What The Haru Results Mean for Natsu

The State of the Yokozuna

Yokozuna Hakuho (15-0) extended his own record by claiming an unprecedented 42nd top-division championship, a total equivalent to winning every single tournament for seven years. Hakuho is now ahead of second-place Taiho by 10 yusho, a number that by itself is generally considered the mark for Dai-Yokozuna status. Hakuho’s 15 zensho yusho is nearly double Taiho’s 8. There is a beautiful symmetry in winning all 15 bouts 15 times. That’s 225 victories in just his zensho tournaments—to put this in perspective, Kakuryu has 225 total victories as a Yokozuna!

It is concerning that in claiming this championship in a hard-fought match against Kakuryu, Hakuho injured his arm. Tachiai hopes that the cost was not too high, that the Dai-Yokozuna gets the necessary treatment and takes the time to recover, and that we will see him dominating on the dohyo again before too long.

Of the last 5 tournaments, Kakuryu sat out one, pulled out of two, and faded in the second week of the other two. He eked out the “Yokozuna kachi-koshi” of ten wins this time, and we’ll have to see how healthy and genki he is in May.

The State of the Ozeki

The big news, of course, is that we lose one Ozeki (at least temporarily) and gain another. Tochinoshin (7-8) will be ranked Sekiwake at Natsu, with a one-time shot to regain his rank with 10 victories. If he can get healthy, and that’s a big if, this should be doable. Many of us remember Kotoshogiku just missing out with 9 in his “Ozekiwake” basho. Sekiwake Takakeisho (10-5) will in fact be promoted after a very creditable Ozeki run of 13-2 Y, 11-4 J, 10-5. The promotion comes in only his 14th tournament in the top division, and Tachiai wishes him a long and successful career as Ozeki and possible future Yokozuna.

Goeido, who will take over the top O1e rank in May, had a great tournament at 12-3. His loss to Daieisho was basically an unfortunate inadvertent step-out, and his other two losses were to a rampaging Ichinojozilla and the zensho-yusho-winning greatest Yokozuna of all time. Goeido’s performance level would have been good enough to win many a recent tournament. Takayasu (10-5) also had a strong tournament despite fading at the end with three consecutive defeats. He lost to the same opponents as Goeido, plus Goeido himself and a promotion-seeking Takakeisho. These performances bode well for the future of the Ozeki corps.

The San’yaku Ranks

Ichinojo will be the East Sekiwake at Natsu. We’ve always known there’s a Yokozuna inside Ichinojo, but we weren’t sure it would ever be unleashed. If the big guy can maintain his focus and health, it wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to suggest that he could make Ozeki by July, and even take a run at the next rank by the end of the year. Hopefully, this time Lucy won’t pull away the football. Tochinoshin will attempt to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins from West Sekiwake.

Fighting spirit prize winner Aoiyama (M7, 12-3) will be East Komusubi, making his first San’yaku appearance since 2014. What about West Komusubi? The only solid promotion contender is former Ozeki Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-4), but his loss on senshuraku opens the door for East Komusubi Mitakeumi (7-8) to merely slide over to the West side.

The New Joi-Jin Maegashira

Who will hold the top 8 (or so) slots in the rank-and-file, which come with the dubious honor of getting pummeled by the named ranks? Two or three will go to the demoted San’yaku rikishi (Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, and possibly Mitakeumi). Four of the incumbents handed out 45 white stars among them and will be dropping far down the banzuke (yes Bruce, even Shodai, though not as far as Kaisei, Nishikigi, and especially Tochiozan). Ichinojo, of course, was in class by himself, and the only rikishi in the top eight to get his kachi-koshi. The other incumbents (Endo, Daieisho, and possibly Myogiryu) did enough to earn another spin in the meat grinder despite finishing with losing records. Joining them will be Kotoshogiku if he isn’t Komusubi, M5 Chiyotairyu, and likely one or both of the M6 duo Okinoumi and Abi, all 8-7.

