A Look Ahead to Hatsu 2020

Yokozuna and Ozeki

Hakuho (14-1) has once again confirmed his standing at the top of the sport, and this will be made official when he assumes the rank of East Yokozuna for a record 51st time in his storied career but the first since May. Kakuryu (0-1-14) will move over to the West side, and Tachiai hopes that he’ll be fit to fight in January.

Takakeisho (9-6) had a solid tournament and put up his first winning record as Ozeki. He’ll be the East Ozeki at Hatsu, joined on the West side by Goeido (0-2-13), who’ll be kadoban and looking for 8 wins to maintain his rank. Takayasu (3-5-7) failed in his attempt to clear kadoban, and will have his one shot to return to Ozeki by picking up 10 wins at Sekiwake. That mountain proved too high to climb for the second time for Tochinoshin (2-3-10), who says good-bye to his hopes of regaining the rank and should be ranked around M8, his lowest banzuke position since May 2017.

Sekiwake and Komusubi

The final-day results made a potentially messy situation fairly clear, unless the banzuke committee does something unexpected. There should be two Sekiwake and two Komusubi on the next banzuke, which, combined with only two Yokozuna and two Ozeki, will give us the smallest slate of san’yaku-ranked rikishi since November 2005. Consequently, the joi ranks will extend all the way down to M4w, even barring any absences, and we will see the reappearance of the M17w rank.

The key outcomes were losses by Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6-9) and Komusubi Endo (7-8), which should drop both into the rank-and-file along with Komusubi Hokutofuji (7-8), who was already make-koshi. For Mitakeumi, this would end a streak of 17 straight san’yaku appearances, second-longest in history and two basho short of the record. This leaves both Sekiwake slots open. The East Sekiwake rank should be occupied by Komusubi Asanoyama (11-4), while the West side is spoken for by Takayasu. East Komusubi Abi (9-6) will hold on to his rank, and the open West Komusubi slot should go to M1e Daieisho (8-7), removing the need for any extra slots.

Apparently, the shimpan department has declared that Asanoyama is not on an Ozeki run after posting records of M2 10-5 K 11-4 jun-yusho in the past two basho, but this probably just means that simply hitting 33 wins by going 12-3 at Hatsu won’t be enough, and it will take 13+ wins and/or a yusho.

Upper Maegashira

This is where things get crowded. Unless the baznuke committee goes against precedent and creates extra san’yaku slots without being forced to do so, there are four rikishi who warrant the M1 rank—Mitakeumi, the two 7-8 Komusubi, and M2e Myogiryu (8-7). My guess is that we will see Myogiryu, who must be promoted, at M1e, followed by the higher-ranked Komusubi, Endo, at M1w, with Hokutofuji and Mitakeumi having to settle for M2.

After that, the 8-7 M4 duo of Tamawashi and Kotoyuki should neatly move up in tandem to M3. M10w Shodai (11-4) should return from the lower ranks to the more familiar banzuke territory of M4, where he’ll probably be joined by M1w Okinoumi (6-9). And rounding out the top 10 maegashira at M5 should be M2w Meisei (6-9) and M6w Enho (8-7), who keeps proving his doubters wrong, delighting his fans, and moving ever higher up the banzuke.

Lower Maegashira

Somewhat unusually, none of the competing maegashira ended up on the bubble—they either clearly did enough to stay in the top division, or unambiguously earned a trip on Bruce’s infamous “Juryo barge.” In the latter group are M15w Daishoho (3-12), M14w Nishikigi (4-11), and M15e Daishomaru (5-10), all posting double-digit losses at the very bottom of Makuuchi. They’ll be joined in the second division by absent Ichinojo and injured Wakatakakage.

That’s five demotions, and as it happens, there are five clearly deserved promotions from Juryo. Three are Makuuchi mainstays making a return: Ikioi, Tochiozan, and Kaisei. One, Kiribayama, is a promising newcomer who shrugged off a senshuraku henka attempt by Chiyoshoma in a de facto promotion playoff, and whom Heruth has compared to Harumafuji. And last but not least, we have the Juryo yusho winner, Azumaryu, who defeated Ikioi and Kaisei in a playoff (avenging regulation losses to both). Azumaryu entered sumo 11 years ago, and has spent most of that time in Juryo, with 5 previous appearances in the top-division, most recently in September. He seems to be hitting a peak at age 32; this is his first yusho at any level, and he is likely exceed his career-high rank of M14e.

The one wildcard is M3w Tomokaze (0-3-12). Sadly, we know he won’t be competing any time soon, but his banzuke position has historically usually been high enough to protect him from a fall to Juryo even with zero wins. But that’s not a certainty this time, as J1w Tokushoryu (8-7) has a strong if not ironclad promotion case. If I had to guess, I’d go with them promoting Tokushoryu, but this is a really tough call.

Kyushu Special Prizes

Via the Sumo Kyokai website:

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

East Maegashira #1 Daieisho(Hayato Takanishi)  
(8-6)
Oitekaze Beya
Date of Birth: November 10, 1993 (26 years old)
Place of Birth: Saitama
2012 January Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

West Maegashira #10 Shodai(Naoya Shodai)  conditionally
(10-4)
Tokitsukaze Beya
Date of Birth: November 5, 1991 (28 years old)
Place of Birth: Kumamoto
2014 March Debut

Gino-sho(Technique Prize)

West Komusubi Asanoyama(Hiroki Ishibashi)  
(11-3)
Takasago Beya
Date of Birth: March 1, 1994 (25 years old)
Place of Birth: Toyama
2016 March Debut

Kyushu Storylines, Day 14

The yusho race

Congratulations to Hakuho (13-1) on winning an unfathomable 43rd Emperor’s cup. The Yokozuna’s first basho at that rank was Nagoya 2007, more than 12 years ago. Of the 74 basho at sumo’s highest rank, he missed all or most of 10 with injuries. In the 64 tournaments he finished (or nearly finished this January), Hakuho has 40 yusho, plus 17 jun-yusho (3 of them involving playoff losses). He’s never finished a tournament as Yokozuna with less than double-digit wins, and he won 12 or more in 56 of the 64 basho.

