Looking Ahead to the Hatsu Banzuke

With the Kyushu results in the books, we can take our customary look at how they will reshuffle the rankings chart for the Hatsu basho. Strap in, folks, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Yokozuna and Ozeki

This is easy. Whether or not he fights, Terunofuji will be the sole Yokozuna, and Takakeisho will be the sole Ozeki. As has been repeatedly mentioned, this is the first time in over a century that this precise scenario has taken place. It is also only the second time in modern sumo history that the two upper ranks combined had only two occupants, the first time coming exactly 30 years ago, at Hatsu 1993, when we had two Ozeki: Akebono and Konishiki. In that instance, the ranks were bolstered by future Takanohana’s promotion to Ozeki, with Akebono simultaneously becoming the first foreign-born Yokozuna.

It’s hard to see where such reinforcements would come from this time. After his 12-3 with a playoff loss, Takakeisho could potentially see a promotion with a strong yusho in January. As for anything resembling Ozeki runs, the best we have are Wakatakakage’s 11 and 8 wins at Sekiwake, Hoshoryu’s mirror 8 and 11, and Takayasu’s 11 and 12 at M4 and M1. The former two would need a yusho with no fewer than 13 wins to start the conversation, while the latter would need two maegashira basho to be included in the run, something that has never happened under modern promotion criteria. In all likelihood, the uppermost ranks won’t get bolstered until May at the earliest.

Sekiwake

Three Sekiwake are locked in: S1e Wakatakakage (8-7), S1w Hoshoryu (11-4) and O1w Shodai (6-9), who will have the customary one shot to regain his rank with 10 wins. There’s some question regarding whether they could be joined by M1e Takayasu (12-3); while recent precedents suggest that he’ll only be Komusubi, there’s a chance that he gets fast-tracked to Sekiwake in order to set him up for a potential early Ozeki promotion in January.

Komusubi

Of the four current Komusubi, only K1w Kiribayama (8-7) will get to stay. The second slot could be filled by the above-mentioned Takayasu if he isn’t bumped up to Sekiwake. Otherwise, it would go to M1w Kotonowaka (9-6), who could also be in line for an extra Komusubi slot if the regular ones are taken by Kiribayama and Takayasu. The last three maegashira to go 9-6 at M1w when no san’yaku slots were open got stuck at M1e, and this may yet be Kotonowaka’s fate, but it would make an already difficult puzzle of filling out the upper maegashira ranks all but impossible. It’s such a mess, in fact, that I could see M2e Meisei (9-6) and (less likely) M4e Wakamotoharu (10-5) or even champion M9w Abi (12-3) get bumped up to Komusubi, though the banzuke committee seems really disinclined to create extra slots that aren’t absolutely forced.

Upper Maegashira

We’ve seen some logjams in this part of the banzuke recently, but this one takes the cake. First, we have no fewer than four dropping san’yaku rikishi with mild make-koshi: S2w Mitakeumi (6-9), K2e Tobizaru (7-8), K2w Daieisho (7-8), and K1e Tamawashi (6-9). The first three would normally drop to M1, which obviously isn’t possible for all of them, while we have the very recent precedent of Ichinojo to suggest that Tamawashi should only drop to M2. That’s all four M1-M2 slots spoken for, but in addition to the above-mentioned Meisei, who must be ranked no lower than M2e unless they start demoting winning records, we also have Wakamotoharu, M3w Midorifuji (8-7), M4w Sadanoumi (8-7), and M5w Nishikifuji (9-6). It’s possible to fit everyone in, but it entails either historically harsh demotions for the falling san’yaku rikishi or no promotions for maegashira with 8-7 and even 9-6 records. I’ve made a few drafts, and they are all extremely unsatisfying, which is why I even raise the possibility of extra Komusubi.

Makuuchi to Juryo

Chiyotairyu’s retirement opens up one slot in the top division. M16e Terutsuyoshi (0-15) and M15w Atamifuji (4-11) will be vacating two more. M8e Takarafuji (3-12) is on the bubble. So we’ll have at least three promotions, and at most four, as all other incumbents are safe.

J3e Tsurugisho (10-5) is definitely coming back up. The other contenders, in a virtual tie, are J1w Chiyomaru (8-7), J3w Mitoryu (9-6), and J5e Akua (10-5). Losses by all three on the final day, coupled with a win by Takarafuji, left the door open for the possibility that one will miss out, in favor of keeping the incumbent, but I think it’s a close call as to whether that happens, and who would be the odd man out, though Mitoryu seems like the most likely possibility.

