Mock Natsu Storylines, Day 8

Hey everyone, we’ve made it to nakabi, the middle Sunday of our “unique” basho! Time to take a look at how the tournament is shaping up, and what’s at stake between now and senshuraku.

The yusho race

After 8 days, your surprise leader is M8 Ishiura (8-0)! In the past, I’ve tended to dismiss the chances of rikishi from the bottom half of the banzuke, but with 2 of the last 6 tournaments having been won from M8 and M17 ranks, an Ishiura yusho wouldn’t even be the strangest one of 2020.

One win behind the leader is 7-1 Mitakeumi, who is looking very comfortable back at his customary Sekiwake rank. And with no fewer than 8 pursuers whose records stand at 6-2, including such heavyweights as the two Yokozuna and Ozeki Asanoyama, we could be in for a wide-open race.

The Ozeki ranks

Shin-Ozeki Asanoyama is displaying few signs of a hangover at his new rank; perhaps he has the state of emergency—and the resulting decrease in promotion celebrations—to thank. On the other hand, Ozeki Takakeisho has a mirror 2-6 record, which is a serious concern given his injury history and kadoban status. Will we be down to a single Ozeki again?

Lower san’yaku

At 7-1, Mitakeumi is one win away from securing another tournament at Sekiwake; with his 10-5 record at M3 in Osaka, could we be looking at the start of another Ozeki run? Fellow Sekiwake Shodai, as well as Komusubi Daieisho, have also made it through week one with winning records (5-3), placing them in good position to remain in the named ranks. The other Komusubi, Okinoumi, looks set for an immediate return to the rank and file after a dismal first week left his record at 1-7.

Endo, who is no stranger to the M1 rank, and Yutakayama, for whom this represents a career high, have both gotten crushed by the upper ranks, and sport identical 2-6 records that leave them with little hope of promotion. That leaves M2 Takanosho (5-3) as the best-placed among the joi-jin for a san’yaku push.

Demotion danger

Sadly, M17 Terunofuji is heading back to the second division after pulling out of the tournament without a single win (though it’s hard to reconcile the recently surfaced video of his lower-body workout with the reported ACL injury).

Another former Ozeki, Tochinoshin, is also struggling, with a 1-7 record at M11. His rank does offer more of a cushion, but he still likely needs 4 wins to avoid a trip to Juryo for the first time since 2014. The likes of M15 Chiyomaru, M16 Kotoeko, and M17 Kotoyuki will also need to improve on their 3-5 showings during the first week if they want to remain in Makuuchi.

Mock Natsu Basho!

The NSK may have cancelled the Natsu basho, but never fear—you do not have to wait until July (or later) for some sumo content. Our friends at Grand Sumo Breakdown will be simulating the tournament based on the recently released banzuke. We here at Tachiai will be joining them in covering the mock basho much like we would the real thing. While we can’t bring you actual bouts, we can write previews, highlights, storyline posts, etc. At the end of the tournament, I will even create a projection for a banzuke based on the mock results. In Bruce’s inimitable words, “It will be odd, it could be cheesy, but I think the readership will love it.” While our efforts cannot make up for the absence of real ozumo, we hope that they will scratch the sumo itch at least a little, and bring some much-needed levity to the sumo fandom community.

The mock Natsu basho kicks off in two weeks, on May 24, just like the real thing was slated to before the cancellation. Let us know any thoughts and suggestions you may have in the comments, and stay tuned for more details.

May Banzuke Prediction Postmortem

The May banzuke is out! While the Crystal Ball is no better than anyone else at telling you when the tournament with this banzuke will be held, it did its finest job yet at forecasting the new rankings.

The first five positions on the banzuke were not difficult to get right: Y1e Hakuho, Y1w Kakuryu, O1e Takakeisho, O1w Asanoyama, S1e Shodai. There was slightly greater uncertainty about the rest of the san’yaku, but the Crystal Ball correctly predicted S1w Mitakeumi, K1e Daieisho, and K1w Okinoumi.

It was clear who would occupy the top two maegashira ranks, but the order was less predictable, and I am especially pleased to have correctly forecast M1e Endo and M1w Yutakayama, who jumped ahead of M2e Takanosho, followed by M2w Onosho. From there, M3e Takarafuji, M3w Kiribayama, and M4e Kagayaki were easy calls.

This is where we come to the first rank the Crystal Ball got wrong: the real banzuke has M4w Aoiyama, M5e Abi, and M5w Hokutofuji, who appears not to have gotten the full deference often given to demoted san’yaku rikishi. My more lenient prediction had him switching ranks with Aoiyama.

After this glitch, the forecast was back on a roll, correctly predicting the next eight banzuke positions, from M6e Enho to M9w Ikioi. And then we hit the messiness of the lower maegashira ranks. Of the last 16 spots on the banzuke, the Crystal Ball called only 6 exactly right, placed two more rikishi at the right rank but on the wrong side, and made 5 one-rank switches affecting the remaining 8 placements. At least it got the identities of all 42 Makuuchi rikishi right, with Nishikigi surviving in the top division (and at a higher-than-expected rank of M16e) and Tobizaru having to wait longer for his top-division debut.

