Wrapping Up the Hatsu Storylines

Image courtesy of Nippon Sports

The Yusho Race

Congratulations to Sekiwake Tamawashi on his first career yusho! With a 13-2 championship following a 9-6 record at M2 in Kyushu, will the long-time sumo veteran be considered for an Ozeki promotion in March, and if so, what is his target number of wins? After today’s non-promotion decision (see below), who knows!

Kadoban Watch

After slow starts, Takayasu and Goeido rebounded with creditable 9-6 final records, and will once again be ranked O1e and O1w in Osaka. Injured Tochinoshin (0-5-10) will be kadoban at Haru, needing 8 wins to retain his Ozeki rank. The good news? He should finally be “promoted” from O2w to O2e after Kisenosato’s retirement removed the need to balance the banuke.

Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run

Today we learned that 33 wins in three basho while ranked in sanyaku isn’t always enough. There have been 38 prior instances of such performances in the six-basho era (since 1958), and 35 of them led to Ozeki promotion. Of the three exceptions, two overlapping ones involved Miyabiyama in 2006, and he is a special case, as he was trying to get re-promoted to Ozeki after being demoted from the rank 5 years earlier. The other instance was Baruto in 2009-2010, who was denied promotion after going K1e 12-3, S1e 9-6, S1e 12-3 with a jun-yusho. He responded by ensuring that he wouldn’t be overlooked again with a 14-1 jun-yusho in the March tournament. Can Takakeisho similarly force the issue in Osaka? By the way, Kisenosato’s retirement now means that there will be one fewer named rank on the next banzuke. Because the total number of Makuuchi rikishi is fixed at 42, there has to be one more maegashira slot, so 17e will reappear.

The Sanyaku

The two Sekiwake will retain their ranks at Haru. The only question is whether they will switch sides. As is often the case, the banzuke committee decisions make for confusing precedents. They used to regularly reshuffle the Sekiwake ranks based on their records in the most recent basho, just as they still do with the Yokozuna and Ozeki. But then the practice appeared to stop. For instance, after the 2017 March tournament, 8-7 S1e Tamawashi stayed on the East side, despite S1w Takayasu finishing 12-3. However, after winning the 2018 Nagoya basho, S1w Mitakeumi (13-2) was moved ahead of S1e Ichinojo (8-7). What made the difference? The extra victory, the yusho, or something else? If it was the yusho, we could see Takakeisho move down to S1w instead of up to the anticipated O2w.

The ripple effects of Takakeisho’s non-promotion include Mitakeumi moving over to East Komusubi, rather than up to West Sekiwake, and only one Komusubi slot opening up. Conveniently, there is only one strong promotion candidate: M2 Hokutofuji (9-6), who was the only rikishi of the ten ranked between M1 and M5 to finish with more wins than losses, and who will finally make his sanyaku debut after missing out despite going 11-4 at M3 in Kyushu in 2017.

Without a second open sanyaku slot, Kaisei will have to content himself with being the top maegashira. After that, the upper maegashira ranks are a mess. The next 10 spots on the banzuke will have to be filled with a mix of rikishi from the upper ranks who won’t be demoted far despite posting losing records, and those from down the banzuke who’ll receive overly generous promotions. The former group includes K1e Myogiryu (5-10), M1e Tochiozan (6-9), M1w Ichinojo (6-9), M2e Nishikigi (7-8), M3e Shodai (7-8), and M4w Okinoumi (7-8). The latter consists of M7w Daieisho (9-6), M9w Endo (10-5), M6e Chiyotairyu (8-7), and M6w Onosho (8-7). I’ll do my best to sort out their order in my upcoming regular banzuke prediction post.

The 7-7 Club

Half of this group succeeded in picking up their kachi-koshi, while the others lost to drop to make-koshi. Winning on the final day were M12 Meisei and M8 Asanoyama, while M15 Kotoeko and M5 Aoiyama ended the tournament on a down note.

Makuuchi Turnover

The five clear open slots—vacated by Daishomaru, Daiamami, and Kotoyuki’s demotions and Kisenosato and Takanoiwa’s retirements—are spoken for by Tomokaze and Daishoho, who clinched promotion with final-day victories, and Terutsuyoshi, Ishiura, and Toyonoshima, who dropped their final matches, but had already done just enough (in fact, Terutsuyoshi lost on four straight days after securing his kachi-koshi, while Ishiura closed the tournament with three straight losses). It will be exciting to see at least three Makuuchi debuts—the most since there were four in May of 2013.