Makushita to Juryo

This, at least, was made straightforward by two exchange bouts on the final day. One slot in Juryo is open due to Chiyotairyu’s retirement. The least likely top-division champion in decades, and possibly ever, J12e Tokushoryu (4-11), will drop out of the salaried ranks for the first time in over 10 years. Will he fight it out in Makushita or retire?

The two open slots are accounted for by former Ozeki Asanoyama, who finished 6-1 at Ms4e, and Ms1w Shonannoumi, who will make his sekitori debut after posting a 5-2 record.

J14e Tsushimanada (7-8) should stay after besting Ms2w Fujiseiun (3-4), and the same goes for J10w Kaisho (5-10), who beat back the promotion challenge from Ms5w Hakuyozan (5-2). Hakuyozan is the owner of the only winning record in the promotion zone to miss out, so the former Juryo mainstay will get to try again from higher rank, and without Asanoyama in his way. Other notable names fighting it out for Juryo promotion in January should include Ms1 Shiden (3-4), third-tier champion Tamashoho, former maegashira Tomokaze and Chiyonoo, and exciting newcomer Ishizaki (and possibly Kawazoe).

I think that’s a wrap! I should have a more complete banzuke prediction post closer to January; in the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.

38 thoughts on “Looking Ahead to the Hatsu Banzuke

  1. I’ve done a few different banzuke mock drafts as well and the only way I see it working are with 4 sekiwake and 4 komusubi.12-3 at M1 definitely merits sekiwake for papa bear. How everyone else shuffles out is guess work…

  2. I also believe Takayasu will be Sekiwake (to try to fast-track an Ōzeki run), with Shōdai showing next to no indication of a 10-5 in his future, and both Hōshōryū and Wakatakakage not showing out consistently enough… of course, I’ll die laughing if all four of them end up being Ōzeki come March…

      • I know that’s an unlikely possibility, but I like the idea of the NSK hedging their bets that at least one of those four doing enough to cinch a promotion to Ōzeki…

  3. “Takakeisho could potentially see a promotion with a strong yusho in January.”

    Somehow I had never realized that was a possibility and it is absolutely terrifying. I cannot believe Takakeisho is effectively on a rope run but you’re right, he is.

    • If you really want to be terrified realize this will be his third crack at it, with one failed attempt in January 2021 and another likely chance later in the year (same basho where Hakuho beat Terunofuji – remember that Takakeisho lost a playoff the prior basho). Both times he came up way short and got hurt. Just what sumo needs, an injured ozeki.

      • It might take a 14-1 or better, which he’s never managed, but at 13-2 Y, which he’s done twice, they’d at least have the conversation. Apparently this came up at the YDC meeting today.

  4. What a wild way to finish off 2022, with things that haven’t happened in decades.

    I kinda like the predictions. But, I can maybe see the JSA keeping 4 Sekiwake, your 3 plus Takayasu, and 4 Komusubi, with Wakamotoharu K2e, joining little brother in Sanyaku, and Mitakeumi K2w.
    Then, put Meisei and Abi at M1, the dropped Komusubi’s and Midorifuji at M2 and M3, Sadanoumi and Nishikifuji at M4, Ryuden and Nishikigi M5. The rest will fill in nicely.

    I can see 3 go up to Makuuchi — Tsurugisho, Mitoryu and Chiyomaru get the promotion, with Takarafuji barely hanging on. Of course — Big Salt and Atamifuji ride the Juryo bus.

    Asanoyama, Shonanoumi, and Hakuyozan make Juryo, with Tsushimanada and Tokushoryu dropping down to Makushita.

    But as always, the JSA will do what THEY think is best, even if it’s not.

  5. Rooting for the underdog. Tamashoho to get 5+ wins in January and finally make it to the paid ranks, even if it’s just for one tournament!

  6. In the eight years or so that I have been following the sport closely I have never seen a more problematic banzuke. I just keep staring at the upper maegashira ranks and muttering “no way out” like Gene Wilder in The Producers. You can’t have 6 M1s!

    Someone (or someseveral) is going to be on the wrong end of some historically bad banzuke luck.

    • Agree completely; I think I can just barely put together a “valid” banzuke that doesn’t demote KK rikishi and keeps MK demotions within some semblance of reason, but it’s a doozy.

  7. One thing this basho has highlighted to me is that the Committee over-demotes for kyujo absences. They dropped Abi from Komosubi to M9 for missing one basho. No doubt this fitted their “algorithms”, but, if their mission is to maintain a reasonably stable banzuke, that demotion was clearly absurd. If he had no lingering effects from his injury, Abi’s sumo was still going to be at Komusbi level when he returned, and make mincemeat of his opponents in week one. Everyone knew this, and spoke about it.
    So it seems to me that the Committee’s policy with respect to kyujo is not to do what is best for the stability of the banzuke, but instead to punish any rikishi who dares not to show up. Which may be why we have such awful situations as those of Terutsyoshi and Takarafufuji in this basho. I can’t believe that the public really wants to see that. So I definitely think that Sumo is on the wrong track with its policy towards injured rikishi.

