OSAKA – Yokozuna Hakuho came perilously close to fluffing his lines before seeing off fellow Mongolian Harumafuji to win the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament with a perfect 15-0 record on Sunday.
Needing victory to avoid a championship playoff with Estonian sekiwake Baruto (14-1), Hakuho was given his toughest test of the tournament but the yokozuna held his nerve to send ozeki Harumafuji (10-5) down with a textbook overarm throw to clinch his 13th Emperor’s Cup.
“He (Baruto) has been in good form in his tournament so I had extra determination to win,” said Hakuho.
Hakuho was widely expected to win the championship here in the absence of former yokozuna Asashoryu, who recently retired amid claims he assaulted a man during a alcohol-fueled rampage in Tokyo in January.
“It has been a very tiring tournament but I wanted to lead sumo forward and gave it my best shot,” said Hakuho.
“Asashoryu has left a big hole to be filled but we have the birth of a new ozeki (Baruto) and hopefully he will become a good rival.”
Baruto, meanwhile, wrapped up a successful ozeki promotion campaign with another imperious performance, this time against ozeki Kotomitsuki (9-6).
The Baltic bulldozer had Kotomitsuki wincing as he kept him at bay with a hailstorm of slaps and thrusts. After spotting an opening he then followed through to waltz the ozeki out of the dohyo.
Baruto was given both the Fighting Spirit Prize and the Technique Prize, special prizes awarded to makuuchi division wrestlers by the Japan Sumo Association on the final day of a meet.
“I was able to sleep well at the start of the tournament but at the end I was more and more tense. I knew, however, that if I didn’t overcome the pressure I would not win,” said Baruto.
“I wrestled better than I expected. Since the last tournament and the tournament before that I have just tried to fight more aggressively. I want to show the fans even stronger sumo at the next tournament.”
Baruto is the first wrestler to be awarded two prizes in the same tournament since Kotomitsuki at the 2007 Nagoya meet. For the first time in two tournaments no Outstanding Performance Prize was awarded.
The 25-year-old, whose real name is Kaido Hoovelson, will become only the second European ozeki after Bulgarian grappler Kotooshu when his promotion is finalized on Wednesday.
In other bouts, Kotooshu emerged victorious from an all-ozeki affair, squashing Kaio (8-7) at the edge of the ring to close on 10-5.
Sekiwake Toyonoshima crashed to a ninth defeat when he was floored with a twisting backward knee trip by fourth-ranked Tamawashi (5-10).
Aminishiki (8-7) returned to the locker room with a badly grazed forehead after smashing his face on the straw ridge in a defeat by Georgian maegashira Tochinoshin (9-6), but Kisenosato (9-6) plowed seventh-ranked Miyabiyama (10-5) into the ringside cushions to restore pride for the komusubi rank.
Tochiozan, a sixth-ranked maegashira, racked up an impressive 11th win over Tokitenku.