Kagayaki defeated Yutakayama to become the last man in the top division to reach safety. That leaves the 6-9 M14 duo of Yutakayama and Chiyoshoma on the bubble. In the Juryo bout matching two promotion contenders, yusho winner Shimanoumi prevailed over Chiyomaru, likely eliminating the latter from consideration. Will Shimanoumi’s 13-2 record from all the way down at J11 be good enough to ensure a Makuuchi debut and force down Chiyoshoma? I’d say yes, but it’ll be a close call—after the last two basho, rikishi with 6-9 records at M14w just hung on to the final rung of the top-division ladder. They could also drop Yutakayama in favor of Chiyomaru, but this seems less likely.

Hatsu Special Prizes

The list of special prizes has been posted:

Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
West Komusubi Mitakeumi
East Sekiwake Takakeisho (conditional)
West Sekiwake Tamawashi (conditional)

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
West Sekiwake Tamawashi

Gino-sho (Technique Prize)
East Sekiwake Takakeisho

Mitakeumi defeated all three Yokozuna, two Ozeki, and both of the potential yusho winners. Tamawashi and Takakeisho won’t walk away empty-handed, but their shukun-sho are conditional, apparently on winning the yusho. It looks like no prizes for Kaisei or Endo even with victories on senshuraku.

Hatsu Storylines, Day 14

The Yusho Race

The two Sekiwake both won today, meaning that Tamawashi kept his lead with 12 victories, followed by Takakeisho with 11 apiece. Everyone else is out of contention. The schedulers opted to pass over the one sanyaku opponent Tamawashi hasn’t faced, struggling soon-to-be ex-Komusubi Myogiryu (5-9), and instead matched up the leader with fan favorite M9 Endo (10-4), who is, remarkably, in contention for sanyaku promotion (see below). The two have met 15 times, with Endo taking the first 6 bouts and Tamawashi prevailing in the last 9. Takakeisho will meet Goeido in the final match of the tournament (which, unusually, will not feature the highest-ranked rikishi, O1e Takayasu). The career series favors the Ozeki 5-3. The scenario is simple—a loss by Tamawashi and a win by Takakeisho force a playoff between the two; any other combination of outcomes gives the 34-year old Mongolian veteran his first yusho.

Kadoban Watch

Both remaining Ozeki picked up their 8th victories against opponents who either weren’t there (Hakuho) or might as well not have been there (Mitakeumi). That leaves Tochinoshin (0-5-9) as the only kadoban Ozeki for Haru.

Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run

Today’s victory was the Sekiwake’s 33rd in the last three basho, meeting the usual criterion for Ozeki promotion. He is also guaranteed at least a share of the jun-yusho. Various statements have been made by members of the sumo association as to whether the current total of 11 wins, or even 12, will be enough for promotion in Takakeisho’s first tournament as Sekiwake, and a special meeting will be held tomorrow after the bouts to decide. Personally, I think he is a lock with 12 wins and likely to be promoted even with 11, but the shimpan department has been known to surprise me.

The Sanyaku

Today’s bouts have finally produced some clarity in the race for promotion to the named ranks. M2 Hokutofuji (8-6), the only member of the joi with a winning record, has locked up the one Komusubi slot we know will open for sure. This will mark Hokutofuji’s long-awaited sanyaku debut. His two consecutive forfeit victories over Kakuryu and Mitakeumi loom large here.

Assuming a second slot is opened by Takakeisho’s promotion, there are four rikishi in contention. Kaisei will claim the slot with a victory over Takayasu, while Endo could grab it with an upset against the tournament leader and a loss by Kaisei. The two face tough opposition, and losses by both would open the door for the M6 duo of Chiyotairyu and Onosho, each of whom could claim the slot with a victory, with the tiebreaker going to Chiyotairyu by virtue of his more prestigious East-side rank.

