Aki Banzuke Crystal Ball

At the heart of professional sumo is the banzuke—the rankings chart that lists all the wrestlers in order, from the top Yokozuna to the lowest man in Jonockuchi, the sixth division. The rankings are reshuffled after every tournament based on performance; indeed, one could argue that this updating of the banzuke is the real purpose of a honbasho.

The committee that puts together the new banzuke meets on the first Wednesday after senshuraku—August 5 for the the just-concluded July basho—but the new rankings are not revealed until two weeks before the next scheduled tournament, with the exception of promotions to Juryo and announcements of new Ozeki and Yokozuna. In this instance, we won’t see the official banzuke until August 31, but the Crystal Ball can give us a good idea of what it might look like.

Yokozuna, Ozeki, and Sekiwake

The top six spots on the banzuke are clear. Hakuho recorded more wins than Kakuryu, so they will remain East and West Yokozuna, respectively. Similarly, Asanoyama (12-3) will be East Ozeki, jumping over Takakeisho (8-4-3), who’ll move over to the West side. Shodai and Mitakeumi both had excellent 11-4 tournaments and will remain East and West Sekiwake, respectively.

Komusubi

The order of the next three rikishi is obvious—K1e Daieisho (11-4), K1w Okinoumi (9-6), M1e Endo (8-7)—but their new ranks are not. One option would be to leave them where they are, but 11 wins at Komusubi have been a lock for a Sekiwake promotion, and the top-ranked maegashira with a winning record last failed to enter the san’yaku ranks in 1969. I therefore lean toward S2e Daieisho, K1e Okinoumi, and K1w Endo, although leaving the incumbent Komusubi in their current slots and creating a K2e slot for Endo is yet another option—after all, two of Daieisho’s wins came by default. If the san’yaku does expand to 9 rikishi, everyone in the maegashira ranks will benefit from pretty good banzuke luck.

Upper Maegashira

Let’s assume that one extra san’yaku slot is created (otherwise, slide everyone down half a rank). That brings us to the upper maegashira. M2e Takanosho (8-7) managed a kachi-koshi at his career high, and I expect him to rise to M1e. He should be joined on the West side by M5w Hokutofuji (9-6), the only other joi maegashira to post a winning score. From here, there is something of a hole in the banzuke, with the other seven members of the M1-M5 “meat grinder” managing a combined 31 wins. To find the next rikishi who earned a promotion, you have to look all the way down at M7e Terutsuyoshi (8-7) and M9e Tamawashi (10-5). So at M2e, I’m going to put none other than your yusho winner, M17e Terunofuji (13-2). The former Ozeki’s placement is one of the biggest wildcards for this banzuke. On the one hand, Toskushoryu got bumped up from M17w to M2w in March after a higher winning score (14-1). On the other hand, he wasn’t exactly a former Ozeki and prior top-division champion, and the competition for upper maegashira slots on that banzuke was tougher.

The rest of the ranks from M2w to M8w are filled by a mix of well-performing lower maegashira and make-koshi upper maegashira. In addition to the aforementioned Terutsuyoshi and Tamawashi, the former include M10w Myogiryu, M11w Tochinoshin, M13e Takayasu, and M14w Wakatakakage, all 10-5. The group of falling under-performers consists of M1w Yutakayama (5-10), M3w Kiribayama (6-9), M3e Takarafuji (5-10), M6w Ryuden (7-8), M4e Kagayaki and M4w Aoiyama, both 5-10, and M7w Tokushoryu (7-8). And aside from a few minor dilemmas—will Tochinoshin be ahead of Terutsuyoshi? Does Tokushoryu stay where he is or drop half a rank?—the ordering seems fairly straightforward.

Lower Maegashira

This is the area where banzuke making gets especially challenging, with incumbents with middling records, higher rankers who performed poorly, and rikishi promoted from Juryo all vying for similar ranks. M9-M10 should be filled by M16w Kotoeko (10-5), M12e Sadanoumi (8-7), M8w Chiyotairyu (6-9), and M6e Enho (5-10); I’ve listed them in what I think is the most likely order, but pretty much any permutation would be justifiable. The next group, which should occupy M11-M13, contains M2w Onosho (2-13), who takes the dubious honor of the biggest fall down this banzuke, M14e Kotoshogiku (8-7), M10e Kaisei (6-9), M5e Abi (3-4-8), M15e Kotoshoho (8-7), and J1e Meisei (10-5 Y). Abi’s extracurricular activities could see him ranked below Kotoshoho; I would guess his drop won’t be any bigger since he’s been punished by other means.

