Looking Ahead to the Hatsu Banzuke

With the Kyushu results in the books, we can take our customary look at how they will reshuffle the rankings chart for the Hatsu basho. Strap in, folks, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Yokozuna and Ozeki

This is easy. Whether or not he fights, Terunofuji will be the sole Yokozuna, and Takakeisho will be the sole Ozeki. As has been repeatedly mentioned, this is the first time in over a century that this precise scenario has taken place. It is also only the second time in modern sumo history that the two upper ranks combined had only two occupants, the first time coming exactly 30 years ago, at Hatsu 1993, when we had two Ozeki: Akebono and Konishiki. In that instance, the ranks were bolstered by future Takanohana’s promotion to Ozeki, with Akebono simultaneously becoming the first foreign-born Yokozuna.

It’s hard to see where such reinforcements would come from this time. After his 12-3 with a playoff loss, Takakeisho could potentially see a promotion with a strong yusho in January. As for anything resembling Ozeki runs, the best we have are Wakatakakage’s 11 and 8 wins at Sekiwake, Hoshoryu’s mirror 8 and 11, and Takayasu’s 11 and 12 at M4 and M1. The former two would need a yusho with no fewer than 13 wins to start the conversation, while the latter would need two maegashira basho to be included in the run, something that has never happened under modern promotion criteria. In all likelihood, the uppermost ranks won’t get bolstered until May at the earliest.

Sekiwake

Three Sekiwake are locked in: S1e Wakatakakage (8-7), S1w Hoshoryu (11-4) and O1w Shodai (6-9), who will have the customary one shot to regain his rank with 10 wins. There’s some question regarding whether they could be joined by M1e Takayasu (12-3); while recent precedents suggest that he’ll only be Komusubi, there’s a chance that he gets fast-tracked to Sekiwake in order to set him up for a potential early Ozeki promotion in January.

Komusubi

Of the four current Komusubi, only K1w Kiribayama (8-7) will get to stay. The second slot could be filled by the above-mentioned Takayasu if he isn’t bumped up to Sekiwake. Otherwise, it would go to M1w Kotonowaka (9-6), who could also be in line for an extra Komusubi slot if the regular ones are taken by Kiribayama and Takayasu. The last three maegashira to go 9-6 at M1w when no san’yaku slots were open got stuck at M1e, and this may yet be Kotonowaka’s fate, but it would make an already difficult puzzle of filling out the upper maegashira ranks all but impossible. It’s such a mess, in fact, that I could see M2e Meisei (9-6) and (less likely) M4e Wakamotoharu (10-5) or even champion M9w Abi (12-3) get bumped up to Komusubi, though the banzuke committee seems really disinclined to create extra slots that aren’t absolutely forced.

Upper Maegashira

We’ve seen some logjams in this part of the banzuke recently, but this one takes the cake. First, we have no fewer than four dropping san’yaku rikishi with mild make-koshi: S2w Mitakeumi (6-9), K2e Tobizaru (7-8), K2w Daieisho (7-8), and K1e Tamawashi (6-9). The first three would normally drop to M1, which obviously isn’t possible for all of them, while we have the very recent precedent of Ichinojo to suggest that Tamawashi should only drop to M2. That’s all four M1-M2 slots spoken for, but in addition to the above-mentioned Meisei, who must be ranked no lower than M2e unless they start demoting winning records, we also have Wakamotoharu, M3w Midorifuji (8-7), M4w Sadanoumi (8-7), and M5w Nishikifuji (9-6). It’s possible to fit everyone in, but it entails either historically harsh demotions for the falling san’yaku rikishi or no promotions for maegashira with 8-7 and even 9-6 records. I’ve made a few drafts, and they are all extremely unsatisfying, which is why I even raise the possibility of extra Komusubi.

Makuuchi to Juryo

Chiyotairyu’s retirement opens up one slot in the top division. M16e Terutsuyoshi (0-15) and M15w Atamifuji (4-11) will be vacating two more. M8e Takarafuji (3-12) is on the bubble. So we’ll have at least three promotions, and at most four, as all other incumbents are safe.

J3e Tsurugisho (10-5) is definitely coming back up. The other contenders, in a virtual tie, are J1w Chiyomaru (8-7), J3w Mitoryu (9-6), and J5e Akua (10-5). Losses by all three on the final day, coupled with a win by Takarafuji, left the door open for the possibility that one will miss out, in favor of keeping the incumbent, but I think it’s a close call as to whether that happens, and who would be the odd man out, though Mitoryu seems like the most likely possibility.

