Looking Toward the Natsu Banzuke

The 2021 Haru basho is in the books, and all the prizes have been handed out. How will the results reshuffle the rankings for the Natsu basho? As usual, I’ll have a full banzuke prediction posted once I’ve had more time for analysis, but here’s an early look at the key points.

The named ranks

Barring any unexpected further intai news, we will have Hakuho as the sole Yokozuna. The Ozeki ranks will see a reshuffle, with Asanoyama and Takakeisho, both 10-5, moving up to O1 East and West, respectively, newly kadoban Shodai falling to O2e, and re-promoted Terunofuji “debuting” at O2w.

All the other incumbents in lower san’yaku—S1w Takanosho, K1e Takayasu, K1w Mitakeumi, and K2w Daieisho are kachi-koshi. I think they’ll move up in tandem to S1e, S1w, K1e, and K1w, although there is a chance that Takayasu could leapfrog Takanosho (now there’s an image!).

Upper maegashira

Similar to the situation last time, we had three high-performing upper maegashira—M2e Hokutofuji (9-6), M2w Wakatakakage (10-5) and M3e Meisei (10-5), who would all deserve a san’yaku slot if any were available. The other upper maegashira all put up losing records that ranged from borderline to disastrous, and we have to go all the way down to M8w Tobizaru (10-5) to find the next winning record. This makes filling out this part of the banzuke a real challenge.

I think the least unfair way to accomodate the top trio is to place Wakatakakage at M1e (obviously), and then bump up Hokutofuji a measly half-a-rank to M1w, leaving Meisei, who really should be ahead of him, to settle for M2e. Tobizaru is then a lock for M2w, and remarkably, the surprise jun-yusho winner, M12w Aoiyama (11-4), is the best (and really only) candidate for M3e. What to do with M3w though? Here are your options, ladies and gentlemen: M9e Chiyonokuni, with 8 wins, M15w (!!!) Hidenoumi with 10, or M1w Onosho with his sterling 4-11 record. No, seriously, those are the best-placed rikishi, assuming they don’t promote someone with a losing record. Take your pick between a 5-rank over-promotion, a 7-rank over-promotion, or a 5-rank under-demotion.

Leaving the 7-8 M4 duo of Kiribayama and Myogiryu in place stops the bleeding a bit, but the choices for M5e, M5w, and M6e don’t look so hot either. After that, it’s two more 7-8 rikishi keeping their ranks—M6w Ichinojo and M7e Tochinoshin—and then the rankings return to some semblance of normalcy. And let’s not even think about what would need to happen if an extra Komusubi slot were created for Wakatakakage.

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

With a 9-man san’yaku, the M17e rank will reappear. And the exchanges should be pretty straightforward. Everyone in the top division finished with records that easily warrant a return, with the exception of M11 Kotoshoho (one win) and M15 Yutakayama (4-11). Those two demotions, plus Kakuryu’s retirement, open up three slots, and there are three clear promotion candidates: J2e Ishiura (9-6), J3e Chiyomaru (9-6), and J1w Akua (8-7). For the second basho in a row, no one will make a Makuuchi debut; before this March, we’ve had a newcomer in every tournament since Kyushu 2018. Just missing out on a return is M4e Enho (9-6), who will try again from the top spot in Juryo, where even 8 wins will be enough.

I’ll end this here, and cover what I think will happen in Juryo and upper Makushita after the new Juryo promotions are announced on Wednesday (it’s the only part of the banzuke we get to see early). Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Senshuraku: What’s at Stake?

The yusho race

The race for the Emperor’s Cup is going down to the wire! The sole leader, once-and-future Ozeki Terunofuji (11-3), can claim the title outright with a victory over Ozeki Takakeisho (10-4). Should the latter prevail, the pair will head into their second playoff in three tournaments, only this time joined by the winner of the bout between Komusubi Takayasu and under-the-radar contender M12 Aoiyama, both 10-4. Takayasu, loser of 3 of his last 4 bouts, has gone from leading the yusho race by 2 wins after Day 10 to trailing by a win after Day 14, while Aoiyama is riding a 6-day winning streak. Oh, and the lifetime series between the two is tied at 11 wins apiece!