Overall, that’s 30 rikishi placed at the correct rank and side, two more at the right rank, and the remaining 10 off by one rank. I don’t know when the Crystal Ball will next be called into action, but it can rest on its laurels in the meantime.

(Full disclosure: This analysis applies to my final Guess The Banzuke (GTB) entry, not my published prediction. I ended up making three last-minute half-rank switches: Takanosho ahead of Onosho, Myogiryu ahead of Sadanoumi, and Nishikigi ahead of Kotoyuki.)

P.S. This turned out to be the winning GTB entry! I am very happy. I will continue to try my best and do my own brand of sumo forecasting.

Banzuke Crystal Ball

Who knows when it’s going to be possible to hold the next basho, but at least the rankings chart for it, based on the March results, will be released on schedule on April 27th. Let’s briefly divert ourselves from more weighty matters by speculating how the top-division ranks will be reshuffled.

The top five ranks are pretty much set in stone: East Yokozuna Hakuho, West Yokozuna Kakuryu, East Ozeki Takakeisho, West shin-Ozeki Asanoyama, and East Sekiwake Shodai. The next two ranks, West Sekiwake and East Komusubi, will certainly be occupied by Mitakeumi and Daieisho, in all likelihood in that order. So the real prognostication is for ranks starting at West Komusubi.

I went through my forecasting methodology in the last of these posts. We can divide the rikishi into three lists: those with winning records (kachi-koshi) in the top division, those likely to stay in Makuuchi despite losing records (make-koshi), and those likely to be promoted from Juryo. We first need to establish a pecking order for each list, and then merge the lists.

If we go by rank and record alone, the KK list in order of priority is: Takanosho, Okinoumi, (Yutakayama/Onosho), Takarafuji, (Kagayaki/Kiribayama), Aoiyama, Terutsuyoshi, Ishiura, Chiyotairyu, Ikioi, (Shimanoumi/Kaisei), Kotonowaka, with parentheses indicating ties. Higher up the banzuke, higher rank tends to outweigh extra wins in case of ties, which favors Yutakayama over Onosho. Lower down, it tends to go the other way, likely placing Kiribayama ahead of Kagayaki and Shimanoumi ahead of Kaisei. Also, at the top of the list, Takanosho’s low rank and strength of schedule makes it highly probable that Okinoumi will pass him for the last san’yaku slot, and it’s not out of the question that Yutakayama and even Onosho could end up ahead of him.

The ordered MK list is Endo, Abi, (Hokutofuji/Enho), Ryuden, Tokushoryu, Tamawashi, Tochinoshin, (Myogiryu/Sadanoumi), Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, (Takayasu/Chiyomaru), Nishikigi (assuming he avoids demotion). Hokutofuji’s san’yaku rank should give him the tiebreaker over Enho, and the lenient treatment often afforded those demoted from the named ranks may even place him ahead of Abi. Takayasu should be ranked above Chiyomaru, and could rise even higher—his placement after an 0-5-10 performance at M1 is probably the biggest question mark of the banzuke.

I’m predicting five promotions from Juryo, and I would rank them in the following order: (Wakatakakage/Kotoshoho), (Terunofuji/Kotoeko), Kotoyuki, with Tobizaru just missing out. I would not be surprised if the order ends up being different, and it’s also far from clear where to slot in the second-division men.

Making some reasonable guesses, here’s my predicted down to M9:

I could see different orders among the M1-M2 ranks, Hokutofuji being up to a full rank lower, and some half-rank switches, but otherwise I’m fairly confident down to this point. Here we come to the first tricky placement. By the numbers, the next in line for the M10e slot is Tochinoshin, but with a 6-9 record at M9w, a half-rank-demotion would be extremely generous. This can be solved relatively easily by moving Shimanoumi and Kaisei up past the former Ozeki, and placing him at M11e instead. Myogiryu and Sadanoumi (in either order) then fill the M11w and M12e ranks. And after that?

M12w is a real conundrum. Does Takayasu end up this high with zero wins at M1, when the two previous banzuke saw demotions to Juryo of winless rikishi from M3? Shohozan is the other make-koshi candidate from the upper ranks, but his 4-11 record at M8 also seems to call for a bigger drop. The only remaining kachi-koshi rikishi is Kotonowaka, and 6 ranks is quite a jump for someone who went 9-6 at M18. Or do we slot in the highest of the men promoted from Juryo here, and is that Wakatakakage, Kotoshoho, or even Kotoyuki? And it doesn’t get any easier as we go further down the banzuke. I went with Kotonowaka at M12w, and slotted everyone else in below him, giving preference to Makuuchi incumbents whenever it was a close call. With that, we get the following projection for the lower half of the maegashira ranks:

We’ll find out how the banzuke committee’s rankings differ from my predictions in just about two weeks. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments! I hope that everyone in the sumo world, including the writers and readers of this blog, stays safe and healthy, and that we get to see another basho (and the associated reshuffling of the ranks) as soon as it is prudent to hold one.