Nagoya Storylines, Day 10

The Yusho Race

Undefeated Yokozuna Kakuryu has a one-win lead over fellow Yokozuna Hakuho (9-1). The 8-2 hunt group contains one-armed Ozeki Takayasu and three rank-and-filers: M7e Myogiryu, M7w Tomokaze, and M16w Terutsuyoshi. On Day 11, the leader will face M5e Kotoshogiku (5-5). The two have met on the dohyo a remarkable 50 times, with Kakuryu holding a 29-21 edge.

If Takayasu is reckless enough to show up tomorrow, he will face none other than the Dai-Yokozuna. Schedulers, what are you thinking? It can’t be a good feeling for Hakuho, himself not 100%, to have to try to defeat an obviously seriously injured opponent while attempting to avoid aggravating his condition. The 8-2 maegashira are all fighting typical maegashira opponents tomorrow, but their fight cards might get tougher starting on Day 12.

The Lower San’yaku

Sekiwake Tamawashi, who I’m sure can’t wait to get out of Nagoya, dropped to 1-9 and will be back in the maegashira ranks in September. Fellow Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6-4) has, as is often the case for him, hit the second-week wall, dropping two in a row to lower-ranked opponents. The good news for him is that one more win will keep him in san’yaku, two will save his rank, and he is up against hapless Meisei tomorrow, who only has one victory in the ring (the other coming by default) and who today couldn’t beat a man literally fighting with one arm.

Since my last update, the two Komusubi have gone in opposite direction, with Abi evening his score to 5-5 and Ryuden dropping to 3-7, one loss away from losing his rank. At this point, one open san’yaku slot seems the most likely option after accounting for Takakeisho’s drop to Sekiwake, and M1w Hokutofuji (7-3) has emerged as the clear favorite to fill it.

Demotion Danger

In addition to absent Yoshikaze, M15w Kaisei (1-9) has pretty much punched his ticket to Juryo—he would need to win his last 5 and be on the receiving end of remarkable banzuke luck to survive. M15e Yago (3-7) is in only slightly better shape—he needs 4 wins, or 3 and rare banzuke luck. Others needing more than one victory to stay in the top division are M14e Toyonoshima (4-6), M12e Tochiozan (3-7), M13e Chiyomaru (4-6), and M11w Nishikigi (3-7).

The Juryo promotion queue, in order, consists of Ishiura, Tsurugisho, Azumaryu, Chiyoshoma, Yutakayama, and Takanosho, all of whom still need 3-4 victories in the remaining 5 days to stake a real promotion claim.

Nagoya Storylines, Day 8

Little has been settled by Nakabi (middle Sunday) of the Nagoya basho, but let’s take an early look at the storylines we’ll be following in the final week of the tournament.

The Yusho Race

The two grand champions are also your undefeated Day 8 leaders: East Yokozuna Kakuryu and West Yokozuna Hakuho. They are trailed by one win by West Ozeki Takayasu (7-1). Another win off the pace are East Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6-2) and a trio of rank-and-filers.

Questions surround all four remaining san’yaku contenders. In the six basho since his last yusho in May of 2018, Kakuryu has 3 withdrawals and 3 bad second-week fades. Both of Hakuho’s arms are less than 100%, but Takayasu’s left seems in even worse shape, putting his continued participation in doubt. And Mitakeumi notoriously tends to fade in week two. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see the winner coming from outside this quartet. By the way, the decimation of the Ozeki corps (see below) means that the remaining upper-rankers will face opponents down to at least M5e Kotoshogiku.

The Ozeki Corps

Not so much a storyline as a fait accompli. We will already have two kadoban Ozeki at Aki needing 8 wins to save their rank—Tochinoshin and Goeido—as well as “Ozekiwake” Takakeisho, who needs 10 to regain his. All three, of course, are out of the Nagoya basho. Unless Takayasu’s arm holds up long enough for him to pick his 8th win, we will have three kadoban Ozeki for only the second time since the current system was established in 1969. The previous occurrence was at Kyushu 2012, when Kotoshogiku and Kotooshu were able to defend their ranks, but Baruto was demoted to Sekiwake, failed to put up 10 in the next basho, and retired a few tournaments later. Having four Ozeki with fewer than 8 wins in the same basho would be unprecedented in modern sumo.

Lower San’yaku

One Sekiwake slot at Aki is spoken for by Takakeisho. Mitakeumi is in good shape to extend his san’yaku streak to 16 tournaments, needing only one more victory to do so and two to remain Sekiwake. Tamawashi (1-7) seems all but certain to drop back into the rank-and-file. The Shin-Komusubi duo of Abi and Ryuden each posted 3-5 records in the first week, and need to go 5-2 or better in the second week to defend their rank. Ryuden is done with his higher-ranked opponents, while Abi has yet to face the two Sekiwake. It looks like anywhere between zero and two san’yaku slots will open. While it’s way too early to know who will be in contention for promotion, M1w Hokutofuji (5-3) is currently the best-placed.

Demotion Danger

Rather neatly, everyone ranked M9e and above has already done enough to remain in the top division, while everyone ranked M9w and below still has some work to do. The only certain demotions look to be the absent Yoshikaze and M15w Kaisei (1-7), who would need a second-week miracle to avoid a fall to Juryo. Others who need more wins than losses the rest of the way to guarantee another tournament in Makuuchi are M15e Yago (3-5), M14e Toyonoshima (3-5), and M12e Tochiozan (2-6).

There’s not exactly a long queue of promotion candidates down in Juryo. At the moment, J2e Ishiura (5-3) leads the field, followed by J1w Azumaryu (4-4) and J3w Yutakayama (5-3).

