I’ve focused quite a bit on mathematics in my first couple of posts, so I wanted to formulate a minor Natsu banzuke prediction in this post based more on history. As I detailed in looking at the shift in first week results, much of the change we’re seeing has come down to those at the Sekiwake rank punching above their weight. And much of the debate around the new banzuke seems to be focused on how many such ranked rikishi we may see as we prepare for the next tournament in Tokyo.
So let’s go back 45 years and look at an interesting turn of results that led the banzuke to shift from the standard 2 Sekiwake up to an incredible 5: Continue reading →
In addition to one of the more dramatic ends to a sumo basho that I have ever witnessed, there was a lot of great action on the dohyo for the final day. As we highlighted earlier, a lot of rikishi were still battling to secure a winning record (Kachi-koshi), and bid for promotion on the May ranking sheet.
First and foremost, in the Yokozuna battle, Kakuryu was able to prevail over Harumafuji, and finish the tournament with 10 wins. While not earth-shattering, his double digit score puts him squarely in the territory expected for a Yokozuna. Harumafuji’s loss continues to worry, as it’s clear he was hurt most or all of Haru, and competed anyhow.
I thought there were some great kimarite unleashed in Osaka, and the Gino-sho should have been awarded.
Takayasu was able to beat Tamawashi in the battle of the Sekiwake, and pushed his record to 12-3. Firstly, don’t worry about Tamawashi, he finished 8-7, and will remain at Sekiwake for May. Takayasu, however, now only needs 10 wins in May to secure an Ozeki promotion. This also marks a shift, as in prior basho, Takayasu would have a big early winning streak, run out of gas, get a disappointing loss, and then proceed to continue losing. This time, he pulled out of his losing streak and racked up 2 additional wins.
Kotoshogiku, in what may be his final match as a sekitori, faced another veteran Yoshikaze. After a good tachiai, Kotoshogiku quickly established his favored inside grip, and applied his familiar hug-n-chug (gaburi-yori) to the Berserker, and rapidly had him out. Yoshikaze already had his kachi-koshi, and this was (possibly) a goodbye match. I was happy that Kotoshogiku could end on a high note, while Yoshikaze lost nothing.
Mitakeumi finished strong as well, defeating Tochiozan, and confirming he is a contender for higher rank soon. Since turning from a pure pusher-thruster into a hybrid mawashi / thruster, Mitakeumi has improved greatly. I expect that he may take another dip or two down the banzuke in the coming months, but he has the size, speed, strength and skill to be a sumo leader.
Endo was also able to secure a winning record on the last day, taking it from Tochinoshin, who needs to visit whatever clinic gave Terunofuji his legs back. Ura also was able to defeat Ichinojo through a rather clever use of leverage and balance. It was different enough, the judges called a Monoii, but eventually gave Ura the win. Ichinojo is so tall, I swear it took him 30 seconds to finish falling.
Lastly, thank you readers of Tachiai. You have made this our biggest Basho yet, and it’s been wonderful to have all of you spend time on our site, sharing our love of sumo.
In a further sign that the current Sekiwake ranked rikishi are on a path towards higher ranks, Tamawashi bested Yokozuna Harumafuji in a fast, aggressive bout. This victory gave Tamawashi his much needed kachi-koshi, signaling he will retain the rank of Sekiwake for his third consecutive tournament. Tamawashi cannot necessarily be considered to be in contention for promotion to Ozeki yet. He can only, at best, reach 9 wins this tournament, which would not make a strong case for promotion. But the ability to survive and even thrive in sumo’s toughest rank speaks volumes about his skill and tenacity.
It’s also noteworthy that there were multiple reports of heckling from the crowd directed towards Yokozuna Harumafuji. I am going to assume that it’s in response to Kisenosato’s injuries following the day 13 match with Harumafuji, and Tachiai hopes that Japanese sumo fans are just blowing off a bit of steam. The last thing sumo needs is some manner of endemic anti-Mongolian theme.
On day 12, de-frocked Ozeki (now Sekiwake) Kotoshogiku lost his match with Maegashira 3 Takarafuji. With his fifth loss this basho, Kotoshogiku must win all 3 remaining bouts to earn back his Ozeki rank. At this point, it’s clear that he does not have the strength and stamina to serve as a Ozeki. While I adore Kotoshogkiku, and respect everything he has brought to sumo, there should be no concession given to try and accommodate his return to rank. Sadly, as of day 12, Kotoshogiku has not even yet secured his kachi-koshi.
Oddly enough, early in the basho he defeated both Yokozuna in fairly straight-up matches, but is now losing to much lower ranked rikishi. It’s clear that whatever chronic injuries ore problems have robbed Kotoshogiku of his Ozeki vigor and might have re-attacked him.
Kotoshogiku has been hit-or-miss since his stunning yusho in January 2016. Some tournaments he’s strong and dominant, others he is clearly in pain, injured and just can’t make his sumo work. At the end of the January tournament in 2017, he failed to clear his kadoban status and was demoted to Sekiwake, with a single chance of returning to Ozeki – if he scored 10 wins in the following basho.
The Tachiai crew agreed, this was a hard road, and might require some rikishi doing “favors” for the big bulldozer from Kyushu. But then Haru started, and it was clear that Kotoshogiku was in fighting form. He has been winning, using his sumo, against foes who are putting out full effort.
Ikioi is a fine sumotori with a solid future in Makuuchi, but he has had a terrible basho. In fact, he is already deep in make-koshi by day 10 shows just how poorly he has been doing at Maegashira 1. But somehow he found his sumo on day 11, and bested Kotoshogiku, in what was probably expected by most to be win #8 for the struggling former Ozeki.
Kotoshogiku was unable to lock up Ikioi for a Hug-n-Chug win, but instead, Ikioi kept mobile and slapped down Kotoshogiku when his balance went too far forward.
With today’s loss, Kotoshogiku can only lose 1 more bout and still regain his Ozeki title. Everyone loves a comeback story, especially when the hero is a nice guy that people like. But Kotoshogiku’s comeback story now hangs by a thread.
Today we saw OzekiTerunofuji dismiss his kadoban status in a thunderous fashion. He has been totally dominating his matches and has, beyond a shadow of a doubt, earned his way back to good standing. Sadly today also marks the day that Ozeki Goeido goes kadoban. Due to his withdrawal from the Haru Basho, today was marked as his 8th loss. With his make-koshi now secure, Goeido is facing a challenging time in the May tournament in Tokyo.
Day 10 could also be kinboshi day, as there are 2 Maegashira facing off against the Yokozuna corps today. Hopes are always high that Yoshikaze can blast his way though any opponent, and it would be magical to see him score yet another gold star win against Kakuryu a day after his birthday. Not to be discounted is Endo facing off against Harumafuji, who gives up kinboshi more than any other active Yokozuna today. They come to their day 10 bout with matching 6-3 records.
The Haru leader board is little changed, except that several rikishi feel out of the Chase group, and the pack of men who have the records to put them within Yusho connection has shrunk to 6. Both Takayasu and Kisenosato would need to lose at least once for Terunofuji or Tochiozan to have a shot.
Chiyoo vs Ura – Ura has been a lot of fun to watch, but make no mistake he is focused on one thing – getting to 8 wins. Going into day 10, he is at 4-5, and needs 4 more wins out of the next 6 days to guarante his remaining in Makuuchi. He has been Chiyoo in 2 of their prior 3 meetings, and Chiyoo is likewise struggling to clinch a winning record.
Takakeisho vs Ishiura – Takakeisho has been having a solid basho, and comes into day 10 with 6-3, more or less assured that he will find a way to pick up the last two wins. His opponent is the compact battle-mouse Ishiura, who can likely survive a losing record this one time. I expect there to be some furious action, as Ishiura never fights at half speed.
Daishomaru vs Tochiozan – With only one loss, Tochiozan already has his kachi-koshi, and he is set for May. But I suspect he is looking for a solid move up the banzuke. Daishomaru brings his 6-3 record into day 10, looking to give himself some buffer for the last 5 days. Daishomaru won their only prior meeting.
Tokushoryu vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma needs one more win for his kachi-koshi, and may get it on day 10. While Tokushoryu comes to the dohyo with a strong winning record, Chiyoshoma is ranked higher, and is much more capable this basho. He has also won all 4 of their prior matches.
Kotoshogiku vs Takekaze – 4 more wins in 6 days. It means 2 wins for every loss over the rest of the basho. Kotoshogiku can do this, but it’s going to be tough, even starting day 10 with a 6-3 record. Kashi-koshi is not good enough, it’s 10 wins or bust. Day 10 he faces off against the henka master, Takekaze. Their prior matches are split evenly 14-13
Takanoiwa vs Takayasu – Takanoiwa is having a tough basho at 2-7, but as always he is capable of surprising even the mightiest Yokozuna with his explosive, attack-oriented sumo. But he’s facing Takayasu, who is on a mission from the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan itself. A win today would put Takayasu in double digits, and would be a big boost for any special prizes and his ongoing Ozeki campaign. Their prior bouts split 3-2 with advantage to Takayasu.
Shodai vs Terunofuji – Shodai is plagued by being too high in his tachiai – it seems he has a driving need to protect his face. Terunofuji does not care about his face. I am not sure Terunofuji cares about Shodai except as a meat popsicle that he can defeat on the dohyo. Terunofuji is a man possessed, and I am curious to see how far he will go with his current streak of powerful, winning sumo.
Yoshikaze vs Kakuryu – If there is one rikishi that can upset anyone on any day, even on the street right after lunch it’s the amazing Yoshikaze. It’s safe to assume that the Berserker will retire some time in the next few years to become a coach or stable runner himself, but on the way towards that next career, a few more kinboshi mean more money for him and his family. Kakuryu is a slippery, reactive warrior of the first order, and he will not be easy to beat. But Yoshikaze has beat him 5 times during their 15 career matches.
Harumafuji vs Endo – I am predicting nodowa attack festival, mini-henka, death spin or a combination here. Endo can surprise Harumafuji, who seems to be a bit more hurt every day of this basho. But it should be noted that thus far Endo has never beat “The Horse”, so a victory day 10 is a tall order.
Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.
I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.
Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.
This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:
* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.
* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.
* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.
* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).
* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.
* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).
* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.
* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.
* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.
So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.
Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.