Makushita to Juryo

This, at least, was made straightforward by two exchange bouts on the final day. One slot in Juryo is open due to Chiyotairyu’s retirement. The least likely top-division champion in decades, and possibly ever, J12e Tokushoryu (4-11), will drop out of the salaried ranks for the first time in over 10 years. Will he fight it out in Makushita or retire?

The two open slots are accounted for by former Ozeki Asanoyama, who finished 6-1 at Ms4e, and Ms1w Shonannoumi, who will make his sekitori debut after posting a 5-2 record.

J14e Tsushimanada (7-8) should stay after besting Ms2w Fujiseiun (3-4), and the same goes for J10w Kaisho (5-10), who beat back the promotion challenge from Ms5w Hakuyozan (5-2). Hakuyozan is the owner of the only winning record in the promotion zone to miss out, so the former Juryo mainstay will get to try again from higher rank, and without Asanoyama in his way. Other notable names fighting it out for Juryo promotion in January should include Ms1 Shiden (3-4), third-tier champion Tamashoho, former maegashira Tomokaze and Chiyonoo, and exciting newcomer Ishizaki (and possibly Kawazoe).

I think that’s a wrap! I should have a more complete banzuke prediction post closer to January; in the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.

Kyushu Day 15 Highlights

You may have doubted my story about a mischievous kami inhabiting the dohyo this tournament…

From Atamifuji remembering his sumo, to the Daieisho-Onosho photo finish that did not get a review, to the “Kitchen Sink” match between Tochinoshin and Tamawashi, it was a wild day of sumo. The yusho went down to a playoff, the the results… well, read on.

Highlight Matches

Aoiyama defeats Okinoumi – Aoiyama made contact with his meaty right hand at the tachiai, and rode that contact all the way to a win. Okinoumi was pushed back, and was unable to break contact. Aoiyama finishes 7-8.

Atamifuji defeats Takanosho – Dear Atamifuji – where were you hiding that for the last week and change? When you come back to the top division, please fight more like that each and every day. Atamifuji’s left hand over arm grip does all the work and the uwatenage gives Takanosho his make-koshi at 7-8, while Atamifuji picks up his final match to return to Juryo with a 4-1 make-koshi.

Takarafuji defeats Kagayaki – If you are a fan of slow motion sumo, this is a match for you. I don’t recall a slower, more plodding forward push, especially against an injured man. Its slow enough that Takarafuji can plan out his response, execute it, and turn to watch the results. Takarafuji wins his final by okuridashi, and ends Kyushu with a 3-12.

Myogiryu defeats Azumaryu – Our first Darwin match, and it’s a bit of a heart breaker. He has no defense against Myogiryu’s tachiai, and is quickly walked out. This guy has never had a kachi-koshi in the top division, and was at the threshold, then lost his last 3 in a row to end with a 7-8 make-koshi. Myogiryu is kachi-koshi at 8-7.

Chiyoshoma defeats Endo – Endo as a bit of power at the start, but that fades as soon as Chiyoshoma counter attacks. It’s a fast walk forward to the bales, and an immediate oshidashi to send Endo off the dohyo. Chiyoshoma finishes 7-8.

Nishikigi defeats Kotoeko – The second Darwin match saw Kotoeko eager to attack, and gain an initial advantage. Nishikigi had enough space and ring sense to set his feet, which shut down Kotoeko’s attack. A surge forward payed off for Nishikigi, and he pressed the attack all the way to the point that Kotoeko stepped out. 8-7 kachi-koshi for Nishikigi, 7-8 make-koshi for Kotoeko.

Sadanoumi defeats Ichiyamamoto – Ichiyamamoto put all of his hopes on a pulling attack that only served to hasten his exit from the ring. He leapt from the dohyo and landed stiff legged, injuring himself. Out comes the wheelchair as Sadanoumi accepts the win. Sadanoumi finishes Kyushu 8-7 and kachi-koshi, Ichiyamamoto off to get x-rays and is make-koshi at 7-8.

Wakamotoharu defeats Oho – Oho with all the initial power, he knocks Wakamotoharu upright, but does not prevent him from setting up a left hand grip. Oho realizes this is trouble, and breaks Wakamotoharu’s grip, and resorts to a close range attack. He has Wakamotoharu at the bales, but does not protect against the sukuinage that wins the match for Wakamotoharu. Both end the basho with 10-5, and have fought very well this November.

