Aki Storylines, Day 8

Having passed the mid-point of the September tournament, let’s take a look at the storylines we’ll be following the rest of the way, shall we?

The Yusho Race

Although races like this are common in Juryo, we’ve rarely witnessed one in the top division. Nine men, ranging in rank from Ozeki to maegashira 14, are tied for the lead with 6-2 records. Six additional wrestlers, including the pre-tournament favorite Asanoyama, are one off the lead at 5-3. This is only the 4th time in the six-basho era (since 1958) that no Makuuchi rikishi has posted 7 or more wins on nakabi (interestingly, two of the previous 3  such tournaments were won with a 13-2 record). With no clear favorite, the race should go down to the wire, and we could be in for an exciting final day and yet another surprise winner.

The Named Ranks

Ozeki Takakeisho is in the lead group, and a second career title would be the start of a Yokozuna challenge for him. His fellow Ozeki Asanoyama was the one widely expected to mount such a challenge, and has recovered from his disastrous 0-3 start to post 5 straight white stars, albeit with the last one coming by default. The yusho race could well come down to what is likely to be the final bout (musubi-no-ichiban) on the final day (senshuraku) between these two men atop the banzuke.

East Sekiwake Shodai (6-2) has looked dominant in some matches and vulnerable in others, but nevertheless finds himself tied for the lead on day 8. Although an Ozeki promotion for November looks extremely unlikely short of a 13-2 yusho, a strong second week would place him in a strong position to finish off the run next time out. West Sekiwake Mitakeumi didn’t wait until week 2 to start his customary fade, and is more likely to spend the next 7 days trying to save his rank than mounting a title challenge or maintaining Ozeki hopes.

Shin-Sekiwake Daieisho has predictably struggled at his career-high rank, but has fought well and is not in terrible shape at 3-5. Finally, both Komusubi, Okinoumi and Endo, are also 3-5, scoring some big wins but dropping bouts they shouldn’t. It remains to be seen who can pull off a 5-2 final week to hold rank, and how many san’yaku slots might be open for the rank-and-file to aspire to. The top maegashira, Terunofuji (6-2), isn’t waiting for slots to open, instead looking to crash through the door and reclaim his rightful spot in the named ranks.

Division Exchanges

We know Abi will be dropping down to Juryo as part of the punishment for his extracurricular activities. Hapless M15w Shohozan (0-8) probably needs to win out to avoid joining him. M16e Kyokutaisei (2-3-3) also looks headed down barring a miraculous reentry with 5 wins. Returning M13w Ishiura (1-0-7) somehow managed to beat Shimanoumi on one leg; he’ll need to repeat this feat 4-5 more times to survive in the top division. Others with a lot of work left to do during the final week to avoid demotion include Tokushoryu, Kaisei, Enho, Kotoshogiku, Shimanoumi, Ichinojo, and Hoshoryu.

Makuuchi men who might find themselves on the bubble will be heartened to know that there are only two Juryo rikishi who’ve staked a strong promotion claim during week 1: the J2 Sadagotake duo of Kotoyuki and Kotonowaka, both 6-2. A dark-horse candidate is the Juryo yusho leader and former Makuuchi mainstay Chiyonokuni, 7-1, who could make the leap from all the way down at J11w with a 14-1 or 13-2 championship.

I’ll take a look at the likely Makushita-Juryo exchanges, which are complicated by the mandated absences and uncertain banzuke fates of J7 Azumaryu and J14 Fujiazuma, a little later in the tournament, but fan favorite Ura (Ms5w) is very much in the hunt at 4-0.

 

 

Aki Banzuke Postmortem

The refreshments flowed freely at the banzuke committee meeting

The September banzuke has been posted, and the Crystal Ball utterly failed to foresee what the Shimpan department cooked up on this occasion. Well, maybe not utterly—my forecast did get the san’yaku ranks exactly right, including the extra Sekiwake 2 East slot for Daieisho, who makes his debut at the rank.

