A Look at the Kyushu Banzuke

The banzuke for the November tournament has been posted. And, in what has to count as a big surprise, the committee actually went with four Komusubi. As discussed in my banzuke forecast, this follows the most recent closest precedent we had, all the way back in 2006, but deviates from recent practice of not creating extra slots unless there is no other choice. Moreover, the two new Komusubi are in what I would consider the “wrong” order, with M1e Hokutofuji (9-6) on the East side, and M2w Asanoyama (10-5) on the West. Usually, an extra win counts for more than a one-rank difference.

I did make (but didn’t post) a draft of the banzuke for the four-Komusubi scenario, and it was largely correct down to M10, with only Meisei ahead of Takarafuji and Kotoyuki ahead of Aoiyama differing from my prediction. Meisei and Takarafuji are two of the biggest beneficiaries of the extra san’yaku slots, getting promoted way higher than they otherwise would simply because there’s no one else available to fill those M2-M3 ranks. Enho (rising from M11 to M6) and Tsurugisho (M14 to M7) will be fighting at by far their highest career ranks. Shodai limits his demotion to M10, but it will still be his first tournament as a double-digit maegashira since he made his top-division debut at M12 at Hatsu 2016.

Below M10, placements got increasingly chaotic, as it was difficult simply to fill the available ranks without promoting make-koshi rikishi. As a result, Ishiura jumps four full ranks, from M15e to M11e, despite finishing with only an 8-7 record. I was surprised to see him ranked above Chiyotairyu and Ichinojo, and even more suprised to see Chiyotairyu ahead of Ichinojo, as he recorded only one more victory at three full ranks lower on the banzuke. Also oddly, Terutsuyoshi is ranked between Kagayaki and Nishikigi, despite the fact that the latter duo posted identical 6-9 records at M13e and M13w, respectively. The four promotions from Juryo (and the corresponding Makuuchi demotions) are as predicted, but Chiyomaru gets a very generous placement at M13e for someone who finished 8-7. Wakatakakage makes his top-division debut at the new lowest rank in Makuuchi, M16e, with M16w and M17e going away to compensate for the two extra san’yaku slots.

Why do rikishi care so much about getting to 8 wins? The four rikishi ranked 7-8 (M3w Tomokaze, M4e Tamawashi, M5w Ryuden, and M7w Kotoeko) got the most lenient treatment possible this time, keeping their Aki ranks for Kyushu. But the 8-7 quartet (Daieisho, Myogiryu, Sadanoumi, Ishiura) jumps anywhere between 2 and 4 ranks!

Do you have thoughts on the rankings? Let us know in the comments!

Kyushu Banzuke Crystal Ball

Your humble prognosticator hasn’t been able to devote the usual amount of time to banzuke prediction for the past month, and so my forecast is late and less polished than usual, but I’m getting it in under the wire before the banzuke is released on Monday (late Sunday in the US, about 48 hours from now).

The Guess

Winning records in green, losing records in red, Juryo rikishi in blue.

Biggest Question Marks

There’s one giant question mark hanging over this banzuke: how many Komusubi will there be? The issue is that Hokutofuji and (to a slightly lesser extent) Asanoyama recorded performances at Aki that warrant san’yaku promotion, but all four regular slots are spoken for by the incumbents posting winning records (with Takakeisho and Tochinoshin swapping spots). In particular, Hokutofuji posted a 9-6 record while occupying the top M1e maegashira slot, so that there is no room to promote him without moving him up to san’yaku (a lesser consideration is that this is his second-consecutive 9-6 record at M1). No kachi-koshi M1e has been denied promotion since Ryuko (8-7) in 1969—which is something like 86 consecutive promotions.

But that argument is not quite as compelling as it sounds, since only 6 of those 86 instances required the creation of an extra Komusubi slot, and this hasn’t happened in over 20 years, since Kaio was promoted to K2 in January of 2019. And while the K2 rank used to be employed commonly, especially in the 1990’s, when it was used over 20 times, we haven’t seen it since Kyushu 2006, when M3w Aminishiki (11-4 at Aki) and M1w Roho (10-5) were promoted to K2e and K2w, respectively. Since that time, several upper maegashira with records that would have forced an extra Komusubi slot in previous years (9-6 at M1w, 10-5 at M2, 11-4 at M3) have had to bide their time in the rank-and-file.

So what will happen this time? I’d put the probabilities of 2, 3, and 4 Komusubi at 35%, 40%, and 25%, respectively. The argument for 2: “We simply don’t create extra ranks any more unless the claim is overwhelming, plus it leads to over-promotion for the rest of the banzuke.” The argument for 3: “We must promote the top-ranked maegashira with a winning record, but we don’t have to promote Asanoyama.” The argument for 4: “A 10-5 record at M2 counts as stronger than a 9-6 record at M1, so if we promote Hokutofuji, it’s only fair to promote Asanoyama.” Note that in this scenario, I would predict that Asanoyama would be K2e and Hokutofuji K2w, analogous to the placements of Aminishiki and Roho the last time this happened.

