Hakuho sets sights on sixth straight title

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo News

After a phenomenal 2010, sumo’s lone grand champion is aiming to achieve even loftier heights in the Year of the Rabbit.

Hakuho came just six victories shy of matching yokozuna legend Futabayama’s all-time wins streak of 69 and the word on the street is he’s ready to do it all over — this time playing for keeps.

“I greeted the New Year with a fresh feeling. I feel that the battle has gotten started again,” said Hakuho after holding his first sparring session earlier this week in preparation for the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament getting under way at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.

Last year, Hakuho shredded through the competition, equaling his single-year record of 86 wins.

He did this despite a spate of scandals that marred the ancient and traditional sport, starting with the retirement of former yokozuna Asashoryu, who was accused of assaulting a man in downtown Tokyo.

Indeed, calling 2010 the “Year of the Gangster” would not have been far off the mark after it was revealed that mobsters viewed sumo matches live at tournaments to flaunt for the TV cameras, and a gambling ring with ties to the underworld was also uncovered.

Having to go without an Emperor’s Cup trophy at the Nagoya meet in July, where public broadcaster NHK canceled its nationwide live broadcast for the first time in history, Hakuho continued his wins streak until he was stopped by Kisenosato on the second day of the Kyushu Basho in November.

Through it all, Hakuho was the consummate professional en route to winning five consecutive meets following his main rival Asashoryu’s ignominious departure from the raised ring in February.

“I want to take another shot at the record,” said Hakuho after completing 20 sparring bouts against junior wrestlers at the Miyagino stable in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. “I had a good first dