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Natsu 2023 Predictions

Sumo starts in a day, but you can still sign up for the Natsu basho over on Fantasizr.

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For the past few basho, I have put predictions right here on this website for everyone to see. It is spectacularly foolish in a lot of ways. I’m inviting everyone, before each basho, to look at how wrong I am about to be. The predictions before Haru weren’t great. I had Takakeisho getting 13 wins and a Yokozuna promotion. I also seriously missed how bad Tamawashi and Ryuden would do. Slightly less dramatically, I was unable to foresee the success Daieisho and Wakamotoharu would have. On the plus side, I was close on Kiribayama and had the ability to guess newcomers Kinbozan and Hokuseiho would succeed. But if you want to dismiss these, I understand. I picked Hoshoryu to get a 12 win Yusho, but I wouldn't want to get too confident with that.

Let’s talk about process, then. When I create these predictions, I start with a gut feeling pass on the win totals. I go down the Banzuke and put a number of wins down for each rikishi that feels right. There isn’t a formula beyond what seems appropriate, although I have written a preview for each rikishi and put together the Power Rankings for the basho. It’s still an instinct, rather than a real analysis. At that point, I try to make it realistic.


That is when these predictions ran into an issue. Wakatakakage is out for the whole basho after surgery, and Ichinojo has retired. If everyone else stays healthy, there will be 20 Makuuchi matches every day. That would be 300 total Makuuchi matches over the 15 days of the basho. My first pass wins totaled 314. I had oversold everyone and needed to pull back a few wins from multiple rikishi.


The reality is I oversold the high end of the Banzuke, and for good reason. I like Hoshoryu's Yusho chances, but also a few other rikishi's, coming into this basho. The likely favorites for the Yusho among most sumo fans are four rikishi, each of whom has a major argument against making him the projected winner:


Terunofuji

If everyone was certain to come in at their best for this basho, Terunofuji would be the overwhelming favorite. But he has been missing for three straight tournaments. He also was not the healthiest rikishi before that. Terunofuji at 75% can still probably beat anyone, due to his strength, size, and grappling ability. He may just be well below that. We should know how he is doing early. His first two opponents will be Shodai and Abi. He should beat them, but they may also make him move around the dohyo in a way he just cannot deal with now. 10 wins would be a good showing.


Takakeisho

Takakeisho won a Yusho in January that gave him a chance at Yokozuna promotion, then pulled out midway through March. Reports are he has not been practicing since then. Takakeisho’s singular style of sumo is devastating when is on form. If his left knee is still bad, he can’t do that devastating sumo. He is kadoban, so his biggest task is actually getting 8 wins and keeping his Ozeki rank. So I predicted 8 wins.


Kiribayama

Kiribayama is coming off a Yusho, which followed a Jun-Yusho. He is the best performing rikishi coming into this basho, and he is making Ozeki with a strong performance in May. On the other hand, no one has ever won back-to-back yusho except for Ozeki and Yokozuna since the modern 6-basho-a-year structure was started in 1958. Precedents are meant to be broken, but that precedent exists for a reason. Repeat champions are all-time elite rikishi fighting at their very best. I think he'll get his Ozeki promotion.


Asanoyama

Asanoyama is a former Ozeki and former Yusho winner. He has also been tearing his way through the lower divisions after his year-long suspension for violating COVID rules and lying about it. He will probably blow through the lower Maegashira, but he needs to face the very best to win a Yusho. His best win total ever was 12 wins in his Yusho in May 2019 and a Jun-Yusho in July 2020. He needs to hit those heights again to challenge for a Yusho, when he is 29 and hasn’t seen a full Makuuchi slate of matches in two years. That's not someone I think can last until the end.


The rest of the field is less appealing individually than those four. Kotonowaka, Kotoshoho, Kinbozan, Hokuseiho, and Oho are young wrestlers who may reach their best form in May. Daieisho, Shodai, Abi, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, and Tamawashi are previous yusho winners. Maybe that would float your boat for some reason. It may even be smarter to say the Yusho winner is more likely to come from this group than the four mentioned above, but an argument for any single rikishi is a bit ridiculous.


A guarantee of any basho is that someone will surprise. Last time, it was Midorifuji. His 10-0 start was incredible, but then he lost his last five. That is not commonplace, but it is instructive. A Yusho winner doesn’t just have to do well in a basho. He has to perform well over 15 matches and beat the fellow Yusho contenders in the end. It’s a tall order, but someone has to do it in every basho.


Picking exactly who that is may just be dumb.


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