Aki 2019 Draft Preview
The Aki basho will begin in one week. Between now and then, however, every Fantasy Basho oyakata needs to actually draft a team. The draft isn't actually where championships are won or lost, but it certainly goes a long way. The trickiest part of drafting is that you essentially are making a giant gamble with every pick. Each basho has slightly different circumstances, and every tournament will see someone put up a surprising number of wins.
But are there some general things about Aki 2019 to keep in mind? Maybe.
1. The Joi-Jin Line
The "joi-jin" is the collective term for all the rikishi at the top of the Banzuke who, in theory, should all face each other. That would be the top sixteen wrestlers. For Aki, with two Yokozuna and three Ozeki, that would be through Maegashira 4 East Tamawashi.
Whether they all square off is so theoretical that you can't say for certain who will or won't face a Yokozuna. Injuries play the biggest role in messing up these plans, and the entire Ozeki corps, plus recent Ozeki Takakeisho, are some level of hurt. Also, stablemates are not allowed to face each other, so a Tochinoshin-Aoiyama bout and an Endo-Daieisho bout are not in the cards. Shodai, at Maegashira 4, will almost certainly see a Sanyaku opponent or two. The two Maegashira 5, Chiyotairyu and Ryuden, are probably going to have an easier time, but that's not certain.
2. Risers and Fallers
This banzuke has thrown up some interesting pairs at certain ranks, as the East or West designation seems arbitrary. Is Ichinojo clearly better than Asanoyama? Does Kotoshogiku have a definite edge over his younger stablemate Kotoeko? Would you bet your life Tsurugisho is absolutely ahead of Toyonoshima?
Sumo functions on the idea that each man is clearly ranked based on a logical system of promotion and demotion. In broad strokes, that works well. The Yokozuna win against Maegashira consistently. In the details, it can get messy, especially when there are huge risers and fallers. Tomokaze, Kotoyuki, and Terutsuyoshi could struggle at their new much higher rank or have found a better form of sumo. Meisei, Takagenji, and Tochiozan could be in the middle of serious slides in performance, or they could use their new much lower rank as an opportunity to regroup.
3. The Bottom Tier
The last section of the Makuuchi banzuke is usually a mess to sort out. Promotions from Juryo are not as neat to place as someone who went 7-8 in the lower Maegashira. The cutoff between demotion and survival also isn't clear. Tochiozan and Takagenji produced results worthy of going down, but others did worse.
Yet the key fact about sumo is that someone has to win. When the last sixteen, Maegashira 9 on, all have to face each other, some rikishi will survive the pile up. Last basho it was Terutsuyoshi, who was possibly the unlikeliest after two 6-9 records in a similar slot. Before that, it was Shimanoumi in his debut basho in Makuuchi. The only thing that is certain is someone will win big and someone will lose big. Who that is is unclear.
4. The Personal Achievements
Everyone would like to win the yusho, but many rikishi have other smaller goals they are always going for. Here is a brief summary of the rikishi fighting for something extra.
Goeido and Tochinoshin--Need 8 wins to keep their Ozeki rank
Takakeisho--Needs 10 wins to return to Ozeki
Abi--9 or 10 wins would likely see him elevated to Sekiwake
Hokutofuji--8 wins guarantees a return to Sanyaku
Tomokaze--Has never had a losing record in professional sumo. Now at his highest rank of Maegashira 3 West.
Tsurugisho, Ishiura, Azumaryu, and Yutakayama--8 wins guarantees a stay in Makuuchi for one more basho.
Kagayaki, Nishikigi, Tochiozan, and Takagenji--Fighting off a Juryo demotion. 8 wins insures it, but each win is also a loss on someone else in the danger zone.
In all honesty, every wrestler is fighting for 8 wins at a minimum. That means records get hugely important at the end.
Drafts will happen this week, and if these guidelines are solid enough, you can make it work for you.