Midorifuji defeats Kotoshoho – The final Darwin match of the year. Kotoshoho immediately tries a pull at the tachiai, and it fails miserably. Midorifuji surges forward and drives Kotoshoho out by oshidashi. Kotoshoho make-koshi at 7-8, Midorifuji kachi-koshi at 8-7.

Ichinojo defeats Terutsuyoshi – Dear readers, we have witnessed history. The last time a top division rikishi turned in a zero win record on the clay was 1991. So this is the first time in 31 years that a rikishi was unable to win a single match in 15 attempts in the top division. Call it the Hattorizakura prize, or even its proper name – zenpai.

Meisei defeats Hiradoumi – Hiradoumi fought well, but was maybe a bit too eager. That arm tug may have seemed like a good idea at the moment, but helped Meisei move forward. The resulting thrust stemmed from that pull, and so Hiradoumi set up the kimarite. Meisei finishes Kyushu 9-6.

Kotonowaka defeats Ryuden – Excellent defensive sumo from Kotonowaka today. He let Ryuden do most of the work, and focuses on keeping his feet set, and breaking apart Ryuden’s grip, and then his balance. Both end Kyushu 9-6.

Abi defeats Takayasu – The big match was all about balance, as expected. There was only a brief moment where Takayasu was in a proper defensive stance, and Abi kept the pressure up to never let him stabilize. Perfect Abi-zumo form against a rikishi who should have focused on the other brand of sumo he was once known for. Both are 12-3, and the playoff for the yusho is on.

Daieisho defeats Onosho – We expected big thrusting power in this match, and we got it. The ending, not so sure about that. The gumbai went to Daieisho, but replays showed them touching down together. Maybe they wanted to make sure they had enough time in their broadcast slot to get that playoff in. Daieisho finishes Kyusho 7-8.

Tobizaru defeats Ura – Ura has Tobizaru captured, and holds fast. But for whatever reason tries a pull when Tobizaru is at his most stable. The release of forward pressure enables Tobizaru to rush forward and finish Ura with an oshidashi. Tobizaru with a final score for Kyushu of 7-8.

Tamawashi defeats Tochinoshin – What a brawl! Combos, pushing, captures and escapes, left hand, right hand, inside, outside! It was a “kitchen sink” match as they threw everything they could at each other. But it was Tamawashi who took the win with an uwatenage at the bales. Both finish Kyushu at 6-9.

Nishikifuji defeats Mitakeumi – Why Mitakeumi allowed Nishikifuji to set up his left hand grip is beyond me. Mitakeumi looked almost passive today, offering only token resistance. He ends the basho 6-9, and I would guess is out of san’yaku all together. Nishikifuji finishes at 9-6.

Hoshoryu defeats Kiribayama – This match demonstrated just how even their sumo power and technique is. Each tried to employ some of their favorite moves, only to be countered by the other. With neither man able to out maneuver the other, it came down to strength and determination. A Hoshoryu lift and carry finished the fight, and Hoshoryu’s final score is 11-4, with the technique prize added as a special bonus.

Hokutofuji defeats Shodai – A fitting end to Shodai’s questionable Ozeki career, he loses to the man with “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. It was traditional Hokutofuji sumo; handshake tachiai, nodowa, hazu-oshi and a quick run to the bales. Shodai was unable to do much more than hold on and try to keep his feet. Hokutofuji improves to finish Kyushu 7-8.

Takakeisho defeats Wakatakakage – Takakeisho wants a piece of that yusho playoff, and Wakatakakage is his only obstacle. Stand out move, that big left cross from Takakeisho that discombobulated Wakatakakage long enough that the hatakikomi could land. Takakeisho joins the 12-3 team, and heads for the playoffs.

Yusho Playoff

Playoff Match 1 Takayasu vs Abi Abi henka. Who did not see it coming? Clearly not Takayasu. Furthermore Takayasu is hurt. Not sure what was injured, but that was a possibly the worst possible outcome here.

Playoff Match 2Takakeisho vs Abi Abi catches Takakeisho center-mass and gives it everything he can muster. It’s enough to get Takakeisho back with his heels on the bales. A follow up push into Takakeisho’s chest steps him out, and it’s an Abi-zumo yusho.

Congratulations to Abi on your first yusho. What a fitting end to the 2022 sumo season, and I hope that we can find a better path in the new year.

To you, dear readers, thank you for coming along with Team Tachiai for the Kyushu basho. We loved bringing you are daily coverage, and we hope you enjoyed reading it.

