On May 1 the Japanese Sumo Association released their new rankings document (banzuke) ahead of the May tournament (natsu basho).
The new rankings include some jostling among the upper-ranks and some more drastic movement among the rank and filers, due to what went down during the March tournament (hatsu basho). These rankings are released before each tournament and represent how close a wrestler is to achieving the ultimate rank of yokozuna. Wrestlers near the bottom of the rankings risk being relegated from the top division (makuuchi) to the second (juryo). Relegation beyond juryo means no longer getting paid.
For a more extensive (though extremely digestible) primer on sumo’s banzuke head to the excellent YouTube channel Sumostew.
Now let’s dig in.
May 2023 Rankings
|Kiribayama 🇲🇳||Sekiwake||Hoshoryu 🇲🇳|
|Daieisho 🇯🇵||Sekiwake||Wakamotoharu 🇯🇵|
|Kotonowaka 🇯🇵||Komosubi||Wakatakakage 🇯🇵|
|Abi 🇯🇵||1||Midorifuji 🇯🇵|
|Takayasu 🇯🇵||2||Endo 🇯🇵|
|Tobizaru 🇯🇵||3||Nishikifuji 🇯🇵|
|Ura 🇯🇵||4||Nishikigi 🇯🇵|
|Kinbozan 🇰🇿||5||Kotoshoho 🇯🇵|
|Meisei 🇯🇵||6||Mitakeumi 🇯🇵|
|Hokutofuji 🇯🇵||7||Tamawashi 🇲🇳|
|Sadanoumi 🇯🇵||8||Takanosho 🇯🇵|
|Onosho 🇯🇵||9||Hiradoumi 🇯🇵|
|Hokusieho 🇯🇵||11||Daishoho 🇲🇳|
|Aoiyama 🇧🇬||12||Kotoeko 🇯🇵|
|Chiyoshoma 🇲🇳||13||Ichinojo 🇲🇳|
|Asanoyama 🇯🇵||14||Myogiryu 🇯🇵|
|Ichiyamamoto 🇯🇵||15||Tsurugisho 🇯🇵|
|Mitoryu 🇲🇳||16||Oho 🇯🇵|
The beginning of Wakatakakage’s descent
Leading with a sad story here; the demotion of Wakatakakage. And it won’t be the last of those. In the March tournament, Wakatakakage was working on another winning record (kachi-koshi) to maintain his rank as sekiwake (the launch pad for ozeki, which usually requires 33 wins spread across three consecutive tournaments). However, on Day 13 he tore his meniscus and blew out his right ACL in a bout with Kotonowaka.
Here’s the full bout:
In the replay you can see how much weight and torque went through Wakatakakage’s knee before he fell right on top of it.
This match was too close to call. So Wakatakakage and Kotonowaka had to run it back, immediately. Despite being hobbled, Wakatakakage quickly ran through his opponent (probably because he knew he couldn’t last in a longer grappling exchange). It’s amazing he could do this on one leg.
The win gave Wakatakakage a 7-6 record on the day and put him one win from the winning record he needed to maintain his status. However, with his knee wrecked he had to sit out the last two days of the tournament, which in sumo means two losses. He finished the basho with a losing record of 7-7-1 (seven wins, seven losses [one by default] and one absence).
Wakataka-bad-knee, as some folks on reddit have coined him, is expected to be out for a year. That could mean he takes a 0-0-15 record for six consecutive tournaments. Thus, a wrestler who was working on becoming an ozeki (one step from the hallowed yokozuna rank) could return to the ring at a much lower division once he’s healed. Then it could take months, or years, for him to get back to where he once was.
The ozeki race is red hot
Wakatakakage’s absence is awful news for him personally, but it could have also been bad news for the sumo association who are struggling to fill their uppermost ranks with imposing talent. There is currently just one yokozuna (who is returning after a three tournament absence due to knee surgery) and one ozeki (who exited mid tournament in March due to injury). With Wakatakakage out of the running for those ranks for some time (perhaps ever) the power vacuum in sumo’s two highest ranks could have looked even more dire.
However, though Wakatakakage was taken out of the running for ozeki in March, that tournament did produce a wave of new candidates who could snatch ozeki status after the May tournament.
May’s ranking sheet shows that Daieisho (March tournament runner-up) and Wakamotoharu (Wakatakakage’s brother) have been promoted to sekiwake based on their strong performances last time out. They join Kiribayama (March champion) and Hoshoryu (nephew of legendary/controversial yokozuna Asashoryu) in the sekiwake ranks. All four of those wrestlers have a mathematical chance of becoming ozeki after the next tournament. Kiribayama needs just 10 wins to clinch it. Daieisho needs 11. Wakamotoharu needs 13. And Hoshoryu needs a perfect 15-0 to qualify.
Big names back in makuuchi
The May rankings include two big names who are returning to the makuuchi division. Ichinojo, who won the juryo division in March, is listed as maegashira 13. And Asanoyama, who won the juryo division in January, is listed as maegashira 14.
Both men are former san’yaku (upper ranked) who lost their positions due to scandals.
Ichinojo took a 0-0-15 record in January due to a one tournament suspension. His suspension was due to allegations of assaulting the wife of his stablemaster as well as drunken and disorderly conduct. On top of everything Ichinojo was also found guilty of breaking COVID quarantine rules back in 2020 and 2021.
Asanoyama’s suspension was entirely due to COVID protocols. He was found guilty of visiting nightclubs during a time wrestlers were supposed to be quarantined. He was also found guilty of conspiring with a journalist to cover up evidence of the infractions. This lead to a one year ban.
This resulted in Asanoyama falling all the way into sumo’s fourth division before he could return to competition in July 2023. That’s two divisions below sumo’s salaried divisions.
He’s back in makuuchi now after five tournaments spent winning squash matches in the lower leagues.
Kinbozan, who was promoted to the top division for the first time in March (becoming the first wrestler from Kazakhstan to ever join makuuchi), is continuing his rise up the ranks. He has jumped from maegashira 14 to maegashira 5, thanks to his 11-4 record in March (which earned him the Fighting Spirit prize). With wrestlers being matched-up with opposition around their own rankings, this means Kinbozan will face san’yaku wrestlers for the first time in his young career.
Two wrestlers fell out the top division with these latest rankings. Azumaryu is now juryo 2 thanks to going 4-11 in March. That paltry recol.,;rd followed a strong 9-6 record in January which saw him elevated to maegashira 11.
Bushozan was also been sent down to juryo. He debuted in makuuchi in March, but only managed a 5-10 record.
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