The San’yaku ranks

Three of the four regular slots for Hatsu are now spoken for. We will have East Sekiwake Asanoyama (11-3), appearing once again at a career-high rank. The West Sekiwake rank will be taken over by Takayasu, who will need 10 wins in January to reclaim the rank of Ozeki. Finally, with his victory today, Abi (8-6) assured himself of another basho as the East Komusubi.

That leaves one open regular slot, and 3 contenders. Endo (7-7) is part of the “Darwin bout” crew, and must defeat Kotoyuki (7-7) to hold onto the West Komusubi rank. Daieisho (8-6) is now kachi-koshi at the top maegashira rank, so he would take Endo’s slot if it opens. If Endo wins, we know after Hokutofuji’s promotion last time that a 9-6 record at M1e is enough to force open an extra slot, but we don’t know what would happen if Daieisho lost to Enho (in what seems like a cruel bit of scheduling for the 7-7 pixie) to finish 8-7. Finally, Mitakeumi (6-8) can finish 7-8 by beating Abi. I believe a 7-8 record by a Sekiwake has been guaranteed to lead to only a one-rank demotion to Komusubi, even if this entails creating an extra slot, but it will be interesting to see what transpires. So just like last time, there may be room to argue about where between 2 and 4 the number of Komusubi at Hatsu will fall.

Demotion danger

Despite his victory today, we can now add Daishomaru (5-9) to the list of certain demotions that already included Ichinojo, Wakatakakage, Daishoho, and Nishikigi. Even a victory tomorrow won’t save him, as there is, for once, a glut of promotion candidates in Juryo. Depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s action, this may push Tomokaze all the way down from M3 into the second division after all.

J1e Azumaryu, J2e Tochiozan, and J3e Ikioi, all 10-4, are assured of promotion. The J5 duo of Kaisei and Kiribayama, also 10-4, are in with victories, but losses by them could open the door to J1w Tokushoryu (7-7), J3w Chiyoshoma (8-6), and J7w Kotonowaka (10-4), who all need victories to stake a promotion claim and possibly force down Tomokaze.

Kyushu Storylines, Day 13

The yusho race

Hakuho (12-1) is now thisclose to lifting the Emperor’s cup for the 43rd time. He’d have to drop both of his final matches, against Mitakeumi and Takakeisho, and Asanoyama or Shodai (both 10-3) would have to win out just to force a playoff in which the Yokozuna would be heavily favored.

The San’yaku ranks

  • Tochinoshin: will be a maegashira in January exactly two years after his yusho-winning performance that launched his Ozeki career.
  • Takayasu: will either be West Sekiwake if there are two Sekiwake slots, or East Sekiwake 2 if there are three.
  • Mitakeumi (6-7): has two bouts left, against Hakuho and Abi. If he can pull off two wins, he’ll stay East Sekiwake. One, and he’ll drop to Komusubi. Zero would send him back to the rank-and-file for the first time in exactly three years.
  • Asanoyama (10-3): East Sekiwake if Mitakeumi loses another bout; otherwise most likely West Sekiwake win one more win and Komusubi with two losses.
  • Abi (7-6): Komusubi with a victory against Takakeisho or Mitakeumi; otherwise maegashira.
  • Endo (6-7): Komusubi with two victories; otherwise maegashira.
  • Hokutofuji (5-8): will be a maegashira at Hatsu.

So that’s 2 san’yaku slots filled, and 3 others hanging in the balance (with one quite likely on the line in the Mitakeumi vs. Abi bout on senshuraku). We could have as many as two and as few as zero open Komusubi slots. There are still no kachi-koshi records among the upper maegashira; M1e Daieisho and M4e Tamawashi (both 7-6) are at the head of the promotion queue, but those with 6 wins (Okinoumi, Myogiryu, Kotoyuki…) are still in contention.

Demotion danger

Four Juryo demotions are now written in ink: absentees Ichinojo and Wakatakakage and double-digit losers Daishoho and Nishikigi. Nishikigi’s high-wire act comes to an end as he finally ran out of lives, and no amount of banzuke luck will keep him from going down for the first time since May 2017. We can also pencil in M15e Daishomaru (4-9), who needs two wins and a lot of banzuke luck to hang on to the bottom rung of the top division. All of this is good news for Tomokaze, who is now 6th in the demotion queue and likely to be ranked in Makuuchi on the next banzuke; sadly, the severity of his injury means that this will only result in a slightly higher starting position, probably in Sandanme or Jonidan, for his eventual comeback bid. With his win today, Shimanoumi (5-8) is now safe.

J1e Azumaryu (9-4), J3e Ikioi (10-3), and J2e Tochiozan (9-4) have done enough to claim the first three promotion slots. J5e Kaisei (9-4), J5w Kiribayama (9-4), and J7w Kotonowaka (10-3) are looking for another win to seal the deal. The big bouts tomorrow: Tochiozan vs. Kotonowaka and Ikioi vs. Kaisei.