The Ozeki

Terunofuji, with 13, 11, and either 11 or 12 wins in his past three tournaments, should now be an absolute lock to regain the second-highest rank in sumo. Shodai (7-7) must defeat fellow Ozeki Asanoyama (9-5) in the musubi-no-ichiban to avoid kadoban status in May.

The san’yaku ranks

East Sekiwake Terunofuji will free up his slot via promotion. Takayasu is guaranteed a Sekiwake rank, and may take Terunofuji’s spot on the next banzuke. West Sekiwake Takanosho (7-7) needs to win his “Darwin bout” against M7 Tochinoshin (7-7) to hang on to his rank, but he would only drop to Komusubi with a loss. That’s two san’yaku slots spoken for. The other two will go to the incumbent Komusubi, Mitakeumi and Daieisho, both 7-7, if they can prevail over M6 Ichinojo (7-7) and M12 Akiseyama (7-7), respectively, in their own “Darwin bouts.” Should one or both falter, any open slots will be fought over by the three upper maegashira with 9-5 records: M2e Hokutofuji, M2w Wakatakakage, and M3e Meisei. The M2’s are matched up in a first-ever meeting, and the winner of that bout will lead the promotion queue. Meisei can leapfrog the loser by winning what seems like an easy bout against M14 Tsurugisho (9-5), but suprisingly, the latter leads their head-to-head 6-1.

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

One extra slot in the top division is opened up by Kakuryu’s retirement. Two others will be vacated by Kotoshoho and Yutakayama. Conveniently, the three openings have now been claimed by J2e Ishiura (9-5), J3e Chiyomaru (9-5), and J1w Akua (8-6). The only other endangered incumbent in M10e Midorifuji (4-10), who will be safe if he can best the much-higher-ranked M5 Okinoumi (3-11). If Midorifuji loses, he should still be safe unless J4e Enho (8-6) wins; in that scenario, it’s not clear which of the pair would get the final spot.

Juryo-Makushita exchanges

There are two near-certain demotions from Juryo: Yago and newcomer Bushozan. Still looking for victories on the final day are Chiyonoumi, Nishikifuji, and Nishikigi. So that’s a least three openings in the salaried ranks, and possibly as many as six. Remember that fully half of the 10 rikishi in the Ms1-Ms5 promotion zone are absent due to virus precautions, so things are looking good for those competing and kachi-koshi. Ms2e Oho (4-3) should bounce right back up to sekitori, and he’ll be joined by Ms2w Daishoho (5-1) and Ms3e Kotokuzan (4-2). Ms4e Tochimaru (4-3) will be hoping for losses among the endangered Juryo incumbents, and should more than one of them stumble, slots may even open for men not normally in line for promotion: Ms6e Roga (4-3) and either Ms6w Murata (4-3) or Ms7w Kaisho (5-2).

Final Weekend: What’s at Stake?

The yusho race

We have two leaders with 10-3 records, followed by no fewer than five chasers at 9-4, and 6 additional rikishi who are still mathematically alive at 8-5 (although one of them, Chiyonokuni, has pulled out with injuries). The two leaders, Terunofuji and Takayasu, have already met, and the other matchups are such that a 10-win yusho is still technically possible, although this has never happened in the top division (it is, however, not uncommon in Juryo). Even an 11-4 winning score is rare, having happened only 3 times in the 6-basho era, most recently during Harumafuji’s famous comeback at Aki 2017. Should the leaders blink, two Ozeki, Asanoyama and Takakeisho, who hold matching 9-4 records, could be right back in the race, as could the winner of Aoiyama vs. Wakatakakage, as well as lowly M15w Hidenoumi. Senshuraku chaos, anyone?

The Ozeki

We should have four Ozeki in May. Whether or not one of them will be kadoban depends on whether Shodai (7-6) can best at least one of the other two other incumbents, who still nurse championship hopes, on the final weekend.

The san’yaku ranks

Currently, we have 5 rikishi occupying 2 Sekiwake and 3 Komusubi slots. One of them, East Sekiwake Terunofuji, is all but certain to move up to Ozeki, freeing up a promotion for the only other member of the quintet to clinch a winning record: his co-leader in the yusho race, East Komusubi Takayasu. West Sekiwake Takanosho (6-7) needs to win his final two bouts, including the potential yusho decider against Takayasu on Sunday, to hang on to his rank. One win would limit his demotion to Komusubi, while two losses would end his three-basho run in the named ranks. Of the other two Komusubi, Mitakeumi (6-7) must win out to remain in san’yaku for a 6th tournament, while Daieisho (7-6) only needs one win to hold rank.