Day 1 Torikumi Posted

Now that the opening-day bouts have been posted, we can start to get psyched about the upcoming Nagoya basho in earnest!

Some highlights:

  • The Shin-Komusubi duo gets the customary trial-by-fire, with Ryuden facing Kakuryu and Abi matched against Hakuho.
  • The bouts for the three participating Ozeki are Goeido vs. M1e Asanoyama, Takayasu vs. M1w Hokutofuji, and Tochinoshin vs. M2e Endo. Endo memorably upset Tochinoshin in May, and Asanoyama clinched his title by besting Goeido on Day 14.
  • East Sekiwake Mitakeumi battles man-mountain Aoiyama (M2w), while West Sekiwake Tamawashi opens against M3e Shodai.
  • A few other bouts I’m circling: M4 Ichinojo vs. M5 Kotoshogiku in what should be a good belt battle, M7 Tomokaze vs. M8 Onosho, and the M14 clash of 168 cm Enho and 169 cm Toyonoshima.

Oh, and Asanoyama’s chance to get that kinboshi from Hakuho will come on Day 2, although he may be less eager after their recent playdate.

By the way, the torikumi is balanced, with no Juryo fill-ins needed at the moment, because in addition to Ozeki Takakeisho, M11 Yoshikaze is also absent for the start of the tournament. I hadn’t seen any news about him, but Bruce points out that apparently it’s a knee injury that is likely to to see the veteran miss the entire tournament, which would mean certain relegation to Juryo for the first time in 12 years, and possible retirement.

Nagoya Banzuke Postmortem

The banzuke committee hard at work

Well, the official rankings for the Nagoya basho are out, and while the crystal ball fared reasonably well, there are some real head-scratchers among the banzuke committee’s decisions. Let’s take a look at what my predictions got right and wrong.

As expected, there were no surprises in the upper ranks from Sekiwake to Yokozuna, where all eight placements went exactly to form. But just below that, we got our first big surprise, with Ryuden (M5w, 10-5) taking the West Komusubi slot in place of Asanoyama (M8w, 12-3). Not only is Asanoyama’s combination of rank and record clearly superior, but he also won the yusho! Oh, and he defeated Ryuden in their head-to-head meeting on Day 9. Neither man has been ranked in San’yaku in the past, so that can’t have given Ryuden the edge either. Pretty much all of the other forecasts I’ve seen also had Asanoyama at Komusubi, so this decision definitely qualifies as a puzzler. EDIT: Now that the Guess The Banzuke results are posted (your humble prognosticator came in 8th, his best result to date), we have some numbers. Of the 83 players, 74 had Ryuden at M1e, and only 9 had him at West Komusubi. As for Asanoyama, 8 had him at M1e, 1 at M2w (???!!!), 40 at West Komusubi, 28 at East Komusubi, and 6 at West Sekiwake. So the committee’s decision was clearly a surprise to those who try to forecast the banzuke on a regular basis.

And the committee’s work did not get any less puzzling in the upper maegashira ranks (M1w-M4w). It was reasonably clear which seven rikishi should be placed here, but their order was anything but. The committee seems to have pretty much randomly drawn names out of a hat, resulting in two pairs of rikishi who posted identical records at the same rank at Natsu (M2e Endo and M2w Daieisho, both 7-8, and M7e Shodai and M7w Meisei, both 10-5) being placed a full rank apart. Aoiyama got the benefit of the doubt sometimes given to make-koshi San’yaku rikishi, only falling from Komusubi to M2e with a 6-9 record, but Ichinojo did not, falling from East Sekiwake to M4w. Ichinojo’s placement was the only one my forecast got right in the nine ranks from West Komusubi to M4.

The forecast improved significantly from there, placing 18 of 24 rikishi from M5 to M16 at the correct rank, and with only one switch of sides (East vs. West). That switch highlights internal inconsistency in the committee’s decision-making. Both they and my prediction had Myogiryu (M5e, 6-9) and Tomokaze (M9w, 8-7) at M7 and Okinoumi (M4e, 5-10) and Onosho (M10w, 8-7) at M8. But who gets the more prestigious East side? Well, you could go with the higher-ranked rikishi, who faced tougher opposition, or you could give it to the rikishi with the winning record. I went back and forth on this, and ended up going with the former for my predictions. The committee, it appears, simply flipped a coin each time, ranking Myogiryu ahead of Tomokaze but Onosho ahead of Okinoumi.

I never even considered ranking Kotoeko, already ridiculously over-promoted to M11e from M15w, where he eked out an 8-7 kachi-koshi, ahead of Yoshikaze (M6w, 4-11), yet that’s exactly what the committee did. I am also puzzled by how Toyonoshima (J1e, 8-7) ended up all the way at M14e, ahead of both Yago, who had a better numerical claim to the rank and was already in the top division, and Kotoyuki, who posted a better rank-and-record combination in Juryo. Kaisei is also lucky to be ranked at M15w (I had him half-a-rank lower) after managing only 3 wins from M8.

Overall, my forecast had 28 of the 42 rikishi at the correct rank, with all but two of these on the correct side. Of the 14 misses, 5 were by half-a-rank, 6 by one rank, and 3 by a rank-and-a-half. Obviously, the biggest beneficiary of the curious decision-making is Ryuden, at the expense of Asanoyama. And rather than distributing the banzuke luck evenly among the upper maegashira, the committee saddled Shodai and Meisei with all of the bad luck, with most of the benefit accruing to Aoiyama and Endo.