The Make/Kachi Line

Of the eight rikishi going into senshuraku with 7-7 records, half were able to record victories: Chiyotairyu, Okinoumi, Abi, and Takarafuji. For three, failure to get to 8 wins had a considerable cost: loss of Ozeki rank for Tochinoshin, likely Juryo demotion for Chiyoshoma, and no Komusubi debut for Daieisho. In total, a whopping 10 rikishi finished the tournament with a minimal 7-8 make-koshi, one shy of the all-time record. This will play havoc with the banzuke-making for Natsu.

The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange

The final-day results cleared up the demotion/promotion scenarios somewhat, but it’s still a mess. Victories by Kotoeko (M15w, 7-8) and newcomers Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 6-9) and Daishoho (M16e, 7-8) should be just enough to keep them in the top division.

Chiyonokuni (M12e, 0-0-15) and Yutakayama (M16w, 3-12) will be dropping deep into Juryo. Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) should be joining them in the second division after 39 tournaments in Makuuchi, unless the banzuke committee decides to draw the promotion line at two, with the clearly promotable Shimanoumi (J1e, 13-2) and Chiyomaru (J1w, 10-5), and deny borderline candidates Enho (J2w, 8-7) and Tokushoryu (J4w, 9-6). Shimanoumi should make his top-division debut at one of the highest ranks in recent memory.

That leaves three other demotion candidates: Ishiura (M15e, 6-9), Toyonoshima (M14w, 5-10), and Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-8). I predict that Ishiura will survive despite sporting a demotable record, as the other two have stronger cases for demotion, and there are not enough legitimate promotion candidates to go around. Of the remaining duo, Toyonoshima has the worse combination of rank and record, while Chiyoshoma got his make-koshi at the very bottom of Makuuchi. They could keep both and deny the 4th promotion candidate (likely Tokushoryu), demote one and keep the other, or drop both and promote Takagenji (M4e, 8-7). I’m not sure how seriously to take the rumblings on Sumo Forum that the fact that the latter is a protégé of you-know-who might count against him. If Ishiura were to join the demotion crew, his spot would have to go to Wakatakakage (J5e, 8-7).

Haru Special Prizes

The January winners

Sanshō 三賞, literally “three prizes” are the three special prizes awarded to top (Makuuchi) division sumo wrestlers for exceptional performance during a sumo honbasho or tournament. The prizes were first awarded in November 1947. The three prizes are:
Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize

Wikipedia

Who will get the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with them? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are conditional on a rikishi winning his last bout or on more exotic outcomes, such as winning the yusho. This Chris Gould video provides a rare inside look into the deliberations that took place in January:

The results of the vote for the March tournament have just been announced. And the only unconditional award is a well-deserved Outstanding Performance Prize for Ichinojo. There are quite a few conditional prizes as well: Kotoshogiku and Takakeisho could claims theirs with victories, and a prize is on the line in the Aoiyama vs. Tomokaze bout.

Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance Award)

West Maegashira #4 Ichinojo (Altankhuyag Ichinnorov) 
(13-1)
Minato Beya
Date of Birth: April 7, 1993 (25 years old)
Place of Birth: Mongolia
2014 January Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #7 Aoiyama (Daniel Ivanov)  conditionally
(11-3)
Kasugano Beya
Date of Birth: June 19, 1986 (32 years old)
Place of Birth: Bulgaria
2009 July Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

West Maegashira #8 Kotoshogiku (Kazuhiro Kikutsugi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Sadogatake Beya
Date of Birth: January 30, 1984 (35 years old)
Place of Birth: Fukuoka
2002 January Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #13 Tomokaze (Yuta Minami)  conditionally
(9-5)
Oguruma Beya
Date of Birth: December 2, 1994 (24 years old)
Place of Birth: Kanagawa
2017 May Debut

Gino-sho (Technique Prize)

East Sekiwake Takakeisho(Takanobu Sato)  conditionally
(9-5)
Chiganoura Beya
Date of Birth: August 5, 1996 (22 years old)
Place of Birth: Hyogo
2014 September Debut

Haru Storylines, Day 14

A special expanded edition of the “storylines” series today, going into senshuraku.