Kyushu Day 15 Preview

So we come to it at last, the final day of the final basho of 2022. What a year it has been, and we have much to enjoy on this final day. Darwin matches, the final battle for the cup, the special prizes and some lucky rikishi is going to get an awkward yusho interview.

2022 will be recorded as a year where 6 different rikishi won the yusho, no man taking the cup twice. This underscores that there is no one strong enough to dominate this group, and that the sumo world waits for the next champion to arise. Further evidence is provided by the spate of Darwin matches today, where two 7-7 rikishi face of in a single match elimination. The winner gets the winning record, and the loser goes hope with a demotion.

Kyushu Leaderboard

Takayasu controls the outcome. Stay in the ring, stay off the clay and you take home that cup at long last. As I have said since week 1, watch for Takakeisho, who if he gets the chance will be tough to stop. It will be up to Abi to put dirt on Takayasu, a feat he has accomplished several times.

Leader: Takayasu
Chasers: Takakeisho, Abi

1 match remains

What We Are Watching Day 15

Aoiyama vs Okinoumi – Their fates have already been decided, with Aoiyama make-koshi, and Okinoumi kachi-koshi. This fight is all about the size of promotion and demotion. Okinoumi likes to stay around the middle of the top division banzuke, and a 9-6 finishing record would come close to that. They a 32 match career history that favors Okinoumi 19-13.

Takanosho vs Atamifuji – I feel a bit disappointed that Takanosho does not get a Darwin match, in spite of his 7-7 qualifying score. Instead he gets flagging Atamifuji, who comes in at a depressing 3-11. A win by Takanosho (which seems certain) would mean kachi-koshi for him. Atamifuji is already assigned a berth on the Juryo barge of the damned for the slow float back to Tokyo.

Takarafuji vs Kagayaki – Sure, why not give Kagayaki a freebee. He’s 9-5, and yeah, double digits will put him far enough up the banzuke that he can survive for a while with make-koshi results. I would rather see Takarafuji pick up his 3rd win instead.

Azumaryu vs Myogiryu – Our first Darwin match, and what a heartbreaker. Azumaryu has never been able to achieve a kachi-koshi in the top division, and has tried 4 times. Will this be the basho where he can finally get his 8? Both start this day 7-7.

Endo vs Chiyoshoma – A battle of the make-koshi, both are 6-8, and frankly have really struggled in 2022. This will be Endo’s 5th make-koshi of the year, and Chiyoshoma’s 4th.

Nishikigi vs Kotoeko – Our second glorious Darwin match, with both men quite eager to fight this one out chest-to-chest. Kotoeko comes in with a 2 match losing streak, and Nishikigi a 2 match winning streak.

Ichiyamamoto vs Sadanoumi – Our third Darwin match, this is a good clash of styles. Ichiyamamoto’s long arms and double-barreled thrusting offense vs Sadanoumi’s quickness and agility. Ichiyamamoto has won both of their prior matches.

Wakamotoharu vs Oho – Wakamotoharu has beaten Oho 3 out of their 4 previous matches, including both in the past year. I think Oho is not ready to fight rikishi at this level, and these “test matches” bear that out.

Kotoshoho vs Midorifuji – Our 4th and final Darwin match. Both have lost 2 of the last 3, and seem to be running low on sumo power right about now. Kotoshoho has won all of their 5 prior matches, so should hold a strong advantage today.

Terutsuyoshi vs Ichinojo – This match is nearly as momentous as the yusho decider later in the day. We have not had a zenpai in the top division since Nagoya 1991, when Maegashira 14E Itai went a solid 0-15 on the clay. I know Ichinojo is hurt, but whatever you do, sir, don’t let Terutsuyoshi win. We need history to be made tonight!

Meisei vs Hiradoumi – This bout is a test match for Hiradoumi – how high up the banzuke can he fight and still win a match? After at 7-8 make-koshi in September, he’s really been on fire and could finish with a 11-4 record if he can find a way to beat a man 14 whole ranks above him.

Ryuden vs Kotonowaka – Both are kachi-koshi, and 9-5 Ryuden has a chance to hit double digits against 8-6 Kotonowaka. Ryuden has won both their prior matches, and given that Kotonowaka has been under performing a bit this November, Ryuden stands a good chance of picking up a final win today.

Takayasu vs Abi – The big match of the day, the one that decides if Takayasu will finally take the cup. They have an even 4-4 match history, with Abi winning both prior matches this year. Takayasu tends to put so much power into his upper body motions that he loses his balance, which we can see when he gets on one leg. This will doom him against a disruptor like Abi. He must revert to the form that got him to Ozeki in my opinion. Stable, patient. Grab that guy, wear him down, crush what is left into the clay.

