Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

The new rankings will be announced and mailed to supporters on March 1. In advance of this much-awaited event, let’s take a look at how they are likely to shake out.

The named ranks

These should be very straightforward. The absent Yokozuna will keep their positions, with Hakuho on the East side and Kakuryu on the West. As a consequence of his dismal 2-8-5 performance, Takakeisho will fall to East Ozeki 2, behind East Ozeki Shodai and West Ozeki Asanoyama, who will stay in their current order after identical 11-4 performances.

Just like in September, we will have 3 Sekiwake, and also like in September, the extra rank will go to Daieisho after his yusho-winning 13-2 performance from M1. He should be ranked behind the successful incumbents, East Sekiwake Terunofuji (11-4) and West Sekiwake Takanosho (9-6), with the slight wrinkle that his rank will be West Sekiwake 2 to balance out the solitary East Ozeki 2 rank on the banzuke.

Finally, East Komusubi Takayasu and West Komusubi Mitakeumi both went 9-6 and will stay at their ranks. Since the number of wrestlers in the top division is fixed at 42, 10 san’yaku ranks leaves room for only 32 maegashira, meaning that we won’t see an M17 rank for the first time since November 2019.

The rank-and-file

Scroll down if you just want to see the projected banzuke. I’ve written about my process for arriving at the predicted rankings before, so I won’t belabor it here, but I will make a few notes on this particular set of predictions.

  • I left the five maegashira absent due to COVID outbreaks in their heya at their current ranks, as this did not seem unfair to any of the participating rikishi and in several instances helped avoid even bigger under-demotions or over-promotions.
  • I’d be surprised to see any major departures from the official banzuke for the M1e-M7e ranks (Takarafuji through Kotonowaka), where the only decision I wrestled with was how to order Shimanoumi and Kiribayama.
  • The trickiest area of the banzuke for me was M7w-M10e, especially the M7w rank. Placing the next available kachi-koshi rikishi here, M14e Hoshoryu, which is what I ended up doing, represents an extremely generous promotion of 6.5 ranks for someone with a 9-6 record. On the other hand, giving the slot to the best-positioned make-koshi rikishi, M6w Kagayaki, would mean only a one-rank demotion for a 6-9 record. Kagayaki has received some very lenient treatment recently, but this seemed like a step too far, so I placed him at M8e, splitting Hoshoryu and M14w Midorifuji (also 9-6). With Chiyonokuni locked in place at M9e, I have M4e Tochinoshin (4-11) at M9w, just ahead of M7w Tobizaru (6-9), but flipping these two wouldn’t surprise me, nor would any number of more extensive rearrangements among these rikishi.
  • One rikishi is unquestionably going down to Juryo: M17e Sadanoumi (5-10). Highly likely to join him is M13e Akua (5-10). The Juryo promotion picture is complicated by a whopping 7 COVID-related absences in the top 10 ranks, but three rikishi made credible cases for promotion: the yusho winner J8e Tsurugisho (12-3), Tobizaru’s big brother J6w Hidenoumi (11-4), who is looking to return to the top division for the first time in three years, and the highest-ranked man competing, J1w Daiamami (8-7). I project that all three will be in Makuuchi in March, which means that I needed to find another demotion candidate, and I’ve gone with last January’s unlikely champion, M8e Tokushoryu (3-12). He could survive, but I’d hate to guess at whose expense. The only other remotely plausible promotion candidate is J8w Daishomaru (11-4), but he is clearly behind the other 3, and I don’t think his case is strong enough to push down M15e Yutakayama (7-8).

With all that out of the way, here’s the projection. Let me know what you think in the comments.

New Juryo for Haru

As expected, four rikishi have been promoted to Juryo: crossing the heaven/hell boundary are Ms1w Takakento (5-2), Ms2e Bushozan (4-3), Ms3w Ichiyamamoto (4-3), and Ms5w Nishikifuji (6-1). This marks sekitori debuts for Takakento and Bushozan (pictured above) and returns for Ichiyamamoto, after an injury led to more than a year in Makushita, and Nishikifuji, who bounces back after a single tournament in the third division.