But of the 33 rank-and-filers, I only placed 8 at the correct rank and side, plus 6 more at the correct rank but on the wrong side. Sure, most of the misses were by half-a-rank, and the worst ones were by a rank and a half (there were several of those), but usually the forecast gets a lot closer to the real thing.

What accounted for this performance? Well, I thought I was aggressively promoting the yusho winner, Terunofuji (13-2) from M17e all the way up to M2e; the committee moved him up even higher, to M1e. Puzzlingly, Kagayaki is ranked ahead of Ryuden, despite having two fewer wins from only two ranks higher. Onosho only dropped 7 ranks, from M2w to M9w, despite an abysmal 2-13 record, while Ikioi fell all the way from M9w to Juryo after going 3-12, to be replaced by Ichinojo, who lost what was clearly meant to be a final-day exchange bout with Shohozan. Apparently, the official punishment for Abi wasn’t harsh enough, as he was pushed all the way down to M14w, below Juryo promotees Meisei (J1e, 10-5 Y) and, more surprisingly, first-timer Tobizaru (J2e, 9-6). I could go on, but these and other head-scratchers and their ripple effects on nearby positions led to the worst Crystal Ball forecast to date.

I, for one, am excited to see Ichinojo back in Makuuchi after a three-tournament absence, even if the numbers and precedent said his promotion case wasn’t strong enough to push down Ikioi. It’s also exciting to see Hoshoryu make his long-awaited top-division debut and Kyokutaisei get another shot in the big leagues. And, last but not least, Tachiai favorite Ura did just barely make it into the Makushita top 10 promotion zone, getting the last Ms5w slot above the “invisible line.” This means that he should land in the sekitori ranks with a 6-1 record, and has a chance with a 5-2, while a lower rank would have required him to go 7-0.

Juryo Banzuke Draft

As a bonus to my projection of the top-division rankings for September, here’s one for the second division. This one isn’t as carefully thought out (or as nicely formatted), but it should give a good idea of where everyone should end up when the official banzuke is released in two weeks.

  1. Nishikigi, Ichinojo
  2. Kotonowaka, Kotoyuki
  3. Chiyomaru, Chiyoshoma
  4. Wakamotoharu, Daiamami
  5. Daishomaru, Kyokushuho
  6. Chiyonoo, Akua
  7. Churanoumi, Tsurugisho
  8. Azumaryu, Mitoryu
  9. Chiyotoori, Hidenoumi
  10. Akiseyama, Midorifuji
  11. Oki, Hakuyozan
  12. Kizakiumi, Nishikifuji
  13. Daishoho, Chiyonokuni
  14. Fujiazauma, Kitaharima

Top-division dropouts are shown in bold; all are clustered right near the top of the rankings, with a chance to get right back up to Makuuchi with a winning performance. The rikishi I personally most want to see earn promotion is Ichinojo, who would have done it this time had he defeated Shohozan in their final-day “exchange bout.”

In italic, we have the promotions from Makushita. They will all be ranked toward the bottom of the second division, but I’m not sure of exactly where they’ll slot in relative to the incumbents, or how to rank Ms12 Chiyonokuni (7-0 Y) relative to the others, who at least should remain in the order of their current rank, since they all went 5-2. Welcome back to the sekitori ranks, Chiyonokuni!

Aki Banzuke Crystal Ball

At the heart of professional sumo is the banzuke—the rankings chart that lists all the wrestlers in order, from the top Yokozuna to the lowest man in Jonockuchi, the sixth division. The rankings are reshuffled after every tournament based on performance; indeed, one could argue that this updating of the banzuke is the real purpose of a honbasho.

The committee that puts together the new banzuke meets on the first Wednesday after senshuraku—August 5 for the the just-concluded July basho—but the new rankings are not revealed until two weeks before the next scheduled tournament, with the exception of promotions to Juryo and announcements of new Ozeki and Yokozuna. In this instance, we won’t see the official banzuke until August 31, but the Crystal Ball can give us a good idea of what it might look like.

Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Sekiwake

The top six spots on the banzuke are clear. Hakuho recorded more wins than Kakuryu, so they will remain East and West Yokozuna, respectively. Similarly, Asanoyama (12-3) will be East Ozeki, jumping over Takakeisho (8-4-3), who’ll move over to the West side. Shodai and Mitakeumi both had excellent 11-4 tournaments and will remain East and West Sekiwake, respectively.

