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Will another Mongolian yokozuna come out of the Nagoya Basho?

by Mark Buckton

The Nagoya Basho 2009 is just around the corner. Several rikishi in makunouchi, notably Kakuryu of Mongolia and Aran of Russia, will be fighting at career-high ranks, yet the majority of eyes will be on one of the lightest men in the division as he strives for yokozuna promotion. That man is Harumafuji — an ozeki fighting out of Isegahama Beya in Tokyo, a Mongolian and the winner of the May Summer tournament in Tokyo last month.

Sadly, though, many of my Japanese friends and acquaintances say he hasn’t been an ozeki long enough to be promoted to the sport’s top rank. I’ve also heard “there are already two Mongolians at yokozuna; there shouldn’t be another.”

This kind of attitude probably won’t change any time soon, given the fact that no Japanese have been promoted to yokozuna in over a decade now, and no Japanese has even laid a hand on the Emperor’s Cup since early 2006.

If past form in the central Japanese is anything to go by, though, Harumafuji could come up short this time. Of his eight career tournaments in Nagoya in all divisions, he has walked away with a kachikoshi winning record on just four occasions. As a sekitori ranked fighter, his five Nagoya basho in the salaried juryo and makunouchi divisions have turned up just two winning records — the first back in 2004 while still in low juryo (9-6) and the second last year as a sekiwake (10-5).

Both times he did secure more wins than losses though, he suffered something of a collapse in the second week of action which is something he will have to ensure does not repeat itself this time out.

Hakuho will be back and raring to avenge his defeat at the hands of his smaller foe back in May in Tokyo, so look for a humdinger of a battle there. It’s likely to be one to upstage the final day’s yokozuna face-off if Hak’s counterpart Asashoryu is still battered and bruised.

Asashoryu’s presence remains in doubt only in as far as form goes. Still in Mongolia, his training methods and fitness levels remain off the radar, although rumors have emerged of his opting to go “Rocky” and heading into the wilderness of his vast landlocked nation to get back a little of that “Eye of the Tiger.” His various injuries have taken their toll of late, and it’s doubtful he will play a significant role in the yusho race, especially if those injuries persist.

Kakuryu, still in sanyaku, will be one to watch after a gritty 9-6 performance in May as a komusubi. While he still lacks the weight and techniques necessary to be a real long-term threat to the real big boys, he might be able to knock off a couple of the older ozeki, as well as many of his upper maegashira colleagues. And the same could have once been said about Harumafuji. Unlike Harumafuji, though, Kakuryu has entered the mid-summer basho eight times and returned to Tokyo a winner each and every time.

Another “K” to watch will be Kisenosato. Having baffled many in sumo over the past couple of years, this youngster with a bagful of talent and enough oomph to beat anyone on his day has made repeated trips to sanyaku now on the back of impressive basho as a maegashira. Once up in the rarified air, however, he seems to lose his self-confidence and, at times, just implodes. Hopefully this will not be the case this time out, as his brilliant 13-2 record kept him in the basho title-hunt until the very last day. It was a basho he may well have called his own, had Harumafuji not pulled off a surprising sidestep at the tachiai on Day 11 in May.

Currently, the majority of the rikishi are still in Tokyo training hard to be able to combat the heat and humidity down south. Since they are scheduled to leave the weekend after next, it makes the remainder of this week — and next — the perfect time to view the training at the stables dotted around town.