The Yusho Race

Yokozuna Hakuho (14-0) stands one victory away from his 42nd championship, and 15th zensho yusho. Tomorrow, he faces fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu (10-4), whom he’s bested in 42 of 49 prior encounters, in the traditional closing match of the tournament. By then, he’ll know if his sole pursuer, M4 Ichinojo (13-1), has matched him at 14 wins. Ichinojo gets the highest-ranked available opponent who had a winning record going into Day 14, M2 Daieisho (7-7). Ichinojo lost their first bout 3 years ago, but prevailed in the next 3.

The Ozeki Playoff

A few days ago, it seemed rather unlikely that the senshuraku match between Ozeki Tochinoshin (7-7) and Sekiwake Takakeisho (9-5) would be a de facto “exchange bout,” but all the stars aligned so that this is indeed the case. For Tochinoshin, a win secures his rank, while a loss will see him at “Ozekiwake” in May, needing 10 wins to immediately reascend to Ozeki. For Takakeisho, a win means likely if not certain promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank, while a loss at the very least delays it till May, and it would probably take a near-yusho-winning performance at Natsu to pull it off. Takakeisho has dominated their matchup 5-1, with his only loss coming during Tochinoshin’s yusho-winning campaign in January 2018.

The San’yaku Ranks

It looks like three slots will be open, with West Sekiwake Tamawashi (5-9), East Komusubi Mitakeumi (6-8), and West Komusubi Hokutofuji (6-8) all dropping into the rank-and-file. One Sekiwake slot should be occupied by the loser of the Tochinoshin-Takakeisho bout, unless Takakiesho wins but is denied promotion.

Win or lose, Ichinojo should be Sekiwake at Natsu, rejoining the rank he held for the final four basho of 2018. One Komusubi slot should go to Aoiyama (M7, 11-3); the other will be decided between Daieisho and Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-3).

Special Prizes

Ichinojo should get one or more prizes for sure. Tomokaze should get a fighting spirit prize if he can reach double-digit victories in his Makuuchi debut by winning tomorrow; it won’t be easy, as he is matched with Aoiyama, who himself might claim a prize with a win. I’m not sure if, as a former Ozeki, Kotoshogiku would be in line for one even with a 12-3 record. Other possibilities are Takakeisho if he wins, and Meisei if he reaches double digits for the first time in Makuuchi.

The Make/Kachi Line

Eight rikishi have left their promotion/demotion fate to be decided on the final day, going into senshuraku with 7-7 records. One is the aforementioned Tochinoshin, who obviously has a lot more on the line than a mere winning vs. losing record. At the opposite end of the banzuke, the last man in Makuuchi, M17e Chiyoshoma, probably needs to win to stay in the top division. For the other six, pride and smaller moves up or down the banzuke are at stake. Some got off to a strong start only to fade; others have recorded most of their victories in the second week. Without further ado, the six are: M2 Daieisho (who could be in line for a San’yaku debut with a win), M5 Chiyotairyu, M6 Okinoumi, M6 Abi, M7 Takarafuji, and M8 Asanoyama. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no “Darwin bouts” matching 7-7 rikishi, so all eight men can succeed or fail in their quests to claim the all-important 8th victory.

The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange

This is a good basho to be bad in Makuuchi, as the performances in
Juryo did not create a lot of even borderline promotion candidates, and Chiyonokuni’s unfortunate kyujo accounts for one of the needed slots. Nevertheless, Yutakayama (M16w, 3-11) has managed to limbo under a very low bar, and will be in Juryo in May.

Who will be joining him? There is no shortage of candidates! Toyonoshima (M14w, 4-10) and Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) already sport records that would guarantee demotion in any normal tournament, but their victories today leave them hoping that a win tomorrow, combined with losses by others, could leave them clinging to the bottom of the top division by their fingernails. Who are the men they need to lose on senshuraku? Take your pick from among Daishoho (M16e, 6-8), Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 5-9), Kotoeko (M15w, 6-8), Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-7), and Ishiura (M15e, 6-8). That’s a whopping nine men at risk of demotion, if you’re counting. There’s only one grisly pairing between two of them: Terutsuyoshi vs. Ikioi, with the loser all but assured of a trip to Juryo.

