (6-9). Add to them M14w Tsurugisho (5-7*), who may see a mild demotion, and the two marginal 8-7 kachi-koshi from low ranks—M15w Oho and M16e Yutakayama. That leaves the last two spots on the banzuke, and brings as to the question of division exchanges.
So far, we’ve brought up one rikishi with as strong a promotion claim as they get: Ryuden. In fact, he was the only man in the second division with a record that would normally warrant promotion. However, three top-division incumbents finished with rank-record combinations so abysmal that they simply can’t be kept in Makuuchi. This sorry trio is led by M16w Daiamami, who recorded two wins and 10 losses and absences the old-fashioned way, before missing the final 3 days due to COVID, and is unlikely to be shown any leniency. The hapless newlywed M9e Shimanoumi cannot stay after his 1-14 performance. Finally, the last man on the banzuke, M17w Chiyomaru, only managed a 6-9 record when anything less than 8 wins would normally send him down; if that wasn’t enough, the likely disappearance of his rank means that he can’t stay in the top division without getting a promotion, which isn’t going to happen.
This means that two other Juryo rikishi will be getting a very fortunate promotion. One is clear: J4w Mitoryu (9-6) will make his Makuuchi debut after a rather remarkable 27-basho run in the second division, which he reached less than a year after his Ms15TD start in 2017. His case isn’t all that strong, but it’s entirely unremarkable for a 9-win J4 to be promoted. It’s more of a reach to fill the last slot on the banzuke. With most of the upper ranks in Juryo going make-koshi, and those just below them managing no better than 8 wins, it comes down to the highest-ranked of those, J5e Chiyonokuni, vs. J8e Hiradoumi (10-5). The former has higher rank and previous top-division experience in his favor, while the latter has a better numerical promotion case and is supported by what limited precedents we have, so I am leaning toward the Sakaigawa man making his Makuuchi debut. Hiradoumi has had a slow start to his career, taking 3 years from his Mae-zumo basho to reach Makushita, and another two and a half to reach Juryo, but he seems to be coming into his own and is still only 22.
And with that, I think we are done. I will keep my eye on the news to see if the NSK says anything in the coming days about their approach to this rather unusual banzuke. If I learn anything, you’ll hear about it here. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.