Early Speculation on the Haru Banzuke

As sumo withdrawal starts to kick in, let’s look ahead to March and consider who might be fighting at what rank in Osaka.

The upper ranks

This part of the banzuke, at least, should be clear. Since both Yokozuna picked up one win before pulling out, they’ll retain their relative positions, with Hakuho appearing at Y1e for a record-extending 52nd time, while Kakuryu will be listed at Y1w. Takakeisho will continue as O1e. He will be the only Ozeki on the banzuke for the first time since January 1982 after Goeido failed to get 8 wins, Takayasu failed to get 10, and Asanoyama (10-5) did not quite do enough for promotion, though he did enough to have another shot at it in March.

The lower san’yaku

Asanoyama will continue his reign as East Sekiwake. Beyond that, things are less clear. At the moment, we have four rikishi vying to fill the remaining three regular slots. Goeido is guaranteed the rank of Sekiwake, but there is speculation that he may retire instead of trying to re-ascend to Ozeki with 10 wins. M4w Shodai (13-2), M2e Hokutofuji (11-4), and M1e Endo (9-6) have all done enough to earn a san’yaku rank, and to force an extra slot to be created if necessary. Goeido’s retirement would make this simple, most likely with Shodai ascending to S1w and Hokutofuji and Endo occupying the East and West Komusubi ranks, respectively. This trio may well hold the same ranks even if Goeido fights on, with the ex-Ozeki ranked S2w.

The upper maegashira

With the san’yaku ranks either holding at 8 or dwindling to 7 for the first time in the modern era, the top 16 (the joi-jin) will extend down to M4-M5, and with likely withdrawals in the upper ranks, rikishi ranked as low as M6 may face multiple san’yaku opponents, as Takarafuji and Tochinoshin did this basho. Who will occupy this part of the banzuke, which was commonly referred to as “the meat grinder” when those ranked there served as mere fodder for powerful upper-rankers, but now offers kinboshi and promotion opportunities?

I am expecting two demoted san’yaku rikishi, K1w Daieisho (7-8) and S1w Takayasu (6-9), to occupy the M1 ranks. M2 should be filled by two rising rikishi, M9w Yutakayama, 11-4, (you’re welcome, Bruce) and M4e Okinoumi (8-7). M2w Mitakeumi (7-8) should see a minimal drop to M3, where he’ll be joined by the “matta king” M8w Ryuden (10-5). Filling out the upper maegashira ranks will be M5w Enho (8-7), who’ll once again reach a new career high, M7w Onosho (9-6), the yusho winner M17w Tokushoryu (14-1), demoted East Komusubi Abi (5-10), M1w Myogiryu (5-10), and M11w Kagayaki (10-5).

The Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

J4e Nishikigi (11-4) earned a definite return to the top division. He’ll be trading places with the one obvious demotion, M13w Kotoeko, who, with only 2 wins, will be falling deep into the second division.

The second-best promotion case, and one that should be compelling, belongs to J6e Daiamami (11-4). But whose place would he take? The only candidates are M14w Shimanoumi (6-9), who would normally be considered to have done just enough to stay, and the two absentees: M3w Kotoyuki (0-0-15) and M5e Meisei (1-7-7). Given that Tomokaze was demoted last time (ironically, in favor of the yusho winner Tokushoryu, whom most predictions had staying in Juryo) from the same position as Kotoyuki, that might be the way to bet purely for the sake of consistency. Once again, were Goeido to retire and open up an extra slot in the top division, Daiamami could move up without the need to demote any of the three.

The other Juryo rikishi who should receive some consideration are J2e Kotonowaka and J2w Hidenoumi, both 8-7, but I don’t think their rank-record combinations are quite enough to force down any of the bubble rikishi from the top division. J5e Wakatakakage (9-6) made a late push for an immediate return to the top division, but his final-day loss will keep him in Juryo for another basho. J5w Daishoho (9-6) blew what looked like a near-certain promotion with 4 consecutive losses to close the tournament. And the Juryo yusho winner, J13w Terunofuji (13-2), will also have to wait after dropping his last two bouts to Nishikigi and Daiamami.

Two exchanges would be the fewest in 5 years, while only one exchange hasn’t happened in over two decades.

Hatsu Day 15 Highlights

How do you like that? The last man on the banzuke beat the only (mostly) healthy Ozeki to win the Emperor’s cup on the final match of the final day. The resulting yusho interview and all ceremonies were so refreshingly genuine and unrehearsed as to give a western sumo fan like myself a giant ear to ear grin. Kise heya also had the returning fan favorite Ura pick up a yusho down in Jonidan. I predict monster hangovers and smiles that last a month.

