In the final analysis, sumo is a sport determined by a wrestler’s desire to achieve greatness. Though enemies lurk, the fight with oneself becomes the real challenge.
Yokozuna Asashoryu, who will be gunning for a record-tying sixth straight Emperor’s Cup at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament kicking off Sunday, understands this fact more clearly than any of the wrestlers in the elite makuuchi division.
The Mongolian wrecking machine is a masterwork in progress with his eyes firmly locked on surpassing the achievements of the ancient sport’s legendary greats.
“This would be incredible in terms of the historical meaning,” Asashoryu said just days before the start of the 15-day meet at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan. “I would be in awe to say I have equaled the likes of Taiho (by winning six straight titles). I plan to fight to be praised by Taiho for my sumo.”
Former grand champion Futabayama’s mark of 69 consecutive bout victories still looms as large as Mt. Fuji. And former yokozuna Taiho is the only wrestler to have won six straight basho, twice in his career. Asashoryu is traveling on the same star-studded path.
Taiho, who achieved the feat for the second time 38 years ago, said one of the keys to winning in sumo was his ability to train harder than anybody else in the dohyo — a trait, he says, the 24-year-old Asashoryu also possesses.
“I trained double that of any of the other wrestlers, so winning came natural. I was not afraid of anyone,” said Taiho.
Taiho, who now works as the curator for the sumo museum at Ryogoku Kokugikan, first achieved the feat from the spring basho in 1962 and the second time from the spring tournament in 1966.
Even sumo greats Chiyonofuji and Kitanoumi could only muster five straight title wins. Though he only began full training at the end of last month, Asashoryu goes to extremes to gain the focus that his rivals can only dream of.
“The air in Mongolia is very thin. If you even climb steps in Mongolia, you need about three times the power as in Japan. I ran in the mountains for one hour per day,” said Asashoryu, referring to his training while visiting his homeland last month.
Newly promoted Bulgarian sekiwake Kotooshu is the latest challenge to Asashoryu’s reign after stunning the yokozuna, who closed on 13-2, in a surprise victory in Nagoya in July and finishing the meet with a 12-3 record.