New Juryo for Aki

The banzuke meeting was held today, and the promotions to Juryo from Makushita have been announced. As expected, Ms1w Kinbozan (6-1) and Ms2w Kanno (5-2) will make their sekitori debuts in September, while Ms1e Takakento (4-3) will return after a one-basho absence; he’s been bouncing back and forth between the second and third divisions since making his first Juryo appearance in March 2021.

The corresponding demotions are not announced, but we can infer that they are the absent J10w Ishiura, J12w Yago (4-11), and J11e Kaisei (5-10). The fact that there are only 3 exchanges strongly suggests that J10e Shimazuumi (5-3*) and J13e Oshoma (5-3*), who both pulled out on Day 9 due to COVID, are at the very least not being treated as though their absences were losses, as is normally the case for absences due to injury. This gives us a small hint as to how the rest of the COVID-related withdrawals may be treated.

How Will the Aki Banzuke Shake Out? Part 3

In the first post in this series, I considered the question of what might be done with the 15 rikishi who missed at least one bout as a consequence of positive COVID tests in their heya. In the second part, I took a look at the named ranks. Now it’s time for the maegashira. Buckle up, it’s going to be a rough ride!

Why is this banzuke so hard? Surprisingly, it’s actually not primarily due to the COVID withdrawals. Rather, it’s the strong performances by the upper ranks, matched by correspondingly dismal performances lower down. The 12 rikishi ranked between M2 and Yokozuna had a win-loss differential of 28 (36 if you leave out Mitakeumi and Takanosho). Those extra wins had to come from somewhere, and indeed, the ranks from M3 to M7 had a win-loss differential of -25, with only a single kachi-koshi. As a result, there is a giant hole in the upper half of the banzuke.

The Joi

The term joi-jin informally refers to roughly the top 16 rikishi on the banzuke. Often, the named ranks are treated separately, and “the joi” means the top maegashira who face them. In Nagoya, for instance, M4e Wakamotoharu, the 15th man on the banzuke, faced a full san’yaku schedule. With #16 Takayasu absent, M5e Endo had 4 san’yaku opponents, and M5w Sadanoumi got two, including the Yokozuna. Who will be fighting it out with the upper rankers at Aki?

Our problems start right at M1e. With none of the lower san’yaku wrestlers dropping, and if I am correct that M1e Kiribayama and M2w Ichinojo will be promoted to Komusubi, the next available rikishi with a winning record is [checks notes] M6w Tobizaru, who withdrew with an 8-4 record on Day 13. If we ask for a winning record and tournament completion, we need to look all the way down to M10w Meisei! This is why I think that simply freezing the ranks of all rikishi who didn’t finish the tournament due to COVID is a complete nonstarter.

While large over-promotions and lenient under-demotions cannot be avoided, we do have a creative solution for M1e—promote M2e Kotonowaka, who left on day 11 when his record stood at 7-3. Sure, he could have lost his last 5, but this seems like an unfair assumption for someone who was in the thick of the yusho race at the time, had his hardest fights behind him, and already defeated two Ozeki, one Sekiwake, and the yusho winner Ichinojo. He could just as easily have gone 12-3 and been in the running for the title and a Komusubi slot. Let’s go with what actually happened on the dohyo and treat his win-loss differential of 4 as equivalent to somewhere between 9-6 and 10-5, more than enough for a one-rank promotion.

After that, I don’t think there’s really any alternative to slotting in the aforementioned Tobizaru at M1w, followed by M8w Nishikigi (8-4*) at M2e and [checks notes again, adjusts computer screen] M11w Midorifuji (10-5) at M2w. Yes, I’ve checked the database, and there’s precedent for boosting someone with his rank and record this high up, though under more normal circumstances he’d end up around M4.

We’re not out of the woods yet. M3w Ura (7-8) can do no better than hold his rank, so let’s slot him in there. You could make an argument for freezing M3e Tamawashi (5-7*), although it might be a bit odd to treat him equivalently to Ura. The other option is to pull up the aforementioned Meisei to M3e and have Tamawashi at M4e, although flip-flopping him with Ura isn’t out of the question either. Slot in completely absent Takayasu at his old rank of M4w and breathe a small sigh of relief. Are we done with the weirdness yet? Not by a long shot.

