Haru 2021: A Fantasy Basho Preview
The ideal sumo tournament unfolds in a very specific way. The top 16 ranked rikishi will all face each other, with the Yokozuna ending up facing the Sanyaku in increasing order of rank. At the end, two 14-0 Yokozuna square off for the Emeperor's Cup on the final day. The bottom 16 in Makuuchi should also face each other, with more of a bloodbath as rikishi struggle to get a kachi-koshi.
That ideal tournament is really only ideal to the theoretical notion of a basho from the Japan Sumo Association. It will also basically never happen, thanks to the rules prohibiting matches between stablemates and relatives (so no brother clash between Tobizaru and Hidenoumi), injury absences, and late basho scheduling to get big winners to face each other. Also, 14 wins is incredibly rare and that Yokozuna battle for a zensho yusho is a pipe dream.
Haru 2021 will also not provide that Yokozuna vs. Yokozuna clash with any record, as Kakuryu is going kyujo because of a leg injury suffered in practice. This likely means retirement for Kakuryu, who was seeming to have his career in the balance based on his Haru performance. May might bring a single Yokozuna basho for the first time since September 2012. Once again, we will have the kind of basho the JSA might not have drawn up.
Yet that three tiered view of the Makuuchi rikishi is revealing. The daily nature of Fantasy Basho means you can pick a clean slate every day of the basho, based on matchups and previous performance. You can also just pick four rikishi and ride them out if you really want. Either way, it's good to have a view of who is in a prime position to succeed.
The first tier goes to the joi-jin line, which is the first 16 wrestlers who all need to face the top ranked men. Shimanoumi, at Maegashira 3 East, is the 16th ranked wrestler. However, Kiribayama will have to be the last man in the joi-jin, which is appropriate. Reports are he was facing Kakuryu in practice when Kakuryu suffered his leg injury. Now he guarantees a match against the other Yokozuna. The next three men, Myogiryu, Endo, and Okinoumi, are all in line to face a few of the Sanyaku.
This may be a bit of a boost to the quartet of Tamawashi, Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, and Kagayaki at Maegashira 6 and 7. All four of those men could use a really good basho for different reasons, and they'll likely face rikishi ranked below them. That is no guarantee that they will go on hot streaks, but it's a better sign than having to square off with everyone ranked above them.
Just a little further down the banzuke, Chiyonokuni, Hoshoryu, Midorifuji, and Ryuden will likely face the lower portion of the Makuuchi banzuke. Of course, the further down the banzuke, the more even everyone is. It does mean Hoshoryu and Midorifuji face men they've seen before, instead of a jump to new and more intense competition. Ryuden will actually be seeing some people who haven't seen his strange Twister version of sumo recently. Chiyonokuni is probably just excited to face any Makuuchi wrestler.
Making predictions in sumo is a guaranteed way to look foolish. So don't think any of these are predictions. Maybe guidelines is a better word.