The long term sumo fan might as: “What the hell happened?”, and rightfully so. If you have the lowest ranked man on the banzuke take the cup, that means either your ranking system is completely broken, or your talent just can’t quite seem to get its act together and execute orderly sumo. I would say that right now, in this transitional era, its double handfuls of both. Some of you readers may recall a post with a chart that showed the demise (around 2019-ish) of the current Yokozuna / Ozeki corps. I was roasted in comments for that one, but… here we are. There has been so much rank churn in the last 2 years that its tough to field a decent crew, and its nearly impossible to predict who is going to be hot and who is going to be cold in the next tournament.

The Yokozuna and Ozeki corps normally have the task of beating everyone Sekiwake and below day after day. With only one Ozeki, it’s a bit much, and so just about everyone is at the same level, and are able to rack up double digit wins if they are on a hot streak. If you place these same rikishi in the Hakuho / Harumafuji / Kisenosato / Terunofuji era (when they were competing and healthy), nobody is going over 11 wins if you are not at least a solid Sekiwake. So this kind of wild “Anyone can win” basho is going to be the new normal until sometime late in 2021 (I think) we will stabilize a new Ozeki / Yokozuna corps to keep the Maegashira from running up the score.

For Takakeisho, this was a huge missed opportunity, and sadly he knows it. A yusho at Ozeki when both Yokozuna are out and may be out for March as well was a path to the rope. Regardless of what the Grand Tadpole may say, his eye is on that prize. But I can already see from lksumo’s predictions that March is setting the stage for something. We can count on Takakeisho working on what to do when his opponent gets a mawashi grip until it is no longer a lethal move against him.

Highlight Matches

Kotoshogiku defeats Tochiozan – Kotoshogiku seems to surprise Tochiozan by generating quite a bit of forward pressure, and when Tochiozan switches to trying to pull, Kotoshogiku simply ad advances for the win. The Kyushu Bulldozer ends with a mild 7-8 make koshi.

Kiribayama defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru comes out strong against Kiribayama’s upper body, but a failed pull attempt by Kiribayama unbalances Chiyomaru enough for Kiribayama to get behind and drive him out with an okuridashi. 11 wins in your debut basho, nice work Kiribayama.

Tsurugisho defeats Terutsuyoshi – With that damaged knee, I am impressed that Tsurugisho was able to finish 6-9. Sure it’s a make-koshi, but I am going to guess he can stay in the top division. I hope he can get that thing repaired in time for Osaka. Terutsuyoshi lost his last 4 in a row. Need to work on that…

Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Our first Darwin match goes to Kaisei because sometimes being enormous is a valid sumo strategy. Once Kaisei gets his battle hug on Chiyotairyu, he can’t do much except try to find an escape.

Sadanoumi defeats Kotoeko – We see it again today, Kotoeko cannot generate any forward pressure. Is it his back? His feet? His knees? To the Juryo barge with you sir! Recover and come back when you are genki.

Ikioi defeats Takanosho – Second Darwin match – the grizzled scar mass known as Ikioi won 6 of his last 7 to finish kachi-koshi. Today’s match was a chaotic mess of push and pull, and frankly Takanosho could have (should have) put him down a couple of times. But congratulations to Ikioi for a remarkable comeback.

Takarafuji defeats Shimanoumi – Really simple match, it’s Takarafuji who takes control at the tachiai, and directly escorts Shimanoumi to the nearest exit.

Kagayaki defeats Enho – Kagayaki hits double digits with his no-frills, fundamentals based sumo. He was horribly under promoted from Maegashira 13 to Maegashira 11 with another 10-5 record in Kyushu. Hey banzuke committee – as we say at Tachiai, “What the hell was that?”. Watch this match carefully, I am really impressed how Kagayaki has changed up his sumo for this bout, and how he is able to put pressure center mass against a much smaller opponent.

Okinoumi defeats Azumaryu – The next Darwin match goes to Okinoumi, as Azumaryu’s opening gambit failed and left him exposed to Okinoumi’s drive to the inside. From there it was all Okinoumi who finishes with a kachi-koshi.

Tamawashi defeats Ishiura – Denshamichi sumo. Ishiura tried a face slap tachiai and had no plan b.

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – I know Shodai is a bit broken up about not taking the cup, but he had a fantastic run, and his sumo was a couple of notches better than we have seen from him before. But what is a bigger deal to me is that Mitakeumi finishes make-koshi. He was unable to hold an upper Maegashira rank this tournament. Some detractors will likely put it on some personal failing of his, but no arch competitor like him has this kind of 2 tournament slide without a physical problem. Please heal up Mitakeumi, we need you back.