Note that I’ve gone with what I view as the slightly less likely default option of 2 Komusubi. While the other options will mean simply sliding most rikishi up one or two slots, it’s not always that straightforward, as make-koshi rikishi such as 7-8 Tomokaze and Tamawashi cannot be placed above their current rank, leading to bigger bumps for some lower-ranked kachi-koshi wrestlers.

Biggest Rises

I am projecting that 11-win Okinoumi, who was in yusho contention on the final day, will be rewarded with a 6-rank promotion from M8 to M2. There were three 10-win performances in the lower half of the banzuke, and they should see Meisei rise from M10 to M5, Tsurugisho from M14 to M8, and Yutakayama from M16 to M10. These promotions would get more generous with more than two Komusubi slots—for instance, with four Komusubi, I’d slot in Meisei all the way up at M3e.

This is also a good place to note those projected to make the jump from Juryo to the top division. At the top of the list is Takanosho, whom I have making his Makuuchi return (following 5 tournaments in Juryo) at M13 after posting a 10-5 record from J2. Joining him should be J1 Chiyomaru (after a one-basho absence), J3 Wakatakakage (making his top-division debut) and J5 Daishomaru (after a four-basho absence). I have all three just barely doing enough for promotion and therefore occupying the very bottom rungs on the Makuuchi ladder.

Biggest Falls

Some of the joi maegashira really underperformed at Aki and will be fighting much lower down the banzuke in Kyushu. It’ll be interesting to see how much damage they can do down there if they can recover their form and health. The biggest projected drop belongs to one-win Ichinojo, who withdrew with an injury on Day 5 and will see his rank plummet from M2 to M12. Just below him on the predicted banzuke is 2-win Chiyotairyu, who falls from M5 to M13. Faring slightly better is 3-win Shodai, who should drop from M4 to M11, which would be by far his lowest rank since he made his Makuuchi debut at M12 in January of 2016. For all the grief he gets from Bruce on this site, Shodai is usually a solid bet to maintain a rank in the M1-M4 range.

And falling all the way out of the top division: M14 Toyonoshima, M17 Takagenji, M16 Tochiozan, and M15 Azumaryu. For veteran Tochiozan, who started the year ranked M1 but posted 5 consecutive losing records, this would mark his first-ever return to the second division following his Makuuchi debut all the way back in March of 2007.

Tune in on Sunday/Monday to see what the actual banzuke looks like and how these predictions fare.

Promotions to Juryo for Kyushu

Via the Sumo Kyokai on Twitter and the Sumo Forum, we have an update on the one part of the banzuke that is released early. These are the promotions from Makushita to Juryo, so that the lucky rikishi have time to adjust to their sekitori status.

As shown above, there are two brand-new sekitori: Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, who both finished Aki with 4-3 records. Kototebakari is marking his ascension to the salaried ranks with a new shikona, Kotoshoho.

Three men are returning to Juryo. Two left no doubt about their re-promotion: Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, who both went 6-1. The third squeaked by with pretty much the worst rank and record combination that can normally lead to promotion, and only when many slots are open in Juryo: Ms5w Akiseyama, 4-3.

As I noted in my Aki wrap-up post, there were five definite open slots in the second division through a combination of retirement, scandal, injury, and poor performance. These are filled by the men listed above. That means that the “invisible line” between Ms5 and Ms6 held, with Akiseyama getting the nod over an arguably stronger candidate, Ms6e Churanoumi, 5-2. It also means that J13e Irodori, who was on the bubble, survives despite a 6-9 record, something that last happened in 2011, with a dozen instances of demotion in between.

Aki Wrap-up and Predictions for Kyushu

The smell of victory

Congratulations to Sekiwake Mitakeumi on lifting the Emperor’s Cup for the second time! While the path to the yusho wasn’t without controversy, I would argue that the best man won. Congratulations also to Sekiwake Ozeki Takakeisho, who not only achieved the 10 wins he needed to regain his rank against the expectations of many, but made it all the way into a championship playoff. Tachiai wishes good health to both (the early reports on Takakeisho after the playoff bout are worrying), and expects more titles from them in the future.

