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.

Aki Special Prizes

July’s 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 claim the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with each one? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are awarded conditionally. Usually, the condition is that the rikishi must win his last bout, but sometimes it can be something else, such as winning the yusho.

The September prizes have just been announced. Mitakeumi will get an outstanding performance award and a fighting spirit prize, both conditionally (it’s not clear if the condition is getting into a playoff or taking the yusho). Asanoyama will receive an unconditional outstanding performance award, while Okinoumi will also get one conditionally (again, I’m not sure if the condition is getting into a playoff or taking the yusho). Okinoumi will also receive an unconditional fighting spirit prize, and, as expected, so will Tsurugisho for posting double-digit wins in his top-division debut. It looks like no one was deemed worthy of a technique prize. The full list is below:

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

East Sekiwake Mitakeumi(Hisashi Omichi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Dewanoumi Beya
Date of Birth: December 25, 1992 (26 years old)
Place of Birth: Nagano
2015 March Debut

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

West Maegashira #2 Asanoyama(Hiroki Ishibashi)  
(10-4)
Takasago Beya
Date of Birth: March 1, 1994 (25 years old)
Place of Birth: Toyama
2016 March Debut

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

East Maegashira #8 Okinoumi(Ayumi Fukuoka)  conditionally
(11-3)
Hakkaku Beya
Date of Birth: July 29, 1985 (34 years old)
Place of Birth: Shimane
2005 January Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Sekiwake Mitakeumi(Hisashi Omichi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Dewanoumi Beya
Date of Birth: December 25, 1992 (26 years old)
Place of Birth: Nagano
2015 March Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #8 Okinoumi(Ayumi Fukuoka)  
(11-3)
Hakkaku Beya
Date of Birth: July 29, 1985 (34 years old)
Place of Birth: Shimane
2005 January Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #14 Tsurugisho(Kentaro Abiko)  
(10-4)
Oitekaze Beya
Date of Birth: July 27, 1991 (28 years old)
Place of Birth: Tokyo
2014 January Debut

Aki Storylines for Senshuraku

The Yusho Race

What had been a very muddled picture became clear as a result of Day 14 action. Only three men, all with 11-3 records, still have a shot at lifting the Emperor’s Cup: Sekiwake Mitakeumi, Sekiwake Takakeisho, and, controversially, M8 Okinoumi. By scheduling the latter pair against each other—and forgoing the traditional Abi vs. Takakeisho bout—the torikumi committee has guaranteed that the yusho will be won with a 12-3 record, thereby eliminating 10-win Asanoyama and Tsurugisho from contention.

The scenarios are simple: should Mitakeumi lose, the winner of the Takakeisho vs. Okinoumi bout is the champion. If Mitakeumi wins, he will face that winner in a playoff for all the marbles. I recommend Josh’s excellent preview post for an analysis of the matchups.

The Ozeki

Sadly, Tochinoshin’s quest to defend his Ozeki rank came to an end with his loss to Myogiryu today. He will be ranked at West Sekiwake for Kyushu, and the 10 wins needed to re-regain his rank seem like a big ask unless what ails him can somehow be fixed in six weeks. With 20 wins in 29 bouts over the last two basho, Mitakeumi probably needs 12 or 13 in November to finally become Ozeki, depending on tomorrow’s outcome, and beyond mere numbers, winning the yusho (or even losing a playoff) would certainly help his cause.

The Lower San’yaku

With Mitakeumi locked in as East Sekiwake, Tochinoshin falling to West Sekiwake, and both Komusubi recording at least 8 wins, all the regular slots are spoken for. According to Asashosakari, this is the first time that’s happened since Aki 2006. Neither Abi nor Endo can end the basho with 11 wins, which means that they will almost certainly stay where they are. M1e Hokutofuji can get to 9 wins, and M2w Asanoyama can get to 11, but it’s not clear whether either outcome would be sufficient to open an extra Komusubi slot; I’m guessing that we will see the duo as extremely hard-luck M1e and M1w, respectively.

Darwin Bouts

Only five rikishi go into Day 15 with 7-7 records and their kachi/make-koshi fate on the line. And of course, four of them are matched up: it’s Tamawashi vs. Ishiura and Daieisho vs. Kotoeko. The 5th, Myogiryu, takes Takakeisho’s place against Abi. There are no major promotions or demotions on the line for this group—only the direction of their move for the Kyushu banzuke.

Demotion Danger

Here’s where things stand with one day to go. There are two definite demotions from Makuuchi: Toyonoshima and Takagenji. Conveniently, they are matched by two definite promotions from Juryo: Takanosho and Chiyomaru.

Beyond that, things are a bit murky. Tochiozan will be in serious trouble with a loss, and not completely safe with a win. The loser of its own kind of Darwin bout, Kagayaki vs. Azumaryu, will also be eligible for demotion, as will Terutsuyoshi with a loss. Daishoho’s win today makes his stay in the top division likely but not certain.

Whether or not any of these laggards actually end up on the boat to Juryo will depend on the existence of palatable promotion candidates there. J3 Wakatakakage (8-6) would probably qualify with a win, and might exchange places with Tochiozan should both lose. J5 Daishomaru (9-5) is in similar shape, while Juryo yusho winner and erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay J12 Ikioi (12-2) must win and hope for a lot of losses by others, as well as favorable treatment by the banzuke committee.