The final seven slots should go to the “broken toys” of Makuuchi (Ishiura, Shimanoumi, Shohozan, Ikioi) and the lucky promotions from Juryo (Tobizaru, Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu). The order within each group is clear, but how to interleave them is not, especially when it comes to Shohozan vs. Tobizaru and Ikioi vs. Kyokutaisei. In this forecast, I’ve gone with the recent trend of favoring incumbents over newcomers.

The full predicted banzuke is below. Let me know what you think in the comments!

An Abi Fan Asks: How to solve an Abi like Abi?

Josh_Abi_Purikura
The author, in a rare moment of sumo purikura not featuring Ichinojo

Hello! My name is Josh. I am an Abi fan.

Let me just put that up front to make it clear, this is an opinion piece, it’s not news (unless you didn’t know that, and had been wondering for some time).

I’m unashamedly such a fan. In my line of work, I’ve met a lot of notable people. I don’t get photos with them. It feels weird to me. But of course, I have a photo with Abi (yes, a real one, not the one above). He has added to my enjoyment of this sport I love.

Is he fun to watch on the dohyo? Yes. Obviously he is. He’s never going to be a Yokozuna. Most Abi fans know he’s never going to be a Yokozuna. The on-dohyo experience of Abi is part of what makes him such great fun: the beautiful shiko, the long limbed oshi-zumo, arms and legs flailing everywhere, dancing circles around the perimeter of the tawara, to the point that you’re unsure if he lost a match just from getting dizzy. And on the days when his thrusting attack is on, it’s great entertainment. Abi matches don’t last long. Don’t blink! You’ll miss it.

If you’re an Abi fan though, you know it’s not just about what’s happening on the dohyo. Up until last year, his social media activity was can’t-miss hilarity. Abi and a tsukebito (usually the now-retired Wakakoki) up to various hijinks, from constantly waking up a snoring rikishi (maybe Chiyomaru) on jungyo to some other kind of good natured pranking. Inevitably, in the eyes of the association and some fans it eventually went too far, and all of sumo got banned from social media. Whoops!

What attracts us as fans so devoutly to the sumo world is that it is full of tradition, full of mystique. Abi would just lift the lid on this notoriously insular world and allow all of us a peek inside, be that a delicious sushi meal out with his tsukebito or twisting some random sekitori’s nipple before stepping on the hanamichi at an exhibition. It’s why, in spite of him ultimately costing us the view into the world, Abi fans still showed up, in their numbers, at the basho, with their cheer towels, and bought up Abi memorabilia and merchandise.

It’s no surprise really, that a rikishi with such a reputation for causing mischief and mayhem, would then invariably find himself at the wrong end of a disciplinary matter again at some point. And there’s no excuse for what he did: breaking the NSK’s quarantine – over and over, reportedly upward of a dozen times, with and probably at the behest of a benefactor, along with lower ranked rikishi, to a hostess club, venues which have been epicentres of coronavirus transmission in Japan. We already lost one basho this year, and, tragically, one rikishi, and in so doing he may have endangered the public, more rikishi, and more tournaments in the process. And embarrassed the sport. It was wrong.

(A quick sidenote for those who are curious: hostess clubs – and host clubs – are popular in Tokyo’s nightlife scenes. They are not prostitution venues, as some readers have inquired to Tachiai writers on Twitter. They are places where you have drinks and share conversation with a companion, in a venue which is possibly themed but probably just staffed by attractive hosts and hostesses with whom to drink and talk. Given the close proximity of people in these venues, along with the fact that people may be going there privately and not necessarily discussing it, they have become places where the coronavirus has been known to be transmitted.)

It was, then, an unbelievable surprise, that the NSK decided not to accept Abi’s resignation papers, and instead to dock him salary and suspend him for three tournaments (in so doing, effectively relegating him from the salaried ranks upon his return). In the past, the NSK has been known for zero tolerance banishment of rule breakers, and especially those who attempt to cover it up: Osunaarashi driving a car and lying about it? Gone. Harumafuji, Takanoiwa and Takanofuji beating up lower ranked rikishi? All gone.