Takakeisho (O2e) and Goeido (O1e) will be ranked at Ozeki on the Kyushu banzuke, joining kadoban Ozeki Takayasu (O1w). We know that at least the first two will also be ranked at Ozeki for Hatsu 2020. Can Mitakeumi join them? He has 21 victories as a Sekiwake in the last two basho, which means that 12 more in November would give him the unofficial promotion standard of 33, and it’s hard to see the longtime san’yaku regular not getting the nod with a line of 9-12Y-12. Could we see him promoted with 11? It worked this decade for two other popular Japanese san’yaku mainstays

The Lower San’yaku

Mitakeumi will occupy the East Sekiwake slot for the 3rd straight basho, while newly re-demoted Tochinoshin will take over from Takakeisho as West Sekiwake, with the now all-too-familiar one-time shot to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins. This means that Abi (9-6) will continue at the East Komusubi rank, with Endo (8-7) remaining West Komusubi.

So, you ask, what will they do with M1e Hokutofuji (9-6) and M10w Asanoyama (10-5), who did more than enough to earn san’yaku promotions under normal circustances? A maegashira one east with nine wins has never failed to be promoted, while a maegashira two with ten has had to settle for M1e once in the modern era (Kotoshogiku, after Kyushu 2006). At the same time, an extra Komusubi slot hasn’t been created for an M1 since 2006 (Roho, with 10 wins), and for an M2 in over two decades. An extra complication is that while Hokutofuji would seem to have the stronger case for forcing an extra slot, as it’s the only way he can get a well-deserved promotion, Asanoyama should be ranked ahead of him based on rank and record. And that’s before we even get to the difficulty of filling the maegashira ranks without ridiculous over-promotions and under-demotions if these two are not there to hold down the M1e and M1w slots.

Upper Maegashira

The only other rikishi in the M1-M5 ranks to earn his kachi-koshi is M3e Daieisho (8-7), although M3w Tomokaze and M4e Tamawashi ended with minimal 7-8 make-koshi records, and M6w Myogiryu (8-5-2) fought enough of the upper-rankers to be considered a member of the joi. These four will be back in the joi in Fukuoka. They will be joined by well-performing mid-maegashira: M8e Okinoumi (11-4), M8w Takarafuji (9-6), and M10w Meisei (10-5). Beyond that, we have to reach for M1w Aoiyama (5-10), M5w Ryuden (7-8), and M9w Kotoyuki (9-6). This group slots in much more palatably at M2-M6 than they do at M1-M5.

Three other joi maegashira had disastrous tournaments and will plummet down the banzuke in November. M4w Shodai (3-12) should drop to around M11, and he will fare the best of the trio. For all the flack Shodai gets, he hadn’t been ranked lower than M7 since making his top-division debut in January of 2016 at M12w, and has been ranked M5 or better in 19 of his 23 Makuuchi tournaments. Tachiai hopes he comes back strong in November, where he should have the opportunity to clean up against much weaker opposition. M2e Ichinojo (1-4-10), who withdrew with an injury after his Day 4 bout against Kakuryu, should be ranked just below Shodai. And M5w Chiyotairyu, who managed a tournament-low 2 wins among rikishi competing for all 15 days, will fall even lower, into the group of “broken toys” holding down the last 10 or so slots in the top division (see below). Have I mentioned these are 3 of my favorite rikishi? 😢

Top-Division Demotions and Promotions

Going into the final day, we had two definite demotions—Toyonoshima and Takagenji—and two definite promotions—Takanosho and Chiyomaru. In Day 15 bouts, Terutsuyoshi extended his stay in Makuuchi with a victory, as did Kagayaki, simultaneously relegating Azumaryu to Juryo. He’ll be joined there by Tochiozan, who has previously never dropped from the top division since making his debut in March of 2007. Daishoho picked up his 10th loss, but should just survive given the lack of strong promotion candidates.

The places of Tochiozan and Azumaryu should be occupied by J3 Wakatakakage (9-6), marking his top-division debut, and J5 Daishomaru, making his return after 4 tournaments in the second division, which were preceded by a three-year run in Makuuchi.

Juryo-Makushita Exchanges

Five slots in the salaried ranks should open up for sure: one via retirement (Yoshikaze) and four via demotion: Seiro, Chiyonoumi, Takanofuji (unless he also “retires”) and Asagyokusei. Four should be occupied by Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, both 6-1, and Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, both 4-3. The 5th man going up to “heaven” will probably be Ms5w Akiseyama, who won his “Darwin bout” to go 4-3. The other contender is Ms6e Churanoumi (5-2), but someone at his rank hasn’t been promoted with that record since the exceptional situation in 2011. If one of the two isn’t promoted, that would mean keeping J13e Irodori (6-9), but once again, someone with that rank and record has most recently escaped demotion on the same 2011 banzuke. Well, will find out the promotions to sekitori and can deduce the corresponding demotions on Wednesday, unlike the rest of the banzuke, for which we will have to wait until October 28.