New Juryo for Haru

The Juryo promotions have been announced. We have two returnees: Tokushoryu, after a single basho in Makushita, and Tomokaze, who makes his long-awaited sekitori return after a long road back from a horrific leg injury in Kyushu 2019, just when he seemed to be on the cusp of top-division stardom.

And two rikishi make their salaried debuts. The first is 29-year-old Tamashoho, one of Tamawashi’s few stablemates as well as his brother-in-law. After 11 years in professional sumo, just making it to Juryo is a major career achievement for him.

Much more is expected of the other debutant, 19-year old Ochiai. The amateur star makes history by becoming the first modern rikishi to make it to Juryo after a single basho. He debuted at Ms15TD, and there was much debate regarding whether even a 7-0 record at that rank would be enough for promotion. Ochiai did his part by going undefeated to take the Makushita yusho, and looked dominant doing so. Now the banzuke committee has confirmed that Ms15TD is indeed within the extended promotion zone, and we can conclude that the reason Shimoda, the only previous man to go 7-0 at that rank, wasn’t promoted back in 2006 was lack of space. Tachiai looks forward to following Ochiai’s sekitori career with great interest.

The corresponding demotions are not announced, but looking at the records in Juryo, we can infer that in addition to the slot opened up by Okinoumi’s intai, three spots are being made available by dropping J13w Kaisho, J11e Chiyosakae, and J10w Terutsuyoshi, all 5-10, to the third division. The former two had their fates sealed before the final day, while Terutsuyoshi lost an exchange bout to Tamashoho, completing his fall from Makuuchi in November to Makushita in March. Tachiai wishes salt bae a speedy return to good health and the sekitori ranks, where his talent and fighting spirit belong.

Looking Ahead to the Haru Banzuke: Wither Asanoyama?

Yokozuna and Ozeki

Absent Terunofuji will continue as the sole Yokozuna. It is unclear what the odds are that we’ll see him mount the dohyo in Osaka. Takakeisho will remain the lone Ozeki, with a shot at promotion with another yusho.

San’yaku

S1e Wakatakakage (9-6) and S1w Hoshoryu (8-7) have successfully defended their ranks, by a hair in the case of the latter (pun intended).

S2e Takayasu (1-5-8) and S2w Shodai (6-9) will fall into the maegashira ranks.

K1e Kiribayama (11-4) has met the standard that has traditionally forced an extra Sekiwake slot, and I expect him to debut at that rank in March. With 19 wins in his past two tournaments, he could be on a low-key Ozeki run, although it would take a very strong Haru basho to seal the deal.

K1w Kotonowaka (8-7) and K2w Wakamotoharu (9-6) should remain komusubi. I’ve heard talk that the latter could be bumped to Sekiwake, but I see no case to do so. K2e Meisei (5-10) will drop out of san’yaku.

So that’s 5 san’yaku slots accounted for by Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu, Kiribayama, Kotonowaka, and Wakamotoharu. Will there be any extra ones? I think we will have at least two additional Komusubi: M1w Daieisho (10-5), who probably did enough to force open a slot, and M1e Tobizaru (8-7), who earned a kachi-koshi at the top maegashira slot. The banzuke committee has given every indication that this guarantees promotion, and even if Daieisho could potentially slide over to M1e, it would be tough to leave him out with a better score at the same rank as Tobizaru. The one question mark is whether M2w Tamawashi (9-6) will join them, either as the 5th Komusubi, which has never happened, or if they keep the current 4S/4K by bumping up Wakamotoharu. I think Iron Man may have to settle for M1e.

Upper Maegashira

We don’t seem to have the type of historic crunch in this part of the banzuke that we did last time. In addition to Tamawashi, the rikishi who deserve to be ranked M4 or higher are the aforementioned san’yaku dropouts Shodai and Meisei, M2e Mitakeumi (7-8), M3e Abi (8-7), the M5 duo Ryuden and Nishikigi (both 9-6), and M8e Onosho (10-5). That’s 8 rikishi and 8 slots, for those keeping score.

Makuuchi <-> Juryo

This did not work out as neatly. Three spots in the top division are being vacated by the absences of Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, and Okinoumi due to suspension, injury, and retirement, respectively. A 4th slot is open by dropping M16w Chiyomaru (4-11), who’ll be taking a trip on the Juryo barge for the 7th time, the most among active rikishi.

Both other endangered incumbents won. M8w Oho (4-11) should now be completely safe, and M15w Mitoryu (7-8) has the numerical case to stay.

This would leave only four open slots, but we have 5 promotion cases: J1w Bushozan (9-6), J2e Hokuseiho (9-6), J5e Kinbozan (11-4), J6w Daishoho (12-3), and the Juryo yusho winner, former Ozeki Asanoyama, who went 14-1 at J12w. By conventional promotion criteria, Asanoyama is last in line, and should get stuck at J1e. Given his profile and the strength of his performance, will those criteria be bent to accommodate him somehow? The options seem to come down to promoting him over Hokuseiho, whom he defeated on the final day, or pushing down incumbent Mitoryu, which the banzuke committee has been unwilling to do in recent times. This is probably the most consequential decision on the entire banzuke, and while it seems unthinkable that they would make Asanoyama spend another basho in Juryo, the results shook out in a way that makes this difficult to avoid.