It’s hard not to be cynical. Sumo fans and media have criticised the NSK in the past for “killing the golden goose” by way of intense jungyo cycles and injury mismanagement that lead to us not always being able to see the best rikishi on the dohyo every tournament. And in an era where revenue by way of ticket sales and sponsors will be reduced owing to capacity limits and event cancellations, it isn’t hard to envision a situation where the NSK would be further hit by losing one of their top stars (in terms of fanbase and merchandise sales) permanently. In that context, it is easier to understand their decision.

But their decision just doesn’t jive with history. It’s hard for me not to wonder what would have happened if this had have been a workmanlike rikishi who doesn’t put butts in seats or sell refrigerator magnets (yes, I have one), tote bags or t-shirts. If it had been – for example – Sadanoumi, and not Abi, is he getting off with the same punishment, given the NSK’s track record of meting out justice? I don’t know.

No doubt, Sumo Internet will be full of thoughts and opinions about what this latest faux pas and reprieve means for the future of Abi. The NSK has held his resignation papers, meaning they could later be accepted should he commit further faux pas. In the short term, obviously, we have to hope he, like all rikishi, upholds the duty and the quarantine in the face of the global pandemic so that we can all safely continue to enjoy sumo (especially those fans in Japan who may have an opportunity to watch it live), and the rest of our lives.

But how do you solve an Abi like Abi in the long term? The reality is… you don’t. No doubt, he’ll find another way to get himself into trouble again. And some of us just won’t stay mad at him forever about that, even if it results in his dismissal. What would be upsetting is if he doesn’t attempt a comeback at all, in light of the stories of so many actual hard-luck rikishi who have bounced back from far further down the banzuke, in poor health, to achieve something notable. But after all… however much he makes you want to cheer, sometimes he makes you cringe. That’s Abi.

Quiz! The Tokyo July Basho 2020

The last basho provided us a fair amount of fun, usual drama, and a fairytale winner.

But how much can you remember about this unusual basho?

  1. Terunofuji capped a fantastic comeback from jonidan to clinch his second yusho. He won the first one, way back in 2015, with a…

a. 12-3 record

b. 13-2 record

c. 14-1 record

d. 15-0 record

2. Prior to his comeback in jonidan, the last basho where he competed the whole fifteen days took place in…

a. November 2017

b. January 2018

c. March 2018

d. May 2018

3. Who ended up runner up?

a. Shodai

b. Shodai and Asanoyama

c. Asanoyama

d. Mitakeumi and Asanoyama

4. And what was the arasoi after nakabi (day 8)?

a. 8-0: Hakuho, Asanoyama, Mitakeumi; 7-1: Terunofuji, Myogiryu

b. 8-0: Hakuho, Mitakeumi; 7-1: Asanoyama, Terunofuji, Myogiryu, Daishoho

c. 8-0: Hakuho, Asanoyama; 7-1: Mitakeumi, Shodai, Terunofuji

d. 8-0: Hakuho, Asanoyama; 7-1: Shodai, Terunofuji.

5. There were more yusho winners in the maegashira ranks than in san’yaku.

a. True

b. False

6. How many yusho winners were competing?

a. Seven

b. Eight

c. Nine

d. Ten

7. How many former ozeki were competing down the maegashira ranks?

a. Three

b. Four

c. Five

d. Six

8. Not counting Kakuryu, who ended up with the worst record?

a. Yutakayama

b. Shohozan

c. Ikioi

d. Onosho

Pulling out on day 2. Yokozuna Kakuryu

9. Abi was forced to pull out of the tournament after having breached the Covid sanitary measures several times. He pulled out on day…

a. Five

b. Six

c. Seven

d. Eight

10. Who got the fusensho win?

a. Mitakeumi

b. Ryuden

c. Hokutofuji

d. Mitakeumi

11. Kotoyuki’s best streak during that tournament was a…

a. Two win streak

b. Three win streak

c. Four win streak

d. Five win streak

Heading back to juryo: Kotoyuki Kazuyoshi

12. And Ishiura’s worst streak was…

a. Four losses in a row

b. Five losses in a row

c. Six losses in a row

d. Seven losses in a row

And heading back to juryo soon? Ishiura Masakatsu

13. Okinoumi achieved a convincing 9-6 record as a komusubi. How many times has he produced a winning record in san’yaku before?

a. Never

b. Once

c. Twice

d. Thrice

14. In terms of results, it was Enho’s worst record ever.

a. True

b. False

15. And finally, which one of these rikishi got his kachi koshi?

a. Tokushoryu

b. Sadanoumi

c. Chiyotairyu

d. Ryuden

The answers:

  1. Terunofuji capped a fantastic comeback from jonidan to clinch his second yusho. He won the first one, way back in 2015, with a…

a. 12-3 record. The then sekiwake came close to winning it in Osaka 2015 with a great 13-2 record, beating Hakuho in the process, but the yokozuna hung on to win his 34th yusho (14-1). Curiously enough, Hakuho defeated Terunofuji in May, but lost three of the four last matches (11-4). As a result, Terunofuji’s 12-3 record was enough to lift the Cup.

