Haru Basho – yokozuna’s last fortress ?

2020’s Haru basho gave us a great finale, which a yusho deciding bout on the very last bout of the very last day – senshuraku’s musobi no ichiban – between both grand champions, Hakuho and Kakuryu.

What’s more normal ? Plenty of things, actually. As we know, recent times have provided us a fair amount of surprise winners, unlikely scenarios and crazy bashos.

Some venues have provided more drama than others. Let’s put a diagnosis on each yearly basho. Which ones are still mainly held by the yokozuna ? Which ones are brillantly conqueered by the rest of the field ?

Hatsu basho : complete meltdown

The first basho of the year is probably the most vandalized basho in recent times. Is it worth mentionning Tokushoryu’s improbable win, while sitting in banzuke’s unenviable place of the “makuuchi’s ass” ? Remarkably, a makuuchi spot wasn’t guaranteed to him at all, as he benefited from Tomokaze’s demotion to juryo’s first spot.

In my opinion, of of the craziest basho we could witness in recent times came in Tokyo, in January of last year. My prediction of all yokozuna plus ozeki not getting more than thirty wins combined seemed bold to the great Jason Harris, only for that prophecy to be accumplished fifteen days later. Tochinoshin went kyujo shortly after Kisenosato’s sad but inevitable retirement. Kakuryu did not finish the tournament. The yusho seemed to be given to Hakuho (who at some point had a two win lead), but the dai yokozuna couldn’t stand an injury sustained on the basho’s early days, and did not fight on senshuraku.

The eventual winner ? Sekiwake Tamawashi.

Arguably, the transitional period we’re witnessing began in that very same place. It all started with Tochinoshin’s surprise win, just a couple years ago. It eventually proved to be the first sign of the old guard paving way – before the future ozeki ending up demoted himself.

By the way, when’s the last time a yokozuna won that basho ? Neither in 2017, which saw Kisenosato’s consecration, being promoted from his long time ozeki spotright after the basho. Nor in 2016, where a Japanese won a yusho for the first time in ten years, namely Kotoshogiku.

Always better with Jason’s reactions: ozeki Kotoshogiku (10-0) v yokozuna Hakuho (10-0), Day 11 of Hatsu basho 2016

Hakuho is the last yokozuna to have triumphed there, in 2015. That will make six years, come 2021 !

Natsu basho : contested

Let’s skip Haru basho for now and turn to the May tournament, in Tokyo. It could be named “the contender basho”.

Remember last year’s basho ? It started with Tochinoshin’s apparent revival as an ozekiwake. The Georgian piled up wins before seemingly reinjured himself in the process, and struggling to get his desired ten wins. The story ended with an infamous henka on Kakuryu, which sealed the yusho for Asanoyama, then ranked maegashira 8. Maegashira 8 !

Several awards were presented to Asanoyama – who received instructions on how to collect them, shortly before the ceremony – by no one else than Donald Trump. Has the US president handed several rewards to our next yokozuna ? We will see.

Newly promoted ozeki Asanoyama Hideki

Anyway, another rikishi became an ozeki shortly after winning a yusho in may – namely Terunofuji. Back in 2015, the then man in form benefitted from heya mate Harumafuji’s help to leapfrog Hakuho on quest of the Emperor’s Cup. He was promoted to sport’s second highest rank before July.

Finally, how not to mention Kyokutenho’s unlikely yusho, back in 2012 ? After a slow start – he was 2-3, the Mongolian benefitted from an incredible drop of form of the upper ranks, most notably Kisenosato, who blew up a two win lead after day 11. It all ended with a nervous playoff against Tochiozan.

Nagoya basho : holding its own

Yokozuna record in Nagoya is pretty good. From 2008 to 2017 included, only Hakuho and Harumafuji (twice as an ozeki) have won it.

I wouldn’t call Nagoya a fortress, though, as the 2018 basho was the first one in a while to be a “nokozuna” : Kisenosato did not compete, while Hakuho, Kakuryu (and ozeki Tochinoshin) had pulled out by day 6. Sadly, that feat would repeat several times since then – so eventual winner, Mitakeumi, definitely opened Pandora’s box.

Triumphant in Nagoya: Mitakeumi Hisashi

Last year’s winner was yokozuna Kakuryu, who got his sixth – and currently last – yusho.

Aki basho : melting down

Why is Aki basho melting down ? Since 2005, it has notably been won by Asashoryu (thrice), Harumafuji (twice), Kakuryu (once), and, of course, Hakuho (seven times).

However, last editions have had a fair share of drama.

Back in 2015, Kakuryu – the sole yokozuna competing – benefitted from Terunofuji’s first grave knee injury to pip him on the yusho race, although he got dragged into a playoff by the ozeki.

The 2016 edition came as an enormous surprise as Goeido, then a kadoban ozeki, not only won the yusho, but with a zensho yusho ! The runner up, in the process, was crowd favorite Endo.

With a famous stare down : yokozuna Harumafuji (10-2) v ozeki Goeido (12-0), Day 13 of Aki basho 2016

In 2017, right before the infamous scandal that prompted his retirement, Harumafuji recovered from a three (!) loss deficit to Goeido, who himself melted down, before defeating him twice on senshuraku – once in regulation, and once in the ensuing playoff.

If 2018 occurred with a fine share of normality – Hakuho the winner -, how not mentionning the 2019 edition ? Another nokozuna, with endless contenders : Meisei, Tsurugisho, Okinoumi (who could have clinched the whole thing with a different scenario on senshuraku) all got in the process.

Eventually, the basho gave way to an original playoff between both sekiwake : Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, the winner.