      • I was aware of the previous policy, and the reason it was abolished. But I don’t like where the current policy is taking sumo. To be brutally honest, many of the bouts in the recent basho were unwatchable because one of the rikishi was obviously unfit to be on the dohyo. It was a fraud on the public to represent any of the bouts with Terutsuyoshi, for example, as top level sumo. The situation is bad and getting worse. The issue should be which is worse – some rikishi gaming the system, or the Sumo Association presenting a sub-standard product?

        • I’m not defending them, just noting that they’ve tried the alternative and so are aware of the issues and the pros and cons

  8. Regarding what it takes to force extra slots, I picked up the notion somewhere that since the early 2000s when they stopped granting extra slots so freely the rule of thumb is that it takes at least a 10-5 from M1 to force an extra komusubi slot and an 11-4 from komusubi to force an extra sekiwake slot. I’d bet given the joi logjam we’re going to see a precedent-setting forcing of an extra sekiwake slot by an 12-3 from M1.

    • I don’t think they’ll treat it as precedent-setting, since Daieisho recently went M1 13-2 Y -> K2. As with many banzuke decisions, if they do it, they’ll treat it as situational. I always think of Isegahama’s statement that the banzuke is a living thing. Perhaps contradicting myself, a big reason to do it would be to be justify promoting Kotonowaka into a “regular” K slot, without overturning the recent precedents that 9-6 at M1w can go to M1e if there isn’t room in sanyaku.

  9. I’ve finished my first mock draft of the Hatsu Banzuke, and I have 4 Sekiwake (Hōshōryū, Wakatakakage, Takayasu and Shōdai) and 6 (that’s right, SIX) Komusubi (Kiribayama, Kotonowaka, Abi, Meisei, Tobizaru and Daieishō). If anyone is interested, I can post it here…

    • It would be extremely unusual for them to not demote Tobizaru and Daieishō from Komusubi. When this happens, it’s in cases like Haru 2019 when there were no plausible people to promote to Komusubi.

    • You’re crazy if you think Tobizaru and Daieisho won’t be demoted. That takes a very special circumstance for them not to demote a losing record from Sanyaku, especially when there is ample rikishi to fill the rank.

      • You’re probably right, though it would clean up some of the mess in the upper Maegashira. The state of Terunofuji’s knees, combined with the general dearth of super-high-quality Ōzeki performances of late, seems to suggest the necessity of multiple ranks of lower San’yaku. I’m still relatively new to Sumō fandom, so please forgive me if that seems naïve of me to think that way…

        • It’s totally reasonable to consider an expanded lower san’yaku given the unprecedented banzuke situation we are facing; it’s just that they would drop the MK komusubi to maegashira and pull up the next-best maegashira to fill those spots; it’s not like there’s any shortage of candidates. Like, if you wanted to have 6 komusubi, Wakamotoharu has just as good a claim as Abi or Meisei, and Midorifuji or Nishikifuji would only be a bit of a reach.

          • Do they typically take more care with the higher ranks, or try to achieve balance across the banzuke as a whole?
            I tried 4 komusubi (and 4 sekiwake), but while it made the top a bit better (although still not dramatically so), it made the middle of the banzuke less satisfying. So, I’m guessing only 2 komusubi (or perhaps 3/3 with sekiwake)..

            • They never comment on the deliberations (that I know of) but my impression just from looking at banzukes is that they start at the top and just try to place rikishi in the most appropriate available slots as they go…

  10. Look, we have to get past the idea that a Kachi-Koshi MUST be promoted. Sometimes they are right where they need to be. This is why the Bazuke is jacked right now. Sometimes a 9-6 at M1 is just an M1. ANd I would also suggest that a Kachi Koshi can and should be demoted if necessary. If M1 finishes at 8-7 and the next 3 guys below all go 10-5 with the Komusubi and Sekiwake all finishing with KK, then M1 “SHOULD” fall below the 2-3 of the guys below him.

    • There have been rare occasions of an 8-7 staying at the same rank, but I don’t think the committee will consider demoting KK rikishi under any circumstances, any more than they would promoting MK ones—that’s just such a fundamental rule of banzuke movement.

  11. I have a question aout the 2-Ozeki-rule. It looks like Teru won’t be fit for january, so there’s only one Ozeki and Teru can’t play Yokozuna-Ozeki at Hatsu. How do they get a second Ozeki? Or is it enough when the Yokozuna-Ozeki is on the banzuke, but won’t be able to fight?

Comments:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.