Bringing banzuke rankings back on track figures to be time consuming

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A scene from the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo in September.

What do Mitakeumi, Wakatakakage, Terunofuji, Ichinojo, Tamawashi and Abi all have in common?

If you determined that all six were the Emperor’s Cup winners last year, then you get a gold star.

I simply took the liberty of arranging their names in order of championships won.

Now, the next question is, can you recall what their banzuke rank was when each won his title?

Their respective rankings were chronologically: east sekiwake, east sekiwake, east yokozuna, west No. 2 maegashira, east No. 3 maegashira and east No. 9 maegashira. In other words, the yokozuna and ozeki combined for a tournament victory only once last year, and that was Terunofuji.

Mitakeumi, who won the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January, became an ozeki at the Spring basho in March, but dropped to the sekiwake rank following the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November.

Rank-and-file wrestlers from the makuuchi division, called “hiramaku” won all three basho in the second half of last year.

What has happened to the banzuke rankings? My worry about the issue is only growing.

In the rankings at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January, Terunofuji will be the sole yokozuna, and Takakeisho the lone ozeki.

Just one yokozuna and one ozeki will make for a very weak lineup. Some observers see this situation as a transition period during which a generational shift is occurring.

In my view, however, it does not seem that a generational shift is happening at all. Hakuho is gone, and Terunofuji’s balky knees — from an accumulation of injuries — have rendered him far past his prime.

Takakeisho became an ozeki for the first time at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May 2019, when he was 22. But the only tournament victory he has had since then came at the tournament in November 2020.

Since the top guys are unreliable, whatever rank-and-file hiramaku wrestler happens to be in good form at the right time has the potential to snag an Emperor’s Cup.

Tamawashi is 38, while Ichinojo is 29 and Abi is 28. These three can hardly be called newcomers.

It would be disrespectful to refer to them as a “daily special,” but what I honestly feel is that the wrestlers who have won the titles this year do not produce the satisfaction be considered an extravagant meal.

Until there is a solid lineup of top-ranked wrestlers, there will be no overcoming the current problem. Considering this, I think it will take quite some time to rebuild the banzuke rankings.

— Miki is a sumo expert.