The injured Yokozuna declared today that he would not be competing in the Haru basho, due to ongoing complications related to his un-treated left pectoral injury sustained at the end of last year’s Haru basho. Kisenosato previously had declared an ultimatum for himself that he would either compete at a Yokozuna level in the next basho he entered, or he would retire. Given this condition, he was not ever a real candidate for entry.
Fans want to see Kisenosato healthy again, and worry that he is not on a path to recovery given his current level of activity. We wish him the best and urge him to seek out the best sports medicine doctors and trainers to assist his recovery.
It’s nearly dawn on Thursday in Osaka, and later this morning the day 1 torikumi (fight card) will be drawn up. The deadline for the Yokozuna to decide if they are going to start the Haru basho is today, which allows the scheduling team to draw up a proper roster for the opening days of the tournament. Tachiai is expecting at least one Yokozuna to not start Haru, and for none of the Yokozuna to be competing by day 10.
Some reasons why:
Hakuho – Damage to both big toes caused him to withdraw from Hatsu. He has struggled to train, but has recently started test matches against rikishi in his own stable. At Hakuho’s age, significant re-injury to his right big toe could possibly end his career.
Kakuryu – Probably in the best condition of the three Yokozuna, his ankle is probably well enough to begin competition, but injury to his right hand on the final day of Hatsu is still causing him problems with establishing and maintaining a mawashi grip.
Kisenosato – His un-repaired left pectoral muscle injury may have no way to heal to full capacity. During the past year, Kisenosato has put himself on light duty in hopes of “Healing Naturally”. As a result, he has become de-conditioned, and no longer has the strength, balance or ring sense required to compete at Yokozuna levels.
I admit, my Japanese is very poor. But I fear this post on twitter from the NSK reports that Yokozuna Kisenosato has been frozen in carbonite until they can find a way to repair his damaged left pectoral muscle.
For the past year, the sumo world has grappled with the specter of a tournament with no Yokozuna able to complete the entire 15 day competition. All three surviving grand-champions each suffer from chronic injuries that they nurse, bandage, brace or ignore to compete. But up until recently, at least one of them could muster enough healthy to oversee an entire 15 day basho. With the retirement of Harumafuji at the end of 2017, the roster of Yokozuna dropped to three, each of which come to Haru with medical issues. If no Yokozuna can compete for all 15 days, will this be the first tournament in years that features Ozeki as the highest rank competing on the final day?
In 2016, Hakuho underwent surgery to repair his big toe. It took months for him to recover enough to credibly compete once more. News during January’s Hatsu basho was that Hakuho had not only re-injured that toe, but the other one as well. He has been training as best as he can manage, but may be questionable for the entire tournament.
Japan’s great hope – Yokozuna Kisenosato, has not sought surgical treatment for his torn left pectoral muscle, and may have very few options to regain strength in his dominant left side. He has been admonished to stay out of competition until he is completely healed, and able to perform at Yokozuna levels again.
Rounding out the list is the eternally injured Kakuryu. He looked almost unbeatable during the first 10 days of Hatsu, until he injured his ankle and struggled to win. While he took surgery to repair damage to that ankle, but an awkard fall on the final day match against Goeido left his hand injured, and now he struggles to generate any grip strength.
While fans may worry about a tournament with no Yokozuna competing, this is in fact all part of the natural evolution of Sumo. We are in a transitional period where may well loved rikishi at all ranks reach the end of their careers, and retire. While we will miss all of the ones who say goodbye this year, it’s evident that at least two strong, eager classes of young men are ready to step up and take the ranks they vacate.
Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following the Hatsu basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council head a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the state of the sumo world. In prior meetings, the council has rendered opinions on a variety of subjects including Hakuho’s controversial tachiai habits. Some notable elements (thanks to Herouth):
Kakuryu has passed his “compete or else” challenge satisfactorily. Council members were concerned about his week 2 fade. They urged him to rest up, heal up and return ready for Osaka.
Kisenosato was once again admonished not to return to the dohyo until he is fit and capable of Yokozuna-grade sumo. Kisenosato can’t keep dropping mid-basho. Next time he does that, the YDC will “make a decision” (choose one of its available tools such as reprimand or recommendation to retire).
Hakuho is encouraged to heal up and return for Osaka. While public sentiment has turned negative on the dai-Yokozuna, the fact is he is still the strongest and most capable rikishi in any tournament he enters, and the NSK needs him to continue competing if he is at all able. They cautioned him to restrain from using his habitual harizashi+violent kachiage for future matches. As we have seen, this recommended change in his fighting style left Hakuho off tempo and unfocused.
In other news, Hakuho’s toes are improving, and he is practicing shiko (leg stomps) at the stable.
Please note that there is no jungyo promotional tour until after the March basho in Osaka, so rikishi are focusing on training, and participating in a handful of promotional events around Tokyo and Osaka.
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).
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 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 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:
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.