2. Prior to his comeback in jonidan, the last basho where he competed the whole fifteen days took place in..

d. May 2018. There was a small trap in that question. Terunofuji’s slide was slightly delayed in May 2018, where he seemed to recover some of his abilities, with a 6-9 record in juryo.

3. Who ended up runner up?

c. Asanoyama, with a 12-3 record. Mitakeumi and Shodai ended up with four losses, alongside Daieisho.

4. And what was the arasoi after nakabi (day 8)?

c. 8-0: Hakuho, Asanoyama; 7-1: Mitakeumi, Shodai, Terunofuji

5. There were more yusho winners in the maegashira ranks than in san’yaku.

b. False: five in san’yaku, as much down the maegashira ranks (see question 6). But still.

6. How many yusho winners were competing?

d. Ten: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Takakeisho, Asanoyama, Mitakeumi, Tokushoryu, Tamawashi, Tochinoshin, Kotoshogiku and Terunofuji. 

7. How many former ozeki were competing down the maegashira ranks?

b. Four: Tochinoshin, Takayasu, Kotoshogiku and Terunofuji. They all ended up with a winning record.

A former ozeki, but not a former yusho winner: Takayasu Akira

8. Not counting Kakuryu, who ended up with the worst record?

d. Onosho, with a 2-13 record. Onosho’s record after thirteen days was 0-13. Shohozan performed a disgracious henka on him on day 13. Oh boy.

9. Abi was forced to pull out of the tournament after having breached the Covid sanitary measures several times. He pulled out on day…

c. Seven. He ended up the tournament with a 3-4-8 record.

10. Who got the fusensho win?

d. Mitakeumi

11. Kotoyuki’s best streak during that tournament was a…

d. Five win streak, from day 8 to day 12. A remarkable run on his bid for survival. Alas, he ended up the basho injured (6-8-1) and will return to juryo.

12. And Ishiura’s worst streak was…

b. Five losses in a row, during the five last days. He will have to perform better in Aki, if he wants to avoid another juryo drop.

13. Okinoumi achieved a convincing 9-6 record as a komusubi. How many times has he produced a winning record in san’yaku before?

a. Never. San’yaku used to prove one step too high for the Shimane-ken rikishi, a strong yotsu zumo wrestler nonetheless. His first san’yaku appearance took place back in May 2013!

Finally staying in san’yaku for long? Okinoumi Ayumi

14. In terms of results, it was Enho’s worst record ever.

b. False. I twas Enho’s fourth make koshi, following a 6-9 record back in March, a 7-8 for his makuuchi debut in May 2019, and a 4-11 record in juryo, in March 2018.

15. And finally, which one of these rikishi got his kachi koshi?

b. Sadanoumi, with a 8-7 record. Tokushoryu (7-8), Ryuden (7-8) and Chiyotairyu (6-9) were make koshi.

Happy birthday, ozeki!

So, sumo world’s last hours have been pretty tough, which a fair amount of scandal.

To brighten our moods, let’s wish a happy birthday to one of our two ozeki!

It’s… Takakeisho’s 24th birthday !

The Chiganoura resident is still quite young, which is usually the promise of some bright coming wrestling years.

His body condition has unfortunately subject to debate until recently.

Takakeisho’s remarkable rise has brought him one yusho at the end of the year 2018. He ended up being promoted to sumo’s second highest rank, after Osaka’s basho in 2019.

Alas, he sustained his first serious knee injury right after; Takakeisho was demoted after sitting out the whole Nagoya basho, in July 2019.

He performed impressively well for his return as an ozekiwake in Aki, and narrowly missed his second yusho, being defeated by Mitakeumi in the playoff. Takakeisho sustained another major injury, this time on his chest, during that bout. His fine 12-3 record, however, allowed him to regain the ozeki rank.

Ozeki Takakeisho

He has been kadoban another time after the Osaka basho 2020 (7-8), and cleared that status during the last basho (8-4-3), before giving priority to his health condition.

Let’s wish him to do well before reaching the quarter century landmark!