The corresponding demotions are not announced, but reading the tea leaves, it’s not hard to figure out that falling out of the salaried ranks are J14 Ryuko (6-9), J13 Ikioi (6-9), who’s been a sekitori for nearly a decade, J11 Oho (5-10), the wrestler formerly known as Naya, and J9 Kotoyuki (4-11), who, like Ikioi, hasn’t been ranked this low since 2011.

We can also look at who is likely to be fighting for Juryo promotion at Haru. Generally, there is a promotion zone, Ms1-Ms5, and it’s the 10 rikishi occupying these ranks who compete to reach sekitorihood. In very favorable instances, someone just outside this zone can move up, but typically, only a 7-0 record leads to promotion from the extended zone, Ms6-Ms15.

Nine of the ten slots in the promotion zone are clear: the four Juryo demotions listed above will be joined by two men with kachi-koshi records in the Ms1-Ms5 ranks who just missed out this time: Ms4w Daishoho and Ms5e Tochimaru, both 4-3. Also getting another chance will be Ms1e Kitaharima, who fell one win short at 3-4. And moving up into the promotion zone will be Ms8w Shohoryu (6-1), who came agonizingly close to the 7-0 record he needed, and Ms6e Hokutenkai (4-3), Takanoiwa’s nephew.

The last slot will go to either Ms2w Roga (3-4), or one of the following wrestlers with winning records further down the banzuke: Ms8e Murata (4-3), Ms13w Kaisho (5-2), or Ms17w Ryusei (6-1). My guess would be Ryusei, but I’m really not sure how to handicap the rank-record combinations in this part of the rankings. As commenter Jay points out, the 10th slot is presumably spoken for by Ms3e Kotokuzan—one of the Covid absentees from Arashio beya.

Looking Toward the Haru Banzuke

The 2021 Hatsu basho is in the books, and all the kensho has been handed out. How will the results reshuffle the rankings for the Haru basho? As usual, I’ll have a full banzuke prediction posted once I’ve had more time for analysis, but here’s an early look at the key points. Note: I’m assuming that the rikishi who had to sit out the tournament due to COVID will have their ranks frozen, following the Tamanoi beya precedent from September. This actually helps to create a sensible Makuuchi banzuke, but creates major problems in Juryo.

The named ranks

With both Yokozuna absent, nothing will change at the top of the rankings. Barring retirement, we will have Hakuho on the East side and Kakuryu on the West for the 6th straight tournament. The Ozeki ranks will see a reshuffle, with Shodai and Asanoyama, both 11-4, occupying O1 East and West, respectively, and newly kadoban Takakeisho falling to O2e.

All the incumbents in lower san’yaku—S1e Terunofuji, S1w Takanosho, K1e Takayasu, and K1w Mitakeumi—are kachi-koshi, and all have 9 wins, with the exception of Terunofuji’s 11, which means that they will keep their ranks. I’m going to guess that Daieisho (13-2) will vault all the way to Sekiwake, creating an extra slot (he has unquestionably done enough to force a san’yaku promotion this time, after a very unlucky miss following the previous tournament). And with 24 wins in his last two basho, Terunofuji is officially on an Ozeki run and can re-ascend to sumo’s second-highest rank with another double-digit performance in March.

That’s a lot of wins (73, to be exact) soaked up by just 7 rikishi, and in a zero-sum game, the reverberations will be felt further down the banzuke.

Upper maegashira

It was feast or famine in this part of the banzuke. Daieisho aside, M2e Takarafuji and M3w Onosho recorded nine wins apiece, while everyone else was make-koshi. Takarafuji and Onosho will occupy the top maegashira rank, and Hokutofuji, with his minimal 7-8 make-koshi, will fall one rank to M2e. “Frozen” Wakatakakage conveniently occupies M2w, but filling the next few ranks isn’t easy. M5e Endo and M5w Okinoumi, both 7-8, can be placed no higher than their current rank, everyone else in the joi will fall even lower, and there’s not much help from the ranks immediately below them. This means bringing up kachi-koshi rikishi from lower down the rankings way up the banzuke. I have M7e Meisei, M8w Kiribayama and M9w Myogiryu, all 8-7, and M10e Shimanoumi, 9-6, all jumping up 4-6 full ranks, much more than their records would typically warrant.

