Right after the Kyushu basho, I took an initial look at how the November results are likely to shape the January banzuke. As I noted then, this is the most complex banzuke I’ve ever tried to predict, and I can’t find anything like it in modern sumo history. The range of options for the banzuke committee to consider is much wider than usual, and as a result, what you read below could end up being way off target.
Yokozuna and Ozeki
This is easy. Whether or not he fights, Terunofuji will be the sole Yokozuna, and Takakeisho will be the sole Ozeki. I have them both on the East side, as there is no precedent for a sole Ozeki (or Yokozuna) to be placed on the West side to balance the banzuke.
How many lower San’yaku?
This is the critical question for the rest of the banzuke. Three Sekiwake are locked in: S1e Wakatakakage (8-7), S1w Hoshoryu (11-4) and O1w Shodai (6-9). And there have to be at least two Komusubi. One is K1w Kiribayama (8-7), and if we keep the lower san’yaku to this minimal configuration, he would be joined by M1e Takayasu (12-3). This is the obvious solution that does not involve creating extra slots for rikishi who did not force them. However, it is hard to see how to then put together the upper maegashira ranks.
Let’s consider who would need to be placed within the top 8 maegashira positions (M1-M4). There are 5 rikishi who were at those ranks and got a winning record: M1w Kotonowaka (9-6), M2e Meisei (9-6), M3w Midorifuji (8-7), M4e Wakamotoharu (10-5), M4w Sadanoumi (8-7). That leaves only 3 available spaces. But 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). Demoting any of them below M4 would be completely unprecedented, so something has to give. And even if we were to contemplate, say, placing Tamawashi at M5e, we’d then have to freeze M5w Nishikifuji (9-6), M6e Nishikigi (8-7), and M6w Ryuden (9-6) at their current ranks; while 8-7 freezes have happened, albeit very rarely, 9-6 freezes never have. Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the yusho winner, M9w Abi (12-3). As reluctant as the banzuke committee is to create extra san’yaku slots, the sheer quantity of historically bad banzuke luck this solution entails seems even more unpalatable.
The first step to break this historically bad logjam is to create one extra slot for Kotonowaka. My preferred solution is to do so by bumping up Takayasu to Sekiwake, and letting Kotonowaka naturally slide into the vacant K1w slot, but the exact configuration (4S/2K or 3S/3K) doesn’t matter for the maegashira ranks. This solution isn’t great, as we’ll see below, but to me at least, it seems to balance opening up extra san’yaku slots and living with some fairly extreme underpromotions and overdemotions. One could keep going, of course, and add another Komusubi, or two, or even three, drawn from Meisei, Wakamotoharu, and Abi, most likely in that order. This would give us a total of 7, 8, or 9 S/K, respectively. As I noted when the November banzuke was released, 7 S/K has happened only 7 times in history, and 8 on only one occasion. With the constraints of drawing up this particular banzuke, 7 S/K would not surprise me at all, and that’s what Ryan at Grand Sumo Breakdown went with. Eight is not implausible, though 9 would be both surprising and unprecedented. My prediction below will boldly proceed with 6, which presents a tricky puzzle to put together.
Solving the M1-M4 puzzle
With Kotonowaka out of the picture, we have 8 rikishi to fit into 8 slots, which is at least not impossible but still involves some gymnastics. Meisei, Wakamotoharu, Tobizaru, Daieisho, and Mitakeumi all have rank/record combinations that have never landed below M2, but placing one of them at M3, together with Midorifuji, would not be tragic. This also leaves room for Tamawashi at M4e, low but not completely unprecedented. 8-7 Sadanoumi is frozen in this scenario, which is allowable.
The elephant in the room: M5-M6
The only ranks 9-6 Nishikifuji and Ryuden can go without freezing them are M5e and M5w, with 8-7 Nishikigi frozen at M6e. So, whom haven’t we placed yet? Oh right, Abi! There’s no way to place him any higher without either freezing 9-6 rikishi or way over-demoting Tamawashi. A 3-rank promotion for the 12-3 champion is historically stingy, but I feel like one extreme under-promotion is a price the banzuke committee is willing to pay to make everything else work. If we see more than 6 S/K, this placement would be the main reason why.
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. In my prediction, M8e Takarafuji (3-12) finished with a just-demotable record, so I have him going down as well, but the banzuke committee is quite likely to save him.
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. I have all of them coming up, but if one were to miss out, Chiyomaru seems the most likely choice based on recent precedents, although you can find past banzuke with pretty much any possible ordering for these rank-record combinations.
Anyway, here’s the prediction. Many choices to debate on this one.