And down at the other end of Juryo, it looks to me like we’ll have one spot in the salaried ranks opening up via retirement (Yoshikaze) and five more via demotion: Seiro, Chiyonoumi, Takanofuji (unless he also “retires”), Asagyokusei, and Irodori. Who are the lucky six Makushita men ascending to “heaven”? At the moment, we have four qualified candidates in the Ms1-Ms5 promotion zone: Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, both 6-1, and Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, both 4-3. Yes, readers, barring anything unexpected, Hoshoryu should be a sekitori in November! One more rikishi will join them on the final day: the winner of a Darwin bout between Ms2w Chiyonoo and Ms5w Akiseyama, both 3-3. I am not sure what will happen with the 6th slot. It might go to Ms6e Churanoumi (4-2) if he can win his final bout, or else to Ms7w Chiyotoori (5-2). Or J13e Irodori might survive if he can manage a 6th win on senshuraku.

Aki Storylines, Day 13

“Who still has a shot at the yusho?”

The Yusho Race

After a loss by Day 12 leader Sekiwake Takakeisho, it looks like Bruce may get his wish of a senshuraku barnyard brawl for the cup! Takakeisho fell into a 4-way tie with fellow Sekiwake Mitakeumi, erstwhile leader M8 Okinoumi, and the surprising Makuuchi debutant M14 Tsurugisho, all 10-3. If nothing else, Tsurugisho should now be assured of a special prize.

The four leaders are pursued by a five-strong pack of 9-4 rikishi which includes Ozeki Goeido, M2 Asanoyama, M8 Takarafuji, M10 Meisei, and M16e Yutakayama. And given that none of the leaders are matched up head-to-head on Day 14, the 8-win trio of the two Komusubi (Abi and Endo) and M12 Shohozan is still mathematically in it, although I would guess that even if all the leaders lose on Day 14, the Day 15 matchups will ensure that at least one rikishi ends up with 11 or more wins.

Interestingly, only one Day 14 bout features two of the top nine rikishi, leaving open the (admittedly unlikely) possibility of nine 10-4 records going into Day 15! That one bout is the highlight of the day: Mitakeumi vs. Goeido. Will the Sekiwake stay in the lead, and knock the Ozeki out of the race, or will Goeido even the score between the two? The career record favors the Ozeki 9-5 (as always, excluding fusen), and he’s taken two of their three prior meetings this year. As for the other leaders, Takakeisho faces Ryuden, against whom he’s 2-0, Okinoumi is matched with Endo, with the Komusubi holding an 8-4 career edge, and Tsurugisho draws Kotoyuki, whom he bested in both of their prior bouts (in Juryo).

A huge number of scenarios and outcomes are still in play, which is what makes the final weekend so exciting. If we treat each match as a coin flip (obviously, a simplification), we can expect two 11-3 rikishi and four or five 10-4 rikishi going into the final day. The schedulers will have some interesting choices to make, and I’m guessing that the situation is exceptional enough that they will hold off on drawing up the Day 15 torikumi until the Day 14 matches have been completed. Depending on the number and identity of leaders and chasers, it may well be impossible to ensure a winner in regulation, and I know I am not the only one who would love to see a playoff among as many rikishi as possible!

The Ozeki

The remaining story here is Tochinoshin’s quest to defend his Ozeki rank. With his record at 6-7, he must defeat Myogiryu tomorrow and Goeido on senshuraku to do so. Let’s not forget that Mitakeumi got 9 wins as Sekiwake in Nagoya, so with his 10 secured here, he can already be considered on an Ozeki run, but he will want to push his total as high as possible not only to stay in the yusho race but also to lower his target for Kyushu.

The Lower San’yaku

With all the incumbents now having successfully defended their ranks, and with Takakeisho’s re-promotion, the scenarios here hinge on whether Tochinoshin can remain Ozeki. Should he succeed, we will have Mitakeumi at S1e, S1w occupied by whichever Komusubi has the better finish (K1 Abi holds the tiebreaker over K1w Endo), with the other holding down the K1e slot, and one lucky maegashira moving up to K1w. Asanoyama can probably clinch the top spot in the promotion queue with one more victory, and M1e Hokutofuji (7-6) is the only other realistic contender.

Should Tochinoshin lose one more bout, he will join Mitakeumi at Sekiwake, the Komusubi will stay where they are, and it becomes a question of whether Hokutofuji and/or Asanoyama can make a case for an extra Komusubi slot; given the recent decisions by the banzuke committee, we may well end up with the duo as extremely hard-luck M1e and M1w, respectively (assuming Hokutofuji can get his 8).

Demotion Danger

The only change from yesterday is that Ishiura has removed himself from danger with his henka against Terutsuyoshi. Everyone else lost, and so Daishoho and Tochiozan continue to need at least a victory and possibly two to stay out of Juryo, while Terutsuyoshi, Kagayaki, and Azumaryu need one apiece.

J2 Takanosho (9-4) has clinched a return to the top division. J1 Chiyomaru (7-6) can do so with one more victory. J3 Wakatakakage (7-6) and J5 Daishomaru (8-5) are the best of the rest in such a weak field that even J2 Chiyoshoma (6-7) and yusho leader J12 Ikioi (11-2) cannot be considered out of it yet.