The 7-7 Club

For four rikishi, final-day bouts will determine whether they end the basho with winning or losing records (kachi-koshi and make-koshi, respectively). Somewhat unusually, the schedulers have opted against “Darwin matches” pitting these wrestlers against each other, so they could all succeed (or fail) in their quest for the all-important 8th victory. M15 Kotoeko (7-7) will go against M7 Ryuden (5-9), M12 Meisei (7-7) takes on Onosho (8-6), M8 Asanoyama (7-7) is paired with M11 Ikioi (9-5), and M5 Aoiyama (7-7) faces Hokutofuji.

Makuuchi Turnover

We know that Daishomaru, Daiamami, and Kotoyuki will be dropping to Juryo. Their demotions, plus the two retirements, open up 5 promotion slots. One should go to Terutsuyoshi by virtue of his kachi-koshi at the top rung of the Juryo ladder. There are six contenders for the other 4 slots, and only two of them are matched up on the final day, so this could get crowded. There are also three Makuuchi rikishi who are not completely safe from demotion—Kagayaki and Yutakayama, who are matched up, and Chiyoshoma—though recent decisions by the banzuke committee make me think that all will get to stay in the top division.

The six Juryo promotion contenders are Ishiura, Toyonoshima, Chiyomaru, Tomokaze, Daishoho, and Shimanoumi. One will likely be eliminated when Chiyomaru meets Shimanoumi. Daishoho (7-7) must win to remain in the running. Ishiura, Tomokaze, and Toyonoshima control their destinies, while the others need help. The promotion picture may clear up tomorrow, or may remain messy until the banzuke announcement.

Hatsu Storylines, Day 13

Tamawashi crushing … a pastry bag

The Yusho Race

Sekiwake Tamawashi is the sole leader with 11 victories, followed by Yokozuna Hakuho and Sekiwake Takakeisho with 10 apiece. The four 9-win rikishi—M8 Kaisei, M9 Endo, M10 Abi, and M11 Sadanoumi—are still in the race mathematically, but would need two losses by the leader and at least one by both Hakuho and Takakeisho just to get into a playoff, so the yusho will almost certainly be decided among the leading trio.

If Tamawashi can win out, he will claim his first yusho at the age of 34. He faces M5 Aoiyama (7-6) tomorrow, and the big Bulgarian, who has a similar style, leads the series 5-4, but none of those meetings were recent, and Tamawashi took the last three bouts. Tamawashi’s likely senshuraku opponent is Komusubi Myogiryu (5-8), who has a 5-3 head-to-head edge, but once again, most of those bouts took place years ago, and Tamawashi prevailed when the two met in Kyushu.

Hakuho has the toughest remaining schedule, facing Goeido tomorrow and Takayasu on senshuraku. Takakeisho should get Goeido on the last day, and takes on M4 Okinoumi (6-7) tomorrow.

Kadoban Watch

Goeido easily won today’s Ozeki duel, leaving both men with 7-6 records that will have them seeking a victory apiece during the final weekend. As noted above, Goeido will have to find it against Hakuho or Takakeisho, while Takayasu needs to beat Mitakeumi or Hakuho. [A theory: Takayasu knew that Mitakeumi had picked up his 8th win earlier, and figured that with his rank secured, the injured Komusubi would either pull out or protect his leg in their bout tomorrow, giving the Ozeki an easy 8th win. He therefore opted not to expend too much effort today. Or Goeido just had a better day.]

Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run

The Sekiwake took a big step toward sumo’s second-highest rank with his defeat of Hakuho. A victory tomorrow against Okinoumi could seal the deal (Takakeisho has taken 2 of their 3 previous bouts); winning both of his remaining matches should do it for sure.

The Sanyaku

Two sanyaku slots in Osaka are spoken for by Tamawashi and Mitakeumi, who overcame his injury and Ichinojo to pick up his 8th win. Kotoshogiku opened a Komusubi slot today by handing Myogiryu his 8th loss. It’s seeming increasingly likely that Takakeisho will open a Sekiwake slot by earning promotion.

Most of upper maegashira with promotion hopes lost today, and the race remains wide-open. M2 Hokutofuji (7-6) is in the best shape to secure a slot with one more victory. M1 Ichinojo (6-7) is well-positioned by virtue of his rank, but must win both of his remaining bouts. Stumbles by these two would open the door for a long list of unlikely contenders, including M2 Nishikigi (who faces Hokutofuji tomorrow and has never lost to him), Kaisei, Aoiyama, and Endo.