The Mid-Maegashira

We’re only at M5e, and we’ve already placed all but 6 rikishi with winning records; the remaining one were all ranked M12 or lower. So in addition to over-promoting M12w Takarafuji (9-6), M15e Onosho (10-5), M14e Myogiryu (9-6), and M17e Nishikifuji (10-5), we have to place J1e Ryuden (12-3) higher than those moving up from Juryo usually go, plus treat rikishi with losing or incomplete records very leniently. This likely means rank freezes for anyone with a 7-8 make-koshi (M5w Sadanoumi, M8e Tochinoshin) as well as for those who did not hit more than 8 losses before withdrawing (Hokutofuji, Kotoeko, Kotoshoho), and only minimal demotions for those with a 6-9 record (M4e Wakamotoharu, M6e Aoiyama). Promote M13e Ichiyamamoto based on his 6-2 record on the dohyo, throw in a lenient demotion for M5e Endo (3-9*), and we’ve filled the ranks from M5 to M11, after which some sanity returns.

The Lower Maegashira, with Juryo Exchanges

With the M17 rank likely to disappear as noted in my previous post, we only need to find another 10 rikishi to fill the M12-M16 ranks, and we are done. Phew. Here we’ll find the rest of the make-koshi crew—M7e Okinoumi (4-10*), M10e Chiyotairyu (6-9), M1w Takanosho, who managed just one win and 5 losses before withdrawing due to injury, M13w Chiyoshoma (7-8), and M12e Terutsuyoshi (6-9). Add to them M14w Tsurugisho (5-7*), who may see a mild demotion, and the two marginal 8-7 kachi-koshi from low ranks—M15w Oho and M16e Yutakayama. That leaves the last two spots on the banzuke, and brings as to the question of division exchanges.

So far, we’ve brought up one rikishi with as strong a promotion claim as they get: Ryuden. In fact, he was the only man in the second division with a record that would normally warrant promotion. However, three top-division incumbents finished with rank-record combinations so abysmal that they simply can’t be kept in Makuuchi. This sorry trio is led by M16w Daiamami, who recorded two wins and 10 losses and absences the old-fashioned way, before missing the final 3 days due to COVID, and is unlikely to be shown any leniency. The hapless newlywed M9e Shimanoumi cannot stay after his 1-14 performance. Finally, the last man on the banzuke, M17w Chiyomaru, only managed a 6-9 record when anything less than 8 wins would normally send him down; if that wasn’t enough, the likely disappearance of his rank means that he can’t stay in the top division without getting a promotion, which isn’t going to happen.

This means that two other Juryo rikishi will be getting a very fortunate promotion. One is clear: J4w Mitoryu (9-6) will make his Makuuchi debut after a rather remarkable 27-basho run in the second division, which he reached less than a year after his Ms15TD start in 2017. His case isn’t all that strong, but it’s entirely unremarkable for a 9-win J4 to be promoted. It’s more of a reach to fill the last slot on the banzuke. With most of the upper ranks in Juryo going make-koshi, and those just below them managing no better than 8 wins, it comes down to the highest-ranked of those, J5e Chiyonokuni, vs. J8e Hiradoumi (10-5). The former has higher rank and previous top-division experience in his favor, while the latter has a better numerical promotion case and is supported by what limited precedents we have, so I am leaning toward the Sakaigawa man making his Makuuchi debut. Hiradoumi has had a slow start to his career, taking 3 years from his Mae-zumo basho to reach Makushita, and another two and a half to reach Juryo, but he seems to be coming into his own and is still only 22.

And with that, I think we are done. I will keep my eye on the news to see if the NSK says anything in the coming days about their approach to this rather unusual banzuke. If I learn anything, you’ll hear about it here. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments.

How Will the Aki Banzuke Shake Out? Part 2

In the first post in this series, I considered the question of what might be done with the 15 rikishi who missed at least one bout as a consequence of positive COVID tests in their heya. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the named ranks.

Yokozuna and Ozeki

The top rank is simple: Terunofuji (11-4) will continue to occupy his position as the East Yokozuna. At Ozeki, Takakeisho (11-4) put up the best performance and will remain at O1e. Shodai (10-5) will move up to O1w. As discussed in my previous post, I expect Mitakeumi (kadoban, 2-4 on the dohyo) to be ranked O2w and get a do-over at Aki.

Sekiwake

S1e Wakatakakage (8-7) will be back at the same rank, though any Ozeki talk will have to wait. I expect that S1w Daieisho (6-6 on the dohyo) will have his rank preserved. Were he to get demoted, and assuming that Mitakeumi isn’t dropped to Sekiwake, his spot would presumably be taken over by Hoshoryu (see below); I doubt Ichinojo would leapfrog the Komusubi.

Komusubi

This is where it gets interesting. At least the situation with the incumbents is fairly clear. Assuming Sekiwake goes as above, K1e Hoshoryu (9-6) and K1w Abi (8-7) made it to the end of the tournament with kachi-koshi, ensuring a stay, but did not put up enough wins to force promotion to Sekiwake. There is also no case for switching them.