Who wants to go up to Makuuchi in May? Anybody? If you have 8 wins in Juryo, raise your hand! Going into Day 15, there are only two records in the second division that would normally warrant promotion, and these belong to the J1 pair who got snubbed the last time. Shimanoumi (J1e, 12-2) will make his top-division debut after an impressive second-straight Juryo yusho, going J11 -> J1 -> mid-maegashira! Chiyomaru (J1w, 9-5) is set to join him.

Since these are not normal times, Enho (J2w, 8-6) should reach the top division even with an 8-7 record, and Tokushoryu (J4w, 8-6) might be able to do so from an even lower rank; Enho is certainly in with a victory, and Tokushoryu likely is too. And while their records would not be good enough even with senshuraku victories under any other circumstances, I’m not crossing Takagenji (M4e, 7-7), Kyokyshuho (J6e, 8-6), and Wakatakakage (J5e, 7-7) off the list just yet.

Haru Storylines, Day 13

The Yusho Race

All 4 rikishi who went into Day 13 with a 10-2 record lost today, so with two days to go we have a simple if somewhat unexpected two-pony race. Yokozuna Hakuho ran his record to 13-0 in pursuit of his 42nd championship. The only man with a chance to stop him is M4 Ichinojo (12-1), who continued his dominant form. Hakuho’s remaining bouts are against Ozeki Takayasu and fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu, both 10-3. He leads the head-to-head series against these opponents by 17-2 and 42-7, respectively.

In the bout of the day, Ichinojo is matched with promotion-seeking Sekiwake Takakeisho (9-4) tomorrow. Takakeisho leads the series 7-2, and can likely clinch his ascension to Ozeki with a victory, but this is not the same Ichinojo he’s faced in the past. Ichinojo’s final opponent will likely be the highest-ranked available option—the other Sekiwake, Tamawashi.

Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin

His loss today against Kakuryu dropped the Georgian to 6-7. Unless he can prevail in both of his remaining bouts, against Tamawashi and Takakeisho, he will be Sekiwake in May and will have to put up 10 wins at the Natsu basho to return to Ozeki.

Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run

Takakeisho’s win over Takayasu ran his total to 9 and added a high-quality victory to his collection. A win against Ichinojo tomorrow or against Tochinoshin on senshuraku should see him promoted. If he loses and Tochinoshin wins in tomorrow’s bouts, then their Sunday clash will decide which one will be Ozeki in May.

The San’yaku Ranks

Today’s loss by Tamawashi (5-8) ensures that he’ll vacate his Sekiwake slot; one more loss will drop him out of San’yaku altogether. East Komusubi Mitakeumi also picked up his 8th loss, and should join West Komusubi Hokutofuji (5-8) in the rank-and-file in May.

Ichinojo has locked up the number one spot in the promotion queue and will be back in the San’yaku ranks at Natsu. The other leading promotion contenders are Aoiyama (M7, 10-3), Daieisho (M2, 7-6), and Kotoshogiku (M8, 10-3).

The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange

As things stand at the moment, we have 3 down and 3 up. Dropping out of the top division: Chiyonokuni (M12e, 0-0-13), Yutakayama (M16w, 3-10), and Toyonoshima (M14w, 3-10).

Coming up from Juryo: Shimanoumi (J1e, 11-2), Chiyomaru (J1w, 9-4), Enho (J2w, 8-5).

Also already demotable: Ikioi (M9w, 1-12). Nobody wants to see tomorrow’s horror show bout between the ghost of Ikioi and the walking dead Yutakayama.

Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 4-9) needs to win out to have even a marginal top-division record, while Daishoho (M16e, 6-7), Kotoeko (M15w, 6-7), Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-6), and Ishiura (M15e, 6-7) need one apiece. Holding on to hopes of promotion in case of a sufficiently ugly lower Makuuchi finish are Tokushoryu (J4w, 7-6) and perhaps even Wakatakakage (J5e, 7-6) and Daiamami (J3w, 6-7). The fact that they’re possibly in contention at all tells you just how bad things have been near the bottom of the top division.