Ahead of the release of the official November rankings on October 31 (Halloween!), it’s time for the Crystal Ball to make its prediction. Keep reading to see how I arrived at my banzuke projection, or scroll down if you just want to see it.
Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Sekiwake
There should be no surprises in the top three ranks. Terunofuji, the sole Yokozuna, will continue to occupy Y1e. Takakeisho will be the top-ranked East Ozeki, and he will be joined on the West side by Shodai. Mitakeumi will fall to Sekiwake, and as is traditional for a demoted Ozeki, he will be in the lowest spot at that rank, which, to balance Terunofuji on the banzuke, will be S2w. The regular East and West Sekiwake slots will be occupied by the incumbents Wakatakakage and Hoshoryu, respectively, as they both finished Aki with winning records.
There are four rikishi who should be locks for Komusubi. One is incumbent Kiribayama, who finished Aki with 9 wins. Another is S2e Daieisho (7-8), as no Sekiwake with that record has been dropped to maegashira in 30 years. We also have the September champion, M3e Tamawashi (13-2), as well as the top-ranked maegashira M1e Tobizaru (10-5). So I expect to see 4 Komusubi in addition to 3 Sekiwake in November, with the order being K1e Kiribayama, K1w Tamawashi, K2e Tobizaru, and K2w Daieisho.
You might be wondering how rare such a san’yaku configuration would be. According to my research, the “Christmas tree” pattern (as Josh called it) of 1 Y, 2 O, 3 S and 4 K has never happened before. The last time lower san’yaku contained 7 rikishi was 1992, with 4 S and 3 K. You have to go back even further, to 1974, to find 3 S and 4 K, with only one other instance in 1960. In all, 7 S/K has happened only 7 times, and it has been exceeded on only one occasion, when a 4-basho stretch in 1962 featured 4 Sekiwake and 4 Komusubi.
I won’t go through all the ranks here, but the principle is to order the rikishi by their rank-record combination and then try to come up with a consistent banzuke that respects this order as much as possible. The top of the rankings is very crowded. I don’t see how runner-up M4w Takayasu (11-4) doesn’t get the M1e slot; he really should be in san’yaku if only there was room. M2e Kotonowaka (8-7) must be promoted, and the only available option is a half-rank rise to M1w. Similarly, the slot vacated by Kotonowaka is the only place to put M2w Meisei (8-7).
There are two real contenders for M2w: M1w Midorifuji (7-8) and M3w Ura (8-7). For either to be ranked M3e is rare, though not unprecedented. I don’t think Ura will leapfrog Mirdorifuji, and will instead have to settle for the same half-rank rise as Kotonowaka and Meisei, but this is a close call.
Similarly, either falling Komusubi Ichinojo (6-9) or M6e Wakamotoharu (10-5) should claim M3w, with the other taking M4e. Both would be ranked much higher on most banzuke. While it would be highly unusual to drop a Komusubi this far, it would be unprecedented not to promote Wakamotoharu to at least M3, so I’m going to go against “joi bias” for once, though my confidence in this guess is low.
M5w Sadanoumi (9-6), who deserves to be ranked M2, will only get a one-rank promotion to M4w; but I don’t see how this can be helped. M8w Hokutofuji (10-5) should be a lock for M5e, followed by the other double-digit performers, M10e Nishikifuji (10-5) and M12w Ryuden (11-4). After this, the banzuke switches from being a relatively unlucky one, with most rikishi being ranked lower than their rank-record combination would warrant, to a relatively lucky one. And the placements are fairly clear, barring a half-rank rearrangement here and there.
The one remaining wildcard is the placement of Abi, who missed the entire basho while ranked at Komusubi. The three most recent rikishi in this position were all placed at M10e, but looking further back, anything from M6 to M13 would be defensible. After looking at his competition for various ranks, I’ve slotted Abi in at M10w, just behind M14e Chiyoshoma (9-6) and ahead of M7w Onosho (5-10).
There are three cut-and-dried exchanges. M15w Tsurugisho (5-10), M14w Yutakayama (4-11) and M16e Mitoryu (5-10) all have irredeemable rank-record combinations. Their places in the top division will go to the top three promotion contenders in Juryo: Azumaryu, Kagayaki, and Atamifuji. We’ll see if Azumaryu can finally manage a winning record in his 9th basho in the top division. Atamifuji’s debut is one of the more eagerly awaited ones in recent memory.
Final-day losses left M15e Terutsuyoshi (6-9) and debutant M16w Hiradoumi (7-8) on the bubble. Hiradoumi has a slightly better numerical case to stay, but also went make-koshi at the lowest rung of the Makuuchi ladder. At least M16w should still be on the next banzuke. I don’t think both will go down, as there isn’t a good enough fifth promotion claim in Juryo. The question is whether either trades places with J3w Tohakuryu (8-7), and if so, which. My projection has the two incumbents just hanging on to M16e and M16w, respectively.