Onosho vs Daieisho – Two mega-thrust rikishi up next, with Onosho already kachi-koshi at 9-5, and Daieisho make-koshi at 6-8. Given Onosho’s 11-9 career history against Daieisho, I give him a fair chance at picking up his 10th and final win today.

Tobizaru vs Ura – Two master of frantic sumo, except Ura is in no condition to give Tobizaru a good fight. So I think this is a “donor” match where Ura helps mitigate Tobizaru’s drop down the banzuke due to his make-koshi record, which reads as 6-8 at the start of the day.

Tamawashi vs Tochinoshin – An incredible 36 career match history between these two, with Tochinoshin holding a distinct 22-14 lead in the series. Both of them are already make-koshi, so this is more or less for points to finish the year.

Nishikifuji vs Mitakeumi – This may seem like a throw away match. It’s a first ever head to head between these two, with Nishikifuji already kachi-koshi at 8-6, and Mitakeumi make-koshi at 6-8. But a Mitakeumi win today could be enough to keep him in the named ranks for January, and give him some shred of hope to hold onto.

Kiribayama vs Hoshoryu – Both are kachi-koshi, both have shown that they are now part of the named ranked mainstays for the year to come. This makes me fairly happy, as long as Hoshoryu can keep his attitude in check. A little humility can indeed go a long way.

Hokutofuji vs Shodai – The history of Shodai getting creampuff senshuraku matches continues. I suppose there may not have been anyone left to fight, but an already make-koshi Maegashira 5 is not really worthy for an Ozeki, even one that is about to lose his rank. Does Shodai even know that he’s been made a joke? At times I truly feel sorry for this guy.

Takakeisho vs Wakatakakage – Wakatakakage actually has quite a bit on the line. He’d like to get to 9 wins and save some credibility as a future Ozeki contender. He may also wish to impact the yusho race that he can only dream of being a part of. If Abi loses, Takakeisho has not real motivation to win other than to send Wakatakakage into the stands for some fan service. But if Abi wins, the door is open for him to take the cup, and I would expect to see Wakatakakage get a rough ride. They share a 5-5 career record.

State of Play, Day 14

One day remains.

Yusho Race

M1e Takayasu leads with 12 wins, followed by O1e Takakeisho and M9w Abi with 11. If the leader can beat Abi tomorrow, he finally takes his long-awaited maiden yusho. If Abi prevails, they go to a playoff, which can be joined by Takakeisho if he bests Wakatakakage.

San’yaku

We have three confirmed Sekiwake for January: S1e Wakatakakage (8-6), S1w Hoshoryu (10-4) and O1w Shodai (6-8), who will have the customary one shot to regain his rank with 10 wins. Of the four Komusubi, only K1w Kiribayama (8-6) will get to stay; K1e Tamawashi (5-9), K2e Tobizaru (6-8) and K2w Daieisho (6-8) are all make-koshi.

S2w Mitakeumi (6-8) will be Komusubi with a final-day win, but maegashira with a loss. Tournament leader M1e Takayasu (12-2) will return to san’yaku; while recent precedents suggest that he’ll only be Komusubi, there’s a chance that he gets fast-tracked to Sekiwake in order to set him up for a potential early Ozeki promotion in January.

A loss by Mitakeumi and a Sekiwake slot for Takayasu would open up K1w for M1w Kotonowaka (8-6); otherwise, he is out of luck and will once again have to settle for only a half-rank promotion despite deserving better. Wins by Meisei, Wakamotoharu, and Abi would also give them records deserving of Komusubi, but they’ll have to wait unless the banzuke committee is in an uncharacteristically generous mood.

Makuuchi to Juryo

Chiyotairyu’s retirement opens up one slot in the top division. M16e Terutsuyoshi (0-14) and M15w Atamifuji (3-11) will be vacating two more. M8e Takarafuji (2-12) will go down for certain with a loss, and may drop even with a win depending on the strength of the promotion cases. So we’ll have at least three promotions, and at most four, as all other incumbents are safe. J3e Tsurugisho (10-4) is definitely coming back up. The other contenders, in a virtual tie, are J1w Chiyomaru (8-6), J3w Mitoryu (9-5), and J5e Akua (10-4). Just behind is J6e Hokuseiho (10-4), who must win and have at least one of the trio ahead of him lose tomorrow to have a shot at a Makuuchi debut.