Komusubi

The order of the next three rikishi is obvious—K1e Daieisho (11-4), K1w Okinoumi (9-6), M1e Endo (8-7)—but their new ranks are not. One option would be to leave them where they are, but 11 wins at Komusubi have been a lock for a Sekiwake promotion, and the top-ranked maegashira with a winning record last failed to enter the san’yaku ranks in 1969. I therefore lean toward S2e Daieisho, K1e Okinoumi, and K1w Endo, although leaving the incumbent Komusubi in their current slots and creating a K2e slot for Endo is yet another option—after all, two of Daieisho’s wins came by default. If the san’yaku does expand to 9 rikishi, everyone in the maegashira ranks will benefit from pretty good banzuke luck.

Upper Maegashira

Let’s assume that one extra san’yaku slot is created (otherwise, slide everyone down half a rank). That brings us to the upper maegashira. M2e Takanosho (8-7) managed a kachi-koshi at his career high, and I expect him to rise to M1e. He should be joined on the West side by M5w Hokutofuji (9-6), the only other joi maegashira to post a winning score. From here, there is something of a hole in the banzuke, with the other seven members of the M1-M5 “meat grinder” managing a combined 31 wins. To find the next rikishi who earned a promotion, you have to look all the way down at M7e Terutsuyoshi (8-7) and M9e Tamawashi (10-5). So at M2e, I’m going to put none other than your yusho winner, M17e Terunofuji (13-2). The former Ozeki’s placement is one of the biggest wildcards for this banzuke. On the one hand, Toskushoryu got bumped up from M17w to M2w in March after a higher winning score (14-1). On the other hand, he wasn’t exactly a former Ozeki and prior top-division champion, and the competition for upper maegashira slots on that banzuke was tougher.

The rest of the ranks from M2w to M8w are filled by a mix of well-performing lower maegashira and make-koshi upper maegashira. In addition to the aforementioned Terutsuyoshi and Tamawashi, the former include M10w Myogiryu, M11w Tochinoshin, M13e Takayasu, and M14w Wakatakakage, all 10-5. The group of falling under-performers consists of M1w Yutakayama (5-10), M3w Kiribayama (6-9), M3e Takarafuji (5-10), M6w Ryuden (7-8), M4e Kagayaki and M4w Aoiyama, both 5-10, and M7w Tokushoryu (7-8). And aside from a few minor dilemmas—will Tochinoshin be ahead of Terutsuyoshi? Does Tokushoryu stay where he is or drop half a rank?—the ordering seems fairly straightforward.

Lower Maegashira

This is the area where banzuke making gets especially challenging, with incumbents with middling records, higher rankers who performed poorly, and rikishi promoted from Juryo all vying for similar ranks. M9-M10 should be filled by M16w Kotoeko (10-5), M12e Sadanoumi (8-7), M8w Chiyotairyu (6-9), and M6e Enho (5-10); I’ve listed them in what I think is the most likely order, but pretty much any permutation would be justifiable. The next group, which should occupy M11-M13, contains M2w Onosho (2-13), who takes the dubious honor of the biggest fall down this banzuke, M14e Kotoshogiku (8-7), M10e Kaisei (6-9), M5e Abi (3-4-8), M15e Kotoshoho (8-7), and J1e Meisei (10-5 Y). Abi’s extracurricular activities could see him ranked below Kotoshoho; I would guess his drop won’t be any bigger since he’s been punished by other means.

The final seven slots should go to the “broken toys” of Makuuchi (Ishiura, Shimanoumi, Shohozan, Ikioi) and the lucky promotions from Juryo (Tobizaru, Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu). The order within each group is clear, but how to interleave them is not, especially when it comes to Shohozan vs. Tobizaru and Ikioi vs. Kyokutaisei. In this forecast, I’ve gone with the recent trend of favoring incumbents over newcomers.

The full predicted banzuke is below. Let me know what you think in the comments!