Makuuchi Turnover

Today’s victories by Daishomaru and Daiamami were much too little, too late to save them from a trip to Juryo. Injured Kotoyuki now looks set to join them. Kagayaki, Yutakayama, and Kotoeko each need a victory to reach safety, while Chiyoshoma might need two.

Moving up to the top division will be Terutsuyoshi and Ishiura. Toyonoshima should be a lock to join them with one more win, Chiyomaru and Tomokaze may need one or two, while Daishoho and Shimanoumi must win out. Tokushoryu has an outside chance with two victories.

Hatsu Storylines, Day 12

The Yusho Race

Yokozuna Hakuho and Sekiwake Tamawashi share the lead with 10-2 records. Sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, and M9 Endo are one off the pace at 9-3. Tomorrow, Hakuho faces Takakeisho, Tamawashi takes on M2 Hokutofuji (7-5), while Endo and Kaisei are matched up with M5 Aoiyama (6-6) and M11 Ikioi (7-5), respectively.

After tomorrow, Hakuho still has both Ozeki on his fight card. The schedulers have quite a few options for Tamawashi’s opponents on Days 14 and 15. The only upper-ranker he hasn’t fought is Komusubi Myogiryu, who is struggling at 5-7. His most likely maegashira opponent(s) would be drawn from M4 Okinoumi (6-6), Aoiyama, Kaisei, and Endo.

Kadoban Watch

Both remaining Ozeki have really helped their causes with three-bout winning streaks. Takayasu (7-5) needs to pick up one victory in three days, while Goeido (6-6) needs two. Their clash tomorrow is pivotal—Takayasu can clinch his kachi-koshi, while Goeido does not want to go into the final two days having to defeat both Hakuho and Takakeisho. Takayasu’s weekend opponents should be Mitakeumi and Hakuho.

Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run

The Sekiwake can only afford one loss in the final three days to be considered for promotion after the current basho, although two losses would still leave him in good shape to try again in Osaka. After he faces Hakuho tomorrow and whichever upper maegashira the schedulers opt to throw at him on Day 14, his Ozeki promotion may be on the line in his final-day bout with Goeido, who may be desperate for a victory himself.

There’s a question as to whether Tamawashi might be on an Ozeki run himself. His 9-6 record as maegashira 2 in Kyushu is not a great foundation for one, but if he can finish with 12 or 13 wins here, and follow it up with an equally strong performance in Osaka, it’s not out of the question. More likely, he would need two strong basho after this one to earn promotion. At 34, he would set the record for oldest rikishi to be promoted to Ozeki in the modern era by three years!

The Sanyaku

Both Tamawashi and Takakeisho have more than successfully defended their Sekiwake ranks, so the only way for a Sekiwake slot to open is if Takakeisho gets promoted. Myogiryu needs to win out to stay Komusubi, and is likely to face Kotoshogiku (tomorrow), Tamawashi, and Okinoumi. Mitakeumi needs one more victory, and will have to overcome Ichinojo, Takayasu, or (likely) Nishikigi on one leg. So with three days to go, the number of open sanyaku slots could still range from zero (Takakeisho stays Sekiwake, both Komusubi earn their kachi-koshi) to three (Takakeisho is promoted, both Komusubi are demoted).

The upper maegashira haven’t exactly been beating down the door to possible sanyaku promotion. The top three candidates at the moment are Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, and Kaisei, and the first two have yet to even clinch their kachi-koshi.

Makuuchi Turnover

The clear demotions are Daishomaru and Daiamami. Terutsuyoshi and Ishiura have done enough to lock up a top-division debut and return, respectively. Unless Kotoyuki were to come back and manage a victory, he is in serious danger of demotion, depending on how many strong promotion candidates there are in Juryo. Chiyoshoma, Kagayaki, and Kotoeko are also still at risk. With two extra open slots in Makuuchi due to retirements, Chiyomaru can probably cement a return with another victory, and Daishoho, Toyonoshima, Shimanoumi, Tomokaze, and Tokushoryu are still in the running for the other slot, as well as any additional ones that may be opened up by poor performances from the demotion candidates above.