Get Ready for July: Likely Opening-Day Bouts

As I’ve written before, the scheduling early in the tournament largely follows a formula based on rank. Let’s take a look at what the math spits out for Day 1 and Day 2 fight cards barring withdrawals.

Day 1

With eight men in the named ranks, and 28 available bouts between them, the tournament will start with one intra-san’yaku bout per day. Traditionally, the highest-ranked rikishi’s schedule starts with the lowest-ranked Komusubi, so Terunofuji will open his title defense against Abi, who defeated the Yokozuna in January but lost their November and May meetings. After that, we move on to the next-highest san’yaku rikishi and assign him the highest available rank-and-file opponent. So the rest of the san’yaku bouts should be as follows:

  • Takakeisho vs. Kiribayama
  • Mitakeumi vs. Takanosho
  • Shodai vs. Kotonowaka
  • Wakatakakage vs. Ichinojo
  • Daieisho vs. Tamawashi
  • Hoshoryu vs. Ura

Some exciting matchups to kick things off! Having taken care of the top 14, we simply pair up the remaining rikishi in rank order, taking into account any withdrawals (Takayasu) and avoiding same-heya pairings (like the 3 consecutive Isegahama rikishi at M11w, M12e, and M12w).

Day 2

The principle here is the same, with a few wrinkles. The Yokozuna gets his next available opponent by rank, in this case M1e Kiribayama. The second-highest ranked rikishi (Takakeisho) faces Hoshoryu—the Komusubi who didn’t have a san’yaku opponent on Day 1. In terms of the order of the bouts, the Ozeki rotate each day, as do East-West rikishi. So the san’yaku bouts should look like this:

  • Terunofuji vs. Kiribayama
  • Mitakeumi vs. Kotonowaka
  • Shodai vs. Takanosho
  • Takakeisho vs. Hoshoryu
  • Daieisho vs. Ichinojo
  • Wakatakakage vs. Tamawashi
  • Abi vs. Ura

A lot to look forward to, and that’s just the final seven bouts of the top division on the first two days of the basho! Please leave any thoughts and questions you may have in the comments.

Natsu Banzuke Postmortem

The May banzuke just dropped. Let’s take a look at how the committee reshuffled the rankings, and how my prediction fared (spoiler: not very well).

The named ranks seemed straightforward, and so they proved, with my prediction going 8 for 8. Atop the banzuke is East Yokozuna Terunofuji, followed in order by East Ozeki Mitakeumi, West Ozeki Shodai, West Ozeki 2 Takakeisho, East Sekiwake Wakatakakage, West Sekiwake Abi, East Komusubi Hoshoryu, and the only newcomer, West Komusubi Daieisho.

The first mild surprise comes at M1e, where we find March runner-up, Takayasu. He deserves to be here “by the numbers”, but I thought that his edge was small enough that joi members Ichinojo and Kiribayama would be ranked at M1 ahead of him; as it is, they are half a rank lower than I predicted, at M1w and M2e, respectively. As expected, Kotonowaka is next at M2w.

Takayasu’s placement ahead of Ichinojo signals the theme of this banzuke. Whereas recently, and especially in March, preference was given to prior rank over record, sometimes to an unprecedented extent, this time the pattern is almost exactly the opposite, and this banzuke strongly favors over-promotion vs. under-demotion. Since my prediction tried to take the recent committee approach into account, this led to many disparities. In almost all cases, my prediction differs from the rankings by half a rank or a full rank, but there are a few eye-brow-raising exceptions.

It was a bit surprising to see M6e Hokutofuji (9-6) ranked at M3e, a full rank ahead of M4w Endo (8-7), who was in the joi; on any recent banzuke, this would have gone the other way. I’m also not sure why M1w Ura (4-11) took the M6e rank ahead of M9w Wakamotoharu (9-6), who deserved to be two full ranks above Ura, especially when this meant splitting Wakamotoharu from M9e Tobizaru (9-6), who occupies M5w.

Things get more puzzling in the lower maegashira ranks. How did M15w Tochinoshin (9-6) end up ahead of M7w Okinoumi (5-10) given equal projected ranks and an 8-rung difference in starting position? But the biggest surprise to me, and the biggest difference with my prediction, is promoting M16e Nishikigi (9-6) all the way up to M10w, ahead of M10w Aoiyama (7-8). Aoiyama deserved to be two ranks above Nishikigi, and the only rationale here appears to be a desire to make sure those with a 7-8 record experience at least some demotion, in sharp contrast with recent banzuke, which typically left them at their rank. Of course, even this wasn’t done consistently, with Yutakayama getting to stay at M14w, despite plenty of other options.

I could go on, but I’ll close with just a couple of other cases. M3w Meisei (1-14) and M5w Ishiura (2-7-6) deserved the same rank, yet the former finds himself at M13w and the latter at M16e, in what has to be the biggest snub on the banzuke and looks like a punishment for his withdrawal with a neck injury. In breaking another pattern, juryo promotees Oho and Azumaryu are placed above Ichiyamamoto, despite the fact that the latter got a winning record in Makuuchi. Finally, as many readers of the blog pointed out, the banzuke committee’s love for Kagayaki is undiminished, and so despite going 7-8 at M17, he gets to stay in the top division, with Chiyomaru dropping instead.

Banzuke Weekend Is Upon Us

Later this weekend, the banzuke for the Natsu basho in Tokyo will be released for all to enjoy. If you want a master analysis on how the May ranking sheet might turn out, do check out lksumo’s predictions.

The basho itself is just 2 weeks away now, and it should be a heck of a battle for 15 days. I am excited to see Mitakeumi take the top Ozeki slot for the first time, and to see Wakatakakage build on his 12-3 result in March to try to string together a bid to become the 4th Ozeki. As far fetched as that may seem, I think that if he can maintain consistency for the next 2 tournaments (maybe 3), he has a solid shot at assuming sumo’s second highest rank.

For those of you who may have missed it, the NSK streamed one of their joint practice sessions on YouTube, and the quality was actually not that bad for a change. If you missed it, its nearly 3 glorious hours of sumo practice –

The rikishi who never seem to attend these were not in attendance, and I wonder if the NSK is concerned that none of their Ozeki showed up. But you know who showed up, and seemed to really fight it out – Nishikigi. This guy just loves sumo, and seems to never miss a chance to hone his craft.

I also note that Kiribayama and Hoshoryu were there, and seemed driven to tear each other up. Of course Takayasu was holding court, and always does pretty well in practice. I just wish he could carry that kind of dominance into week 2.

Some fine matches, so if you are so inclined, pour yourself a nice drink, park it on the sofa and let the sumo run.