So, Sadogatake beya suffers the most from that wave, with three rikishi having departed.
Some concerned rikishi are retiring at quite a young age. Usually, rikishi retire due to age, injury, or lesser known personal reasons. Another potential issue this time is Covid fears: Kotokantestu’s case was made public right at the beginning of last basho:
Among the others, Miryuzan is just 19 and already decided to abort his young career. He actually won his last ever two bouts. Here’s the very last one:
The now former Kise beya resident, Kijuin, has retired at the venerable age of 35. He actually came close to becoming a sekitori, narrowly missing a kashi koshi ranked makushita 2, in September 2015.
As expected, four rikishi have been promoted to Juryo: crossing the heaven/hell boundary are Ms1w Takakento (5-2), Ms2e Bushozan (4-3), Ms3w Ichiyamamoto (4-3), and Ms5w Nishikifuji (6-1). This marks sekitori debuts for Takakento and Bushozan (pictured above) and returns for Ichiyamamoto, after an injury led to more than a year in Makushita, and Nishikifuji, who bounces back after a single tournament in the third division.
The corresponding demotions are not announced, but reading the tea leaves, it’s not hard to figure out that falling out of the salaried ranks are J14 Ryuko (6-9), J13 Ikioi (6-9), who’s been a sekitori for nearly a decade, J11 Oho (5-10), the wrestler formerly known as Naya, and J9 Kotoyuki (4-11), who, like Ikioi, hasn’t been ranked this low since 2011.
We can also look at who is likely to be fighting for Juryo promotion at Haru. Generally, there is a promotion zone, Ms1-Ms5, and it’s the 10 rikishi occupying these ranks who compete to reach sekitorihood. In very favorable instances, someone just outside this zone can move up, but typically, only a 7-0 record leads to promotion from the extended zone, Ms6-Ms15.
Nine of the ten slots in the promotion zone are clear: the four Juryo demotions listed above will be joined by two men with kachi-koshi records in the Ms1-Ms5 ranks who just missed out this time: Ms4w Daishoho and Ms5e Tochimaru, both 4-3. Also getting another chance will be Ms1e Kitaharima, who fell one win short at 3-4. And moving up into the promotion zone will be Ms8w Shohoryu (6-1), who came agonizingly close to the 7-0 record he needed, and Ms6e Hokutenkai (4-3), Takanoiwa’s nephew.
The last slot will go to either Ms2w Roga (3-4), or one of the following wrestlers with winning records further down the banzuke: Ms8e Murata (4-3), Ms13w Kaisho (5-2), or Ms17w Ryusei (6-1). My guess would be Ryusei, but I’m really not sure how to handicap the rank-record combinations in this part of the rankings. As commenter Jay points out, the 10th slot is presumably spoken for by Ms3e Kotokuzan—one of the Covid absentees from Arashio beya.
2021’s Hatsu Basho started amid fears, if not controversy, brought by the pandemic. It ended amid true controversy, on a different, albeit also health-related, matter: brain concussion among sumo wrestlers.
Before moving on this topic, let’s have a look back at what happened.
Makushita, day 10. Shonannoumi faces Asagyokusei. Shonannoumi botches the tachi-ai, moves forward as his opponent still stands behind the shikiri-sen. Asagyokusei raises, both collide heavily on the head, and Shonannoumi falls to the clay.
At this point, the gyoji has two options:
A) Approving the tachi-ai. In that case, Asagyokusei has to be called the winner;
B) Calling a matta. That’s what happened during the bout. The gyoji orders a redo – the shimpan judges even quickly reunite in order to discuss on that matter, only to order to proceed further. But Shonannoumi is obviously unable to do any kind of effort whatsoever – he stands up several times, only to lose balance and fall awkwardly again and again. Eventually, he stands on his feet, the bout is a go, and Shonannoumi even wins it. But that’s not the point at all. Obviously, his health has been seriously endangered.
Has it happened before?
Of course, the Hokutofuji bout against Ryuden, in May of 2018, springs to mind. Basically, the story is the same.
I’d also like to mention a crazy bout where Azumaryu and Tobizaru faced each other in juryo in 2019 (on day 9 of the Nagoya basho, to be exact). After a long fight full of twists and downs, after even a mawashi matta, both sekitori send each other outside the limits of the ring, and fall heavily to the ground. The catch is, it was realistically impossible to declare a clear-cut winner, and a torinaoshi was ordered. Here, Azumaryu, and especially Tobizaru, looked too exhausted to fight once more. The latter lost the re-match without being at full capacity.
What could have been done ?
My question would rather be: does a sumo bout necessarily have to see out a winner ? As a chess player, I know individual sports can see contests concluded without a winner. It does not happen in tennis or in Formula One, but it does happen in darts, another lesser known sport.
Anyway, if football or rugby have an extended medical protocol in case of a concussion, in my opinion a handy solution exists. If this were unfortunately to happen again in sumo (and some day, it will happen again): the reintroduction of draws in sumo.