So we could have as many as 3 open slots, which would take two losses by both Takanosho and Daieisho and one by Mitakuemi, and as few as none. Three maegashira have clearly separated themselves from the rest in the race for any openings: M2w Wakatakakage (9-4), M2e Hokutofuji (8-5) and M3e Meisei (8-5).

Makuuchi-Juryo exchanges

One extra slot in the top division is opened up by Kakuryu’s retirement. Two others will be vacated by Kotoshoho and Yutakayama. The M16 duo of Kaisei and Daiamami sport matching 7-6 records, and could really use another win apiece to ensure a stay in Makuuchi. The only other endangered incumbent in M10e Midorifuji, whose mere 4 wins place him at risk even at his mid-maegashira rank.

His Roundness, J3e Chiyomaru (9-4), should be assured of a return to the top division. J2e Ishiura (8-5) may also have already done enough, and another win will make promotion a certainty. Likewise, J1w Akua (7-6) should return if he can reach 8 wins in either of his remaining bouts. J4e Enho (8-5) has lost 5 of 7 after starting 6-0, and needs another victory to have a shot at promotion, and two to clinch it. One of the four could still miss out if Kaisei, Daiamami, and Midorifuji all save themselves.

Haru 2021 Juryo Banzuke Analysis

After the release of the banzuke for the upcoming Haru 2021 basho, a great deal of attention has been paid (with good reason) to the goings-on atop the makuuchi division. But, that shouldn’t preclude you, dear reader, from gaining further knowledge of the lower depths of the banzuke. Come with me, as I guide you through the picturesque landscape of the juryo division.

 

The first thing you might notice is that Hatsu 2020 champion Tokushoryu finds himself back in juryo, only 14 months removed from his first top flight championship. A rather inauspicious accolade for the veteran, but I can’t say I’m surprised by his demotion. He’s only managed one winning record since lifting the Emperor’s Cup. However, if the 34-year-old from Kise-beya can score eight victories from J1E this month, the Kinki University alum will certainly find himself back up top come May.

 

The remainder of the top of juryo consists of several makuuchi mainstays who missed time due to COVID-19 as well as recent demotees: including Akua, Ishiura, Chiyomaru, Enho, and Sadanoumi. These five, along with Tokushoryu, will be itching to get back into the top division and perhaps claim a juryo yusho along the way.

 

All eyes will be on Ura as well, hanging out at J7E for this month’s tournament. The only person more excited to see Ura’s return to the top division than sumo fans is Ura himself. He put together a solid 10-5 outing in January, and has not had a make koshi since returning from injury in November of 2019. Our esteemed friend in the pink mawashi is doing good work on the comeback trail.

 

Speaking of comebacks, the Jokoryu Revenge Tour hit a snag last time out when the Joker posted a feeble  5-10 record, including seven straight losses to take him out of the yusho race for good after a not-entirely-horrific 5-3 start. Let’s all pray that Jokoryu is able to find the form that brought him to a komusubi debut back in 2014.

 

You’ll also notice that the widely discussed Oho juryo debut did not go particularly well. The 21 year old prospect has fallen out of the salaried ranks after going 5-10 and once again will have to spend a tournament in makushita. Fingers crossed we see him back up in juryo soon, and making his makuuchi debut shortly thereafter.

 

Finally, there are two juryo debutants this month. Both 25 years old, Takakento and Bushozan come into this basho without much fanfare. They have both Goeido’d their way to juryo, with each rikishi slapping together strings of 4 and 5 win scores to slowly but surely climb their way up. However, it is always nice to see new guys, and who knows? Maybe they can make some noise from the bottom of the division.

 

Got any thoughts on the outlook for March’s juryo field? Have we seen the last of Shohozan? Is Ichiyamamoto the best shikona in the division? Who do you miss having in juryo more — Ikioi or Kotoyuki? Let me know. I’m dying to hear from you.