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  • Fantasy Basho

On the Hatsu 2023 Banzuke

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The Hatsu 2023 Banzuke is a little bit odd. There is just one Yokozuna and one Ozeki, something that has never happened in sumo’s modern era. Terunofuji is listed on the official Japanese banzuke as a Yokozuna-Ozeki (although not on the official website in English.) With a normal selection of just two Sekiwake and two Komusubi, that could send Makuuchi towards a Maegashira 18 rank. However, January will see a full four rikishi at both Sekiwake and Komusubi. So there are ten Sanyaku wrestlers, a typical number.

The thin upper Sanyaku and crowded lower Sanyaku are related facts. Enough wrestlers can perform at a Sekiwake or Komusubi level when there isn’t a clutch of Yokozuna or Ozeki dominating. Komusubi usually are well behind a winning record after the first few days, because they tend to face the Yokozuna and Ozeki early. The Sekiwake, Komusubi, and upper Maegashira are largely able to beat each other up. That does lead to more than usual winning records, but a lack of double-digit win performances.

Here are some general notes about this Banzuke, looking ahead to how rikishi’s schedule will play out and some matchups we may see.

  • The joi-jin line, which denotes the top 16 men who all should face each other, is after Maegashira #3 West Midorifuji. In theory, Abi and Midorifuji will face all the wrestlers ahead of them. However, there are a few key reasons why the Maegashira #4 will face some Sanyaku opponents.

  • 1) Terunofuji is likely out for this basho as well. He isn’t confirmed, but no reports make it sound like he’s fit enough to mount the dohyo. He was unavailable for the Jungyo tour.

  • 2) Wakatakakage and Wakamotoharu are not just both ranked in Sanyaku. They are also brothers and stablemates, which are both reasons they can’t square off. Other stablemate pairs include Hoshoryu and Meisei and the Maegashira #1 line of Tobizaru and Daieisho.

  • 3) It gets even stranger from there, because the Maegashira #4 East is Nishikifuji, who is stablemates with Midorifuji.

  • In addition to who may face each Sanyaku opponent, there is another complication for scheduling. Usually, the Yokozuna will begin the basho by facing the Komusubi. When there are four Komusubi and a Yokozuna who is likely kyujo, the usual schedule patterns won’t happen. Don’t assume the Komusubi and upper Maegashira will have the easier second weeks among the top men.

  • At the other end of the Banzuke, the three Juryo promotions are Tsurugisho, Mitoryu, and Chiyomaru. They’ve all been here before and have not been excellent in recent Makuuchi trips. Meanwhile, long-serving veteran Takarafuji has held onto a Makuuchi spot after a disastrous 3-12.

  • The bottom of Makuuchi is filled with veterans fighting to keep Maegashira status. It would seem ripe for either Kotoshoho or Hiradoumi to rack up wins. The worry there would be that Kotoshoho has been wildly inconsistent over the last year and Hiradoumi will be fighting in his third basho.

  • Ichinojo is suspended for this basho after violating COVID regulations. He was embroiled in a bigger scandal, centered on his drinking and possibly assaulting his stablemaster’s wife. This seems to be the extent of his punishment, however. For the upcoming basho, it will mean Makuuchi is balanced and no Juryo wrestlers will make visits. (Of course, surprise kyujo could happen in the next 10 days.)

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