Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

Aminishiki

Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.

Lower San’yaku

S

Mitakeumi

Tochinoshin

K

Ichinojo

Chiyotairyu

In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Endo

M2

Arawashi

Kotoshogiku

M3

Takakeisho

Takarafuji

M4

Shodai

Shohozan

M5

Chiyomaru

Onosho

Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Kaisei

Hokutofuji

M7

Yoshikaze

Kagayaki

M8

Abi

Okinoumi

M9

Chiyoshoma

Chiyonokuni

M10

Daieisho

Tochiozan

M11

Yutakayama

Ryuden

A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoyuki

Daishomaru

M13

Ishiura

Ikioi

M14

Asanoyama

Nishikigi

M15

Myogiryu

Sokokurai

M16

Daiamami

Hidenoumi

M17

Aoiyama


Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.

Hatsu Basho Wrap Up and Predictions

Lift

What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).

The Yokozuna

At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.

The Ozeki

The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–

The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.

The Old Lower Sanyaku

This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–

The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–

Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+

The New Lower Sanyaku

Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A

Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A

The Joi

The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:

M1 Tamawashi (S) Endo (M5)
M2 Arawashi (M4) Kotoshogiku (M2)
M3 Takakeisho (K) Takarafuji (M6)
M4 Shodai (M4) Shohozan (M9)
M5 Chiyomaru (M9) Onosho (K)

In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.

Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).

Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions

As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.

Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.

As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.

Wakaichiro Loses Final Match

During the morning of Hatsu day 15, Wakaichiro faced his toughest opponent yet, former Sandanme 5 rikishi Kotoseigo. Although he put up a valiant fight, Wakaichiro was pushed out of the ring for a loss. Winning move for Kotoseigo is oshitaoshi.

This brings Wakaichiro’s record for Hatsu to a respectable 5-2, an excellent recovery from the brutal 1-6 record in Kyushu. Some of his other fans across the internet have been trying to speculate if he will return to Sandanme for March, but right now it’s tough to make anything other than a wild guess. Given his first basho in Sandanme, the level of competition there is a clear step higher.

We are certain that whatever the outcome, his fans are rightfully pleased with his progress, and look forward to more sumo by the Texas Sumotori in Osaka.

Day 13 Undercard Matches to Watch

The competition level continues to rise as we get near the end of Hatsu, and Day 13 will see many stars of the undercard compete for their spot in the top division come March. Here are some great undercard matches that you shouldn’t miss!

Sokokurai vs. Yutakayama

Yutakayama is one win away from kachi koshi. That phrase sounds so strange to me, but considering how wild the last few days of this Basho have been, I guess anything is possible now! Having picked up a fusen win from Tochiozan on Day 12, Yutakayama can earn his winning record with a victory over Sokokurai tomorrow. The November Juryu Champ Sokokurai continues to look like a fish out of water this January and is already make koshi. These two have met twice before, and their series is tied 1-1.

Kotoyuki vs. Daiamami

The last two days have been pretty easy on big Daiamami. On Day 11 he gently plopped Aminishiki over the bales without much fuss, and on Day 12 he picked up another win by quietly walking Terunofuji out of the ring. The competition level picks up on Thursday when he takes on Kotoyuki. Despite limping away from the dohyo on Day 11, Kotoyuki didn’t look very injured in his match versus Asanoyama and had little trouble pushing Mr. Happy over the bales. In four previous meetings, the Penguin has beaten Daiamami thrice.

Terunofuji vs. Takekaze

Takekaze seems hellbent on capping his losses at eight and has now won his last three matches. On Thursday he has a chance to extend that streak to four when he faces the hollow shell of what used to be Terunofuji. If there’s any life left in the Kaiju, tomorrow would be the perfect time to show it as Takekaze is one of the easier opponents he’ll face over the next three days. A win could go a long way in restoring Terunofuji’s confidence, which seems to be a big factor in his listless sumo.

Asanoyama vs. Chiyomaru

What is going on with Asanoyama? During week one he looked like the skilled young rikishi who turned heads at Aki, but in the second week, he appears just as lost as he did  in Kyushu. While he could be injured again, I think the major culprit is his self-esteem. Prior to Aki, Asanoyama had a career record of 98-30, giving him a win rate of 76.6%. During this time his longest losing streak was only three matches. Since then, he has lost 42 matches, and his win rate has dropped to 34.4%. It was during this period that Asanoyama also picked up his first make koshi. This guy has been a winner almost his entire career, and now he needs to figure out how to handle losing in the big leagues, or he won’t be there much longer. Tomorrow he’ll face Chiyomaru and have another chance to clinch his kachi koshi. Chiyo is also coming into Day 13 looking for his kachi koshi and will be a stiff opponent for Mr. Happy.

Chiyoshoma vs. Kagayaki

Kagayaki will be making a trip up the torikumi tomorrow when he faces off with Maegashira 7 Chiyoshoma. Chiyoshoma fell victim to the new and improved Shodai yesterday, and now has to deal with the new and improved Kagayaki as well. While Kagayaki has been performing far better this Basho, he still has a lot to learn when it comes to yotsu-sumo. Nishikigi took full advantage of this weakness yesterday, and if Kagayaki tries to engage a skilled grappler like Chiyoshoma in some mawashi fighting, he can expect the same kind of results. Chiyoshoma has a 6-4 series lead.

Abi vs. Kaisei & Takarafuji vs. Ryuden

Kagayaki isn’t the only one taking on a higher ranked opponent on Day 13. Two of the brightest young stars of the undercard, Abi and Ryuden, will leap up the match schedule to face Makuuchi mainstays Kaisei and Takarafuji. These matches, for the most part, are to help the schedulers figure out where the chips will fall for Haru, as every man except for Takarafuji has a kachi koshi. Since neither pair has faced one another before, these matches should be very entertaining!

I’ve been blown away by the quality of the Hatsu Basho this year, and Day 13 can’t come soon enough!

Day 12 Undercard Matches to Watch

This Basho is the gift that keeps on giving, especially considering the excellent matches coming out of the undercard. Day 12 looks like it’s going to be just as good as Day 11, and there are many high-stakes matches throughout the torikumi! Here are a few exciting undercard matches to watch on Day 12.

Nishikigi vs. Kagayaki

Kagayaki is back to using his strong sumo again, winning his last four bouts and coming into Day 12 just one victory shy of his kachi koshi. While the Kagayaki of old would have fallen flat on his face after a henka, the new and more confident Kagayai stayed upright and managed to throw Kotoyuki off the dohyo and into the first row today. Tomorrow he faces Nishikigi, who is once more walking the tightrope between Makuuchi and Juryo, and will need to win three out of his four remaining matches to secure a winning record. The two have faced off eight times before, and Kagayaki holds a 5-3 series lead.

Kotoyuki vs. Asanoyama

Tokyo wasn’t the only thing that cooled down last weekend. After blazing through the first six days of competition, Asanoyama lost four matches in a row before picking up his seventh win today versus Sokokurai. Mr. Happy looked incredibly relieved after his victory, leading me to believe that a mental block was a factor in his losing skid. With the monkey off his back, hopefully, he can get back to his stellar sumo and clinch his kachi koshi on Day 12. He meets Kotoyuki, who is also experiencing a string of recent losses. To make things worse, the Penguin took another tumble off the dohyo and was last seen needing help to walk the rest of the way to the locker room. Tomorrow will mark their second meeting, with Kotoyuki holding a 1-0 edge over Asanoyama.

Terunofuji vs. Daiamami

If Terunofuji is in fighting form, we certainly didn’t get a chance to see it today. The towering Kaiju was swiftly sidestepped at the tachiai by the much smaller Ishiura, who got behind Terunofuji to force him over the tawara. Tommorrow will be a true test of Terunofuji’s ability to compete, as he meets fellow big man Daiamai on the dohyo. Daiamami comes into Day 12 looking to pick up his sixth win and bring his record back to .500. Success tomorrow will put him two wins away from his first Makuuchi kachi koshi. Day 12 will be the first meeting between these two behemoths.

Takekaze vs. Aminishiki

Wednesday marks the thirty-third, and potentially final, time veterans Takekaze and Aminishiki face one another on the dohyo. Takekaze comes into Day 12 with a dreadful 3-8 record and is at risk of falling out of Makuchi come March. There is a good chance he will go intai if this happens. Aminishiki also has a poor record, and unless he can run the gambit and win his final four matches, he will be demoted. At Maegashira 10, ‘Shiki has a bit of a buffer between himself and Juryo, but his presence in the top division at Haru is looking very uncertain. Given his recent lower body issues, Uncle Sumo may choose to hang up the mawashi if his Makuuchi swan song comes to an end. As much as it is hard to hear, the changing of the guard is going to start sooner rather than later. With the elder statesmen of sumo unable to keep up with the new generation, Hatsu 2018 may mark the beginning of that change.

Abi vs. Choyomaru.

It’s hard to believe that Abi is one now win away from his kachi koshi considering the rough start he had this Basho. The shiko master has been a great addition to the top division and is one of the brightest stars on the undercard! Day 12 sees Abi face marshmallow man Chiyomaru, who is also one victory away from a winning record. While Abi’s tsuppari attacks are powerful, they’ve so far been ineffective against Chiyo’s bulky physique, and the big man has never lost to Abi. Will that change tomorrow, or will Abi have to wait until Day 13 to claim his kachi koshi?

Day 11 will be pretty hard to beat, but Day 12 has just as much fantastic undercard action to enjoy, in what is becoming n all-time great Basho!

Everything You Need to Know After Act Two

Act Two has come to a close, and while Tokyo is freezing over, action at the Ryogoku Kokugikan continues to heat up! The third and final act of the 2018 Hatsu Basho begins tomorrow, and what an act it is shaking up to be. Over the next five days, dreams will come true, aspirations will be crushed, and a new champion will be crowned. The rikishi are ready, the Emperors Cup has been polished and the giant macaroon baked. Without further adieu, here is everything you need to know going into Act Three!

Yusho Race

After ten days of sumo, the Yusho race has boiled down to just one name: Kakuryu. With a spotless 10-0 record coming into Act Two, the Yokozuna is firmly in the driver’s seat this Basho and the Emperors Cup is now his to lose. However, he’s not home free yet, as Maegashira 3 Tochinoshin is just one win behind, and a slip up by Kakuryu will put him back into contention. Kakuryu will begin to face his stiffest competition yet over the next coming days and will have to weather the storm if he wants to hoist the cup come Sunday.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

Despite several rikishi sitting halfway to their kachi koshi after Act One, only three men were able to achieve a winning record during Act Two. Tochinoshin secured his kachi koshi on Day 9 in a herculean effort against Mitakeumi. Daieisho picked his up with a win over Tochiozan on Day 10. While Kakuryu had eight wins by Day 8, he obtained his Yokozuna kachi koshi of ten wins on Day 10. Grandpa Bullfrog Takekaze, Terunofuji, Ikioi and Hokutofuji are the only rikishi entering Act Two with make koshi records, as each only pick up two wins after ten days. Hokutofuji’s make koshi is especially unfortunate as the young rikishi was looking stellar coming into Hatsu and high hopes were surrounding him. Looks like the curse of the NHK special strikes again. As for Terunojuji, he recieved his losing record from the sidelines after missing a week of the Basho due to illness. Everyone else will have their fate decided in Act Three. For an excellent break down of the promotion and demotion implications for March, please see lksumo’s post here.

Kinboshi

With Kakuryu firing on all cylinders, there weren’t any kinboshi gold stars handed during the Act Two. Now that Onosho has pulled out, Kakuryu’s projected final opponents will change, giving one more Maegashira a chance to put dirt on the Yokozuna. Endo will likely be the one chosen to square off against the Yokozuna on Day 12.

Kyujo

Act One saw us lose Kisenosato, Hakuho, Terunofuji, and Aminishiki. That list has since shortened, as Aminishiki made his return on Day 10 and Terunofuji will be coming back from kyujo tomorrow. In their place is Onosho, who pulled out on Day 10 due to a ligament injury in his right knee, and will lose his Komusubi spot for the Haru Basho in March.

While the conclusion of this Basho may seem clear, if there is one thing I’ve learned about sumo is that it is very unpredictable. So much can happen over the next five days, and Act Three of the 2018 Hatsu Basho is shaping up to be the best act yet! Raise the curtain, let’s begin!