Now usually, I am the first one to argue that the NSK will not create extra Komusubi slots. However, this time there is not one but two compelling cases. The top maegashira, M1e Kiribayama, got his kachi-koshi with four straight victories after a 4-7 start. There is nowhere else to promote him to, and the last time an M1e with a winning record got stuck there was 1967. Since then, we’ve had 3 instances of an 8-7 M1e getting an extra Komusubi slot, though none are more recent than 1995. We also have our yusho winner, M2w Ichinojo (12-3). No M2 with 11 or more wins has ever been denied san’yaku promotion.

The situation seems most analogous to that after Aki 2019, when there were no open san’yaku slots, Hokutofuji went 9-6 at M1e, and Asanoyama went 10-5 at M2w. Hokutofuji needed to get promoted, and Asanoyama had a better rank-record combination, so extra Komusubi slots were created for both, with Hokutofuji taking K2e and Asanoyama K2w. I expect something similar to happen here, except with Ichinojo occupying K2e ahead of Kiribayama based on the former’s much stronger record.

I think that this is the most likely and the most fair san’yaku solution. It would give us 10 men in the named ranks, leaving 32 for the maegashira, which means that M17 would not appear on the banzuke for the first time since March 2021. Filling these ranks will be tricky, especially near the top, as we’ll see in Part 3.

How Will the Aki Banzuke Shake Out? Part 1

The Crystal Ball may be clouded by the fog of all the COVID-related withdrawals, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try. Traditionally, the main purpose of holding a honbasho is to reshuffle the rankings, and as long as the tournament wasn’t cancelled, the banzuke show must go on.

What will they do with the COVID-kyujo?

Let’s begin straight away by addressing the elephant in the room. A whopping 15 rikishi, more than a third of the top division’s 42, missed at least one bout as a consequence of positive COVID tests in their heya. The previous precedent of freezing (or nearly freezing) ranks has been applied only to wrestlers who were absent from the start of the tournament, like Takayasu; perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time we’ve had mid-tournament withdrawals, starting with Mitakeumi on Day 7 and escalating from there. As a consequence, some rikishi already had 8 wins or 8 losses when they went kyujo, while others had records that could still go either way. Pretending that none of these bouts happened doesn’t seem either practical or fair, and would also be inconsistent with how previous unusual banzuke situations were dealt with. Let’s go through the 15 cases and consider how they could/should be handled.

The gimme

M4w Takayasu (0-0-15). Absent from the start; should have his rank frozen.

The named rank “incompletes”

O1w Mitakeumi (kadoban, 2-4 on the dohyo). It would be unfair to strip the new Ozeki of his rank when he didn’t have a chance to fight for it. After all, his record when he was pulled was identical to Shodai’s. I expect him to get a mulligan, be ranked O2w and be kadoban again at Aki, and need 8 wins in September to save rank.

S1w Daieisho (6-6 on the dohyo). Again, I don’t think it would be fair to drop Daieisho, and I expect him to stay where he was. A drop to Komusubi is not out of the question, but there is no compelling banzuke reason to do so, and a drop to maegashira would implicitly assume that he would have lost his final three bouts.

The kachi-koshi couple

M6w Tobizaru and M8w Nishikigi both pulled out on Day 13 with their records standing at 8-4 at the time. I expect both to get healthy promotions, roughly equivalent to 9-6 records. Without this, filling out the upper maegashira ranks becomes even more of a nightmare than it already is.

The make-koshi

Four rikishi cemented losing records before they withdrew: M16w Daiamami (2-10*), M5e Endo (3-9*), M7e Okinoumi (4-10*), and M7w Hokutofuji (6-8*). I expect these records to count, with Daiamami falling to Juryo, Endo and Okinoumi getting healthy demotions, and Hokutofuji getting either a nominal demotion or a rank freeze.

The not-quite-make-koshi

M3e Tamawashi and M14w Tsurugisho both left with their records standing at 5-7; either a mild demotion or a rank freeze seems appropriate.

The even-stevens

M9w Kotoeko and M11e Kotoshoho both pulled out with 5-5 records; leaving them where they are seems the most straightforward solution.

The hard cases

We have two rikishi who pulled out early with positive but incomplete records. M2e Kotonowaka (7-3) was having a great tournament and gunning for the named ranks, while M13e Ichiyamamoto (6-2) was tied for the lead in the yusho race. At a minimum, they should have their ranks frozen, but promotions that would treat their records as roughly 9-6 would seem more fair, and would make banzuke construction easier.

This post is already getting long, so having gotten this issue out of the way (or at least discussed), let’s move on to the actual banzuke in Part 2.