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.

Day 4 Undercard Matches to Watch

 

Day 3 was a day of firsts and saw many first-time meetings between rikishi in the top division. Day 3 also marked the first official bouts (maezumo) of a brand new crop of rikishi making their professional debuts. Included in this group were legendary Yokozuna Taiho’s grandson Naya and the former Yokozuna Asashoryu’s nephew Houshouryu. While their careers may have just started, these two have very bright futures ahead of them. If they can channel the spirit of their forebearers, they may one day become stars of the sport! With Day 3 in the books, let’s move on to Day 4, which has just as many exciting bouts on the undercard!

Daiamami vs. Myogiryu

Day 4 starts off with Myogiryu making a return to our TV screens for the first time since he pulled out of the Kyushu Basho in November. He will take on Daiamami, who I imagine is still trying to recover from being henka’d out of his mawashi by Ishiura yesterday. Daiamami has the size and strength to be a real threat, but he needs to get his sumo up to Makuuchi levels if he wants to stay in the division come March. These two have met three times prior, with Myogiryu leading 2-1.

Ishiura vs. Nishikigi

It looks like a stint in Juryo was just what Ishiura needed to get his sumo back on track! With three straight wins, he finds himself at the top of the leaderboard and one win ahead of his stablemate Yokozuna Hakuho. His Day 4 opponent is Nishikigi, who has only one win after three days. Nishikigi has spent the last three Basho straddling the line between Makuuchi and Juryo, and will need to start posting wins or he’ll be back in the second division before he knows it. Ishiura has dominated their rivalry 7-2.

Abi vs. Ryuden

It’s the face-off of the Makuuchi rookies! Neither Abi or Ryuden have had a great start this Basho, and both come into Day 4 with matching 1-2 records. After two days of over-committing on his thrusting attacks, Abi managed to get his tsuppari going against Grampa Bullfrog Takekaze to pick up his first win. Ryuden, on the other hand, started strong but has been out-muscled in his last two matches. This meeting should be an interesting one, as both fighters use very different styles. Abi and Ryuden have faced off only once before, in a bout won by Abi.

Asanoyama vs. Yutakayama

Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double! Asanoyama takes on his perfect twin Yutakayama, complete with matching oichomage, on Day 4. Asanoyama has been hot as of late and is looking like the confident young rikishi who won our hearts at Aki. With three straight wins, he has a share of the leaderboard going into Wednesday. His doppelganger Yutakayama, however, is struggling much like the last time he entered Makuuchi. Tomorrow marks the fourth time these look-alikes have clashed, and Yutakayama will be trying to even their series to 2-2.

Takekaze vs. Daieisho

Tadpole Daieisho will get a glimpse into his future when he meets Grampa Bullfrog on the dohyo tomorrow. Takekaze has not found much success in the new year and comes into Day 4 winless. Takekaze is the second oldest active rikishi in Makuuchi after Aminishiki, and as such, the possibility of retirement grows every Basho. But like Aminishiki, Grandpa Bullfrog still has a few tricks in the bag, and we may see them if his winless streak continues. Better stay on your toes Daieisho!

Shohozan vs. Aminishiki

Shohozan, you better not play too rough tomorrow! If you break Uncle Sumo, I don’t know if I’ll forgive you. After a terrible tournament in November, it looks like Shohozan has remembered that he’s one of the toughest S.O.B.’s on the dohyo, and he’s been brutalizing almost everyone he’s faced so far. Enter Aminishiki, who seemed a bit lost and confused today in his bout with Sokokurai. He will need to be focused tomorrow, or Shohozan may lay a beat down on him. Luckily for Uncle Sumo, the numbers are on his size, and he has an overwhelming 11-4 lead over Shohozan. Shohozan has lost the last nine times he’s faced the wily veteran, will tomorrow be the day the streak ends?