In fact, sumo initially allowed various kinds of draw. Let’s examine them.
Firstly, azukari used to be called, when a bout’s issue was too close to call, and no clear-cut winner could be nominated.The bout then just ended in a draw.
Secondly, hikiwake used to represent the situation when the opponents fought for some time, and no one could take the advantage. Here, too, the result would just be a draw.
Obviously, both cases don’t appear any more today. Instead of an azukari, a torinaoshi would just be called; and instead of a hikiwake, the shimpan judges would raise their hands after four minutes, and a mizu-iri would be orderer: the “water break”.
To be exact, the last azukari was seen in 1951, whereas the last hikiwake could be witnessed in 1974. And, obviously, neither of these calls fit to Shonannoumi’s situation.
Thirdly, the case of a mushōbu is interesting. That call could be heard if a bout was too close to call, and if the gyoji decided not to point his gumbai to anyone. In the 1860’s, that system was replaced, and only the shimpan judges could then decide not to declare someone as the winner. And then, that system has been replaced by the torinaoshi rule.
And finally, the itamiwake is what we’re looking for. It occurred when a rikishi got injured and could not continue – usually, not taking part in a torinaoshi.
The last wrestlers to benefit from some itamiwake respite were Narutoumi and Wakabayama, back in 1958.
Couldn’t Shonannoumi benefit from such an allowance?
Let’s reintroduce itamiwake in sumo!
Update: that issue, and the Shonannoumi case have seemingly given fruits. The shimpan department has just decided to act, not allowing any more hurt rikishi to fight again. From now, rikishi suffering from concussion prior to a match (or, of course, right after a matta) will lose by default:
That may not be the end to all our problems, but that’s definitely a great start.
The 2021 Hatsu basho is in the books, and all the kensho has been handed out. How will the results reshuffle the rankings for the Haru 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. Note: I’m assuming that the rikishi who had to sit out the tournament due to COVID will have their ranks frozen, following the Tamanoi beya precedent from September. This actually helps to create a sensible Makuuchi banzuke, but creates major problems in Juryo.
The named ranks
With both Yokozuna absent, nothing will change at the top of the rankings. Barring retirement, we will have Hakuho on the East side and Kakuryu on the West for the 6th straight tournament. The Ozeki ranks will see a reshuffle, with Shodai and Asanoyama, both 11-4, occupying O1 East and West, respectively, and newly kadoban Takakeisho falling to O2e.
All the incumbents in lower san’yaku—S1e Terunofuji, S1w Takanosho, K1e Takayasu, and K1w Mitakeumi—are kachi-koshi, and all have 9 wins, with the exception of Terunofuji’s 11, which means that they will keep their ranks. I’m going to guess that Daieisho (13-2) will vault all the way to Sekiwake, creating an extra slot (he has unquestionably done enough to force a san’yaku promotion this time, after a very unlucky miss following the previous tournament). And with 24 wins in his last two basho, Terunofuji is officially on an Ozeki run and can re-ascend to sumo’s second-highest rank with another double-digit performance in March.
That’s a lot of wins (73, to be exact) soaked up by just 7 rikishi, and in a zero-sum game, the reverberations will be felt further down the banzuke.
It was feast or famine in this part of the banzuke. Daieisho aside, M2e Takarafuji and M3w Onosho recorded nine wins apiece, while everyone else was make-koshi. Takarafuji and Onosho will occupy the top maegashira rank, and Hokutofuji, with his minimal 7-8 make-koshi, will fall one rank to M2e. “Frozen” Wakatakakage conveniently occupies M2w, but filling the next few ranks isn’t easy. M5e Endo and M5w Okinoumi, both 7-8, can be placed no higher than their current rank, everyone else in the joi will fall even lower, and there’s not much help from the ranks immediately below them. This means bringing up kachi-koshi rikishi from lower down the rankings way up the banzuke. I have M7e Meisei, M8w Kiribayama and M9w Myogiryu, all 8-7, and M10e Shimanoumi, 9-6, all jumping up 4-6 full ranks, much more than their records would typically warrant.
With a 10-man san’yaku, the M17e rank will disappear, and its current occupant, Sadanoumi (5-10), will be heading down. I’m quite confident that he’ll be joined by M13e Akua (5-10). Beyond that, things get a little muddy. We have two clear promotion candidates—the yusho winner, J8e Tsurugisho (12-3), and Tobizaru’s big brother, J6w Hidenoumi (11-4), who hasn’t been in the top division since March 2018. We also have J1w Daiamami (8-7), who should be promoted, and with Ishiura “frozen” at J1e, there’s nowhere to put him except Makuuchi. I think this means that M8e Tokushoryu (3-12) will have to make room and fall to the second division a year after his triumph.
There are two other men in this conversation: J8w Daishomaru (11-4), who handed Tokushoryu his coup de grâce, and M15e Yutakayama (7-8), who could not pick up his 8th win on senshuraku and left his fate in the hands of the banzuke committee. I believe that the incumbent will just hang on, but this is a close call.
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!