Juryo <-> Makushita:

Three Juryo spots were open before Day 15: one as a result of Okinoumi’s retirement plus two due to the performances of J13w Kaisho (5-10) and J11e Chiyosakae (5-10). J10w Terutsuyoshi (5-10) lost to Ms1e Tamashoho (4-3) in one exchange bout, while J12e Takakento (7-8) beat Ms5e Tsukahara (5-2) in the other. Takakento gets to stay, Tamashoho (whose main claim to fame is that he is Tamawashi’s stablemate and brother-in-law) will make his sekitori debut, while Terutsuyoshi and Tsukahara will almost certainly be ranked high in the Makushita promotion zone in March.

As for the other 3 open spots, two should be filled by former maegashira Ms2e Tomokaze and Ms2w Tokushoryu, both 4-3. I expect the third to go to the makushita champion, Ms15TD Ochiai (7-0). If he doesn’t get it, we’ll know that there’s a hard-and-fast rule against promotion for Ms15 tsukedashi, as the alternatives are Terutsuyoshi and Tsukahara, who lost their exchange bouts. For completeness, Ms5w Fujiseiun (5-2) is the only other rikishi with a potentially promotable record who is out of luck due to lack of space.

We’ll find out the Juryo promotions in a couple of days; for the rest, including Asanoyama’s fate, we’ll have to wait until February 27. I’ll post a full banzuke prediction closer to that time. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.

What’s at Stake on Senshuraku

Yusho:

The winner of O1w Takakeisho vs. M13e Kotoshoho, both 11-3, takes the cup. Everyone else is out of contention.

San’yaku:

S1e Wakatakakage (8-6) holds his rank. S1w Hoshoryu (7-7) must win to do likewise, and will drop to komusubi with a loss.

S2e Takayasu (1-5-8) will fall to mid-maegashira. S2w Shodai (6-8) must win to limit his fall to komusubi.

K1e Kiribayama (10-4) will become sekiwake with a win or a Hoshoryu loss. It’s been suggested he might get bumped up anyway.

K1w Kotonowaka (7-7) must win to keep his rank. K2e Meisei (4-10) will fall down the ranks. K2w Wakamotoharu (8-6) will remain komusubi.

So that’s 4 san’yaku slots accounted for by Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu, Kiribayama, and Wakamotoharu. If Shodai and Kotonowaka lose, Hoshoryu wins, and Kiribayama gets promoted, one regular komusubi slot will open. Otherwise, all regular slots will be full, and Shodai and Kotonowaka can guarantee two more komusubi slots by winning.

Contenders:

Should a regular komusubi slot open, M1w Daieisho (9-5) is currently the leading contender. It’s not clear if he’ll get an extra slot if he loses, or even necessarily if he wins. M2w Tamawashi (8-6) is probably out of luck even with a win. A potential fly in the ointment here is M1e Tobizaru (7-7). It seems like we’ve established that the banzuke committee promote any kachi-koshi M1e, but if he goes up with a win, it would be tough to leave out Daieisho with a better score at the same rank.

Depending on how this all shakes out, we could end up with the minimal 4-person junior san’yaku (though that could make the joi impossible like last time) or with as many sekiwake/komusubi as the current 8.

Makuuchi <-> Juryo:

Three spots in the top division are being vacated by the absences of Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, and Okinoumi due to suspension, injury, and retirement, respectively. A 4th slot is open by dropping M16w Chiyomaru (3-11), who’ll be making the trip to juryo for the 7th time, the most among active rikishi.

Two incumbents are at least somewhat endangered, and could drop with a loss: M15w Mitoryu (6-8) and M8w Oho (3-11). After Takarafuji’s non-demotion last time, it’s hard to see Oho going down; with Mitoryu, it depends on the strength of the promotion pressure.

With 4 slots open, J5e Kinbozan (11-3) and J2e Hokuseiho (9-5) should definitely be making their eagerly awaited top-division debuts. J6w Daishoho (11-3) should also be in makuuchi for the first time since dropping out after Kyushu 2019, with even a stint in makushita in there. J1w Bushozan (8-6) is a lock to make his debut with a win, and is likely to do so even with a loss.

J12w Asanoyama (13-1) and J7e Chiyonokuni (who, at 10-4, is having his best basho in years) must win to stake a real promotion claim; should they do so, it’ll come down to whether Mitoryu and Oho lose, and how the banzuke committee judges their relative merits, although a loss by Bushozan could add him to the bubble conversation.

Juryo <-> Makushita:

Three Juryo spots are open: one as a result of Okinoumi’s retirement plus two due to the performances of J13w Kaisho (4-10) and J11e Chiyosakae (4-10). Two incumbents are in danger: J10w Terutsuyoshi (5-9) and J12e Takakento (6-8). They’ve been matched up with two promotion contenders from makushita in what sure look like direct exchange bouts: Ms1e Tamashoho (3-3) and Ms5e Tsukahara (5-1), respectively. The outcomes of these bouts will determine which two of the four rikishi will receive a salary in March.

As for the 3 open spots, one should be filled by Ms2w Tokushoryu (4-2), regardless of the outcome of his bout against Ms5w Fujiseiun (4-2), who is probably out of luck. Another should go to the winner of the bout between Ms2e Tomokaze (3-3) and Ms3w Tochikamiyama (3-3). And that leaves the third spot for the makushita champion, Ms15TD Ochiai (7-0), who for my money has been the most exciting wrestler of this tournament.

Tune in tomorrow to see which questions have been answered, and which will be left in the hands of the banzuke committee.

Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

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.