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

With a 10-man san’yaku, the M17e rank will disappear, and its current occupant, Sadanoumi (5-10), will be heading down. I’m quite confident that he’ll be joined by M13e Akua (5-10). Beyond that, things get a little muddy. We have two clear promotion candidates—the yusho winner, J8e Tsurugisho (12-3), and Tobizaru’s big brother, J6w Hidenoumi (11-4), who hasn’t been in the top division since March 2018. We also have J1w Daiamami (8-7), who should be promoted, and with Ishiura “frozen” at J1e, there’s nowhere to put him except Makuuchi. I think this means that M8e Tokushoryu (3-12) will have to make room and fall to the second division a year after his triumph.

There are two other men in this conversation: J8w Daishomaru (11-4), who handed Tokushoryu his coup de grâce, and M15e Yutakayama (7-8), who could not pick up his 8th win on senshuraku and left his fate in the hands of the banzuke committee. I believe that the incumbent will just hang on, but this is a close call.

I’ll end this here, and cover what I think will happen in Juryo and upper Makushita after the new Juryo promotions are announced on Wednesday (it’s the only part of the banzuke we get to see early). Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Senshuraku: What’s at Stake?

First, the headline item. If Shodai can prevail over fellow Ozeki Asanoyama, and Okinoumi, with kachi-koshi on the line, can upset Daieisho, we’ll have a playoff between the two for all the marbles. Any other outcome will see the M1w lifting the cup.

The san’yaku ranks

All the incumbents are kachi-koshi, which means that they will keep their ranks. Daieisho (12-2) has certainly done enough this time to force at least an extra Komusubi slot, and another win would probably see him vault all the way to Sekiwake. Takarafuji (9-5) will be ranked at M1e, which will either be a somewhat unlucky break if he loses, or a very unlucky break if he ends with 10 wins. With a 10-man san’yaku, the M17e rank will disappear.

Darwin bouts

In what must be a bitter disappointment for Bruce, all but three rikishi ended up above or below the 7-7 line by Day 14. In addition to the above-mentioned Okinoumi, we have M9 Myogiryu and M15 Yutakayama, who are indeed matched up in the final day’s only Darwin bout.

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

M17e Sadanoumi (5-9) will be heading down. M13e Akua‘s (5-9) top-division slot will be on the line in what is likely an exchange bout with a leading promotion candidate, J6 Hidenoumi (10-4), Tobizaru’s big brother, who hasn’t been in the top division since March 2018. The other Juryo rikishi hoping to move up with a win are J8 Tsurugisho (11-3), J1 Daiamami (7-7), and J8 Daishomaru (10-4), a somewhat marginal candidate, who is matched with another endangered incumbent, M8e Tokushoryu (3-11). Should all four promotion candidates be successful, Yutakayama would be well-advised to get his 8th win in order to avoid leaving his fate in the hands of the banzuke committee.

Oh, and the Juryo race just got interesting, with Tsurugisho leading Hidenoumi, Daishomaru, and J10 Ura by one win. If the leader loses to former top-division mainstay J13 Ikioi (6-8), who needs a win himself to stay in the salaried ranks, we may not know if we will have a playoff until after the third Makuuchi bout, at which point the top-division action would have to take a break. Fingers crossed!

Juryo-Makushita exchanges

J14e Ryuko (5-9) will be heading right back down to the third division, as will J11w Oho (4-10), who may want to revert to his old shikona, Naya. In addition to Ikioi, J7w Nishikigi (3-11) and J9w Kotoyuki (4-10) also need to win to remain sekitori. With 6 winning records in the Makushita promotion zone, none can count on being saved by banzuke luck.

Makushita barnyard brawl!!!

I covered this yesterday, but we will have a nine-way playoff for the Makushita yusho! No, that’s not a misprint. As usual, two rikishi went into day 13 with 6-0 records, but because they hail from the same heya, they could not be matched head-to-head ad instead faced 5-1 opponents. Both lost, letting their opponents and 5 other lucky men into the playoff, which will feature everyone from Ms5w promotion candidate and recent sekitori Nishikifuji to the last man in the dvision, Ms60w Fukamiyama.

I believe the protocol here is they draw straws for a bye, the other 8 are paired up and we’re down to 5, another drawing of straws, 4 rikishi paired up, and we’re down to 3, who enter the usual tomoe-sen in which the first wrestler to win two consecutive bouts is the champion.