Grand champion Asashoryu of Mongolia heads into the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament as the odds-on favorite, but rising star Hakuho will be the one to watch when the 15-day meet begins Sunday at Osaka Municipal Gymnasium.
Hakuho was promoted to sumo’s third highest rank of sekiwake for the spring tourney. His meteoric rise to the upper ranks of sumo is all the more impressive given that he celebrates his 20th birthday on March 11.
In January’s New Year tourney, Hakuho posted an 11-4 record to win the meet’s Technique Award. In February, he sent a not too subtle message to fellow Mongolian Asashoryu when he defeated the yokozuna to win a single-day elimination tournament.
Many who follow Japan’s ancient sport feel it’s just a matter of time before Hakuho overtakes Asashoryu as sumo’s top wrestler.
Since his debut in the elite division just less than a year ago, Hakuho has compiled an impressive 54-21 record.
Asashoryu, meanwhile, will be bidding for his 11th Emperor’s Cup in Osaka. The 24-year-old grand champion won the New Year tourney with a perfect 15-0 record.
He won five out of six tournaments last year and has gone on record as saying he wants to win all six this year. An ambitious goal for sure but one well within Asashoryu’s grasp.
Asashoryu, the lone yokozuna currently competing in sumo, relies on a variety of techniques to rack up the wins and has the ability to recover from mistakes in mid-bout.
At the other end of the spectrum are sumo’s struggling ozeki wrestlers and the pressure will be on Kaio, Chiyotaikai and Tochiazuma to produce solid performances in Osaka.
Tochiazuma returns to the ozeki ranks for the first time since November after going 11-4 as a sekiwake in the New Year tourney.
The Tamanoi stable wrestler has plenty of experience fighting at sumo’s second highest rank but has a history of health problems. He went 3-3 in the Kyushu tournament in November before pulling out due to injury.
Ozeki Kaio was hoping for promotion to grand champion last time out but after a disastrous 4-6 record in the New Year tourney he will be fighting to maintain his ozeki status in Osaka.
Chiyotaikai barely scraped by with an 8-7 winning record in the New Year meet and will be looking to improve in Osaka but the days when he was considered a legitimate threat to topple the big boys seem long gone.
Elsewhere, Kotooshu has moved up to komusubi for the spring meet. The Bulgarian, who at 204 cm is one of the tallest wrestlers in the upper ranks, posted an impressive 9-6 record in the previous tourney as a No. 4 maegashira.