Yutakayama defeats Hokutofuji – We predicted this match would have a lot of fight to it, and these two are in great form this January, and they delivered a solid match. I look forward to both of them ripping up the upper ranks in Osaka. My congratulations to Yutakayama for getting 11 freaking wins, coming off of injury, a drop to Juryo and recovery. Stay healthy, the party is about to start.

Myogiryu defeats Tochinoshin – Speaking of drop to Juryo, I think that Tochinoshin is headed that way in 2020. It was always a race against when that knee would be re-damaged, and we can see from his performance in January that is may be gone for good.

Endo defeats Shohozan – Endo denies Shohozan his kachi-koshi after Shohozan clearly wants to grab high and attempt a pull down at the tachiai. Endo is too low, too powerful and too fast forward to leave Shohozan any room to work, and he is out in a hurry. Endo, some great “plan a” sumo this January, but your “plan b” sumo needs work.

Daieisho defeats Abi – Abi with a double digit make-koshi makes all the kappa goofing off on the banks of the Sumida river cry. But he’s been hurt and had no time to train up for this basho. Today, Abi could muster no forward motion against Daieisho, so he is more or less spent for now. I hope he comes back genki for March.

Takayasu defeats Aoiyama – Takayasu won this one through superior lateral mobility. I do hope Takayasu has some sumo left in him, but I am going to guess that as long as that left elbow is weak, he’s going to be mid-Maegashira at best.

Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Asanoyama finishes double digits at Sekiwake 1 East, and keeps an Ozeki bid alive for March. That Ryuden fake matta / cheap hit routine is very stale and covered with smelly fungus. Please put it away. I am going to assume that he got Asanoyama a little fired up, because Ryuden gets captured early, and driven to the edge. Rather than a simple, safe step out, Asanoyama pushes for a body slam into the salt basket. Asanoyama shows far greater hinkaku than I would have. I would have grabbed a handful of salt and sprinkled it on his mage as punctuation.

Onosho defeats Goeido – Wow, look who ripped up two Ozeki relics this basho (he beat Tochinoshin day 2). I know some commentators have doubts about Onosho, some of which are quite valid, but he’s coming to the joi-jin, and if he can keep away from his ring rust problem, he’s going to have a chance to really disrupt some people’s sumo.

Tokushoryu defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho started close and got closer to Tokushoryu, which genuinely gave Tokushoryu a wide open invitation to execute his preferred form. Once you get Takakeisho chest to chest, he’s not packing a large amount of offense, and it was clear he was going to struggle. The biggest worry is I saw Takakeisho’s knee move oddly in that final fall, and it would really be a shame if the last functioning Ozeki yet again was injured in the last match of a tournament. Congratulations to Tokushoryu, what an amazing 15 days of sumo from you. Completely unexpected and unprecedented.

Note to Tachiai ReadersWe have had an absolute blast bringing you coverage of Hatsu – both from Japan and our normal locations. Thank you very much for sharing this wild basho with us, and we invite you to check back in the weeks ahead as we prepare for Osaka.

NHK Hatsu Highlight Video

While Team Tachiai types up the final day highlights, enjoy this wonderful video from NHK, composed of some nice highlights of the Hatsu Basho.

Hatsu Special Prizes

Sanshō 三賞, literally “three prizes” are the three special prizes awarded to top (Makuuchi) division sumo wrestlers for exceptional performance during a sumo honbasho or tournament. The prizes were first awarded in November 1947. The three prizes are:
Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize

Wikipedia

Who will claim the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with each one? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are awarded conditionally. Usually, the condition is that the rikishi must win his last bout, but sometimes it can be something else, such as winning the yusho. Not every prize is awarded every basho, and multiple rikishi can receive each prize.

The January prizes have just been announced. Endo will receive an outstanding performance award unconditionally, presumably to recognize his two kinboshi. Outstanding performance awards are also on the table for Shodai and Tokushoryu, but conditionally (presumably on winning the yusho). This leading duo will also each get an unconditional fighting spirit prize, as will Makuuchi newcomer Kiribayama for managing double-digit victories in his top-division debut. Finally, one technique prize will go unconditionally to Hokutofuji, and another is on the line conditionally for Enho (presumably, the condition is defeating Kagayaki tomorrow to get to 9 wins).

That’s quite a bounty: at least 5 rikishi receiving a minimum of 5 prizes, and as many as 6 receiving as many as 7. This will be the 5th special prize but the first shukun-sho for Endo. Shodai has 3 previous san-sho, all kanto-sho. This is the second gino-sho for Hokutofuji, and would also be the second technique prize for Enho.