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The head honchos
The maegashira are the rank-and-file wrestlers of the makuuchi division (the top division in sumo)1. The word "maegashira" may be translated into "the heads up front", and this is pretty much what they are. Basically the makuuchi consists of two sections: the maegashira and the sanyaku, where the sanyaku is the top of the top with yokozuna (or Grand champion), ozeki (or Champion), sekiwake, and komusubi. The rest of the wrestlers are maegashira2.

The makuuchi always contains a fixed number of sumotori (wrestlers), but the number has been changed over the years. In the 2004 Hatsu Basho (November Grand Tournament) the number changed from 40 to 42, allowing for two more maegashira3. The number of maegashira varies with the number of wrestlers in sanyaku. At the moment sanyaku holds 8 wrestlers: 1 yokozuna, 3 ozeki, 2 sekiwake, and 2 komusubi, which leaves room for 34 maegashira. There could just as easily be 9 or 10 wrestlers in sanyaku - if so, the number of maegashira would be adjusted accordingly.

The whole banzuke (ranking list) is arranged in an east (higashi) and a west (nishi) side, with 21 wrestlers in each (east being the slightly more prestigious side). The maegashira in makuuchi are numbered from 1 through 17 east, and 1 through 17 west, but there are few restrictions as to who meets whom4: two east side sumotori can easily be pitted against eachother. When this happens, the higher ranking of the two will be standing on the east side of the dohyo5.

  1. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  2. Actually any sumotori (sumo wrestler) above the maezumo ("introductory") level, but below sanyaku, can be considered to be maegashira.
  3. In the 1980's there were between 36 and 38 wrestlers in makuuchi, so the number has been steadily increasing.
  4. There is one important restriction concerning who is pitted against whom: two wrestlers from the same heya (wrestling school or 'stable') may not fight each other.
  5. When seen on Tv, the east-rikishi will be standing to the left, and the west-rikishi will be on the right since the Tv-cameras are positioned north of the dohyo.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, www.scgroup.com/sumo and sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng

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