Kyushu basho : not quite, but almost a fortress

Calendar year’s last basho could have been called “yokozuna’s second fortress”, had two of the last three editions not be so dramatic.

As already mentioned, the 2017 edition saw Harumafuji’s regrettable scanda land subsequent retirement. Hakuho emerged from chaos, not without providing his share of controversy, as he openly contested the shimpan’s decision of not calling a matta on Yoshikaze’s bout.

Should have stayed longer : yokozuna Harumafuji

Next year’s tournament provided a very rare occurrence of a komosubi win. I twas Takakeisho’s landmark ozeki run, thanks to a fine 13-2 record, with a bit of help of Mitakeumi, who defeated Takayasu on senshuraku. The ozeki could have sealed a place in a playoff, had he not succumbed to pressure.

Haru basho : yokozuna’s last fortress

Chiyotaikai won this basho in 2003, as an ozeki. Hakuho won it in 2007, but as an ozeki (that was the tricky part of this basho’s statistics !). From 2008 (with the 2011 edition having been cancelled), this basho has only been won by yokozuna.

One small exception to that: Kakuryu won it as an ozeki in 2014. To be more exact, following a 14-1 playoff loss in January, Kakuryu’s 14-1 win in Osaka cemented his yokozuna promotion.

One could say that the 2014 edition saw a half yokozuna winning it ! We can’t close our discussion without mentionning the 2017 edition, which saw Kisenosato’s yokozuna debut and only yusho at the top rank, despite sustaining a career ending injury.

It all started so well… Kisenosato began his yokozuna career with a yusho

In a sense, the Ibaraki born contributed to establish Osaka as the last yokozuna’s fortress.

Banzuke prediction for Haru 2020

The first basho has been pretty eventful, with a yusho deciding bout on senshuraku, a surprise winner, and, unfortunately, injuries and a big name retirement – Goeido.

The dust has vanished by now, so this should be a good opportunity to try to guess next basho’s banzuke !

First of all, let’s have a look back at last basho’s banzuke:

Who will drop out ?

How to demote an injured rikishi hasn’t always a clear-cut answer. However, having seen Tomokaze demoted to juryo in January hints at subsequent demotions for Kotoyuki (M3, 0-0-15) and Meisei (M5, 1-7-7). Apart from these inevitable downfalls, everybody looks to have hold up his own, except Kotoeko, whose 2-13 record asks for an obivous demotion – let’s hope he can bounce back.

Who will join maku’uchi ? Lower maegashira issues

Firstly, it’s important to note that, due to Goeido’s retirement, another slot will be opened at maku’uchi’s bottom. I wonder when’s the last time we had a maegashira 18 in the top division…

Just retired: former ozeki Goeido, now Takekuma

It means that the three demotions and Goeido’s retirement will provide four spots. I think the solution is quite easy this time – Nishikigi and Daimami’s impressive 11-4 records will bring them back to maku’uchi, whereas Kotonowaka and Hidenoumi’s 8-7 at juryo 2 has brought uncertainty, but they seem the ideal candidates to complete our banzuke. Kotonowaka would then be shin-maku’uchi.

Set for his maku’uchi debut ? Kotonowaka

Chiyoshoma (J1, 7-8), Wakatakakage (J5, 9-6), Daishoho (J5, 9-6) and Terunofuji (J13, 13-2) all seem to have narrowly missed their chance. But they will all be in good position to storm back to maku’uchi in May.

The middle of the pack – mid maegashira issued

Having determined who will (most likely) be demoted and promoted, let’s not see how our banzuke should shape up:

Our answers about promotions have settled a few spots at the bottom of the banzuke.

The middle of the banzuke has been pretty hard to draw. If you acknowledge Ryuden, Yutakayama and Kagayaki are due to fill some upper spots, and seeing a bunch of make-kochi starting from M9, the result looks a bit artificial.

I surprised myself, in particular, moving Aoiyama down to quite a few slots, despite an afwul 4-11 record at M8 – he finds himself no lower than M12.

Some rikishi (Takanosho, Sadanoumi, both 7-8) haven’t lost a single rank – they’ve just been moved from East to West.

Anyway, I think the banzuke has a pretty decent configuration.

The san’yaku battle – upper banzuke issues

Let’s finish our topic in original fashion – with the top ranks !

Both yokozuna, having won just one bout, should just retain their ranks. As a consequence, Kakuryu, the west yokozuna, will be marked as both yokozuna and ozeki – Takakeisho is the only remaining ozeki after Goeido’s retirement.

Asanoyama failed to get ozeki promotion but has secured his east sekiwake slot with a 10-5 performance.

The debate on who will fill the remaining places is wide open, and guessing right is no simple task. Three candidates are needed after Takayasu, Abi and Daieisho’s make kochi. All three are easy guesses, would I say – Endo (M1, 9-6), Hokutofuji (M2, 11-4) and Shodai (M4, 13-2).

Some believe Tokoshoryu will reach san’yaku. However, I’m quite certain he won’t be promoted that far. Remember Kyokutenho, back in 2012 ? He won the yusho at M7, with a 12-3 record – and ended up at maegashira 1.

Last basho’s surprise winner: Tokushoryu (left)

I might have promoted him a bit too shily, though…

Anyway, the order of Endo, Hokutofuji and Shodai’s promotion is anyone’s guess. I believe the key here is to have in mind that the board is looking for ozeki candidates – the sooner, the better. And I tend to believe Hokutofuji, of the three, will be first on their minds – hence, he’ll grab the second sekiwake slot. And finally, Shodai’s impressive 13-2 record should outclass Endo’s 9-6 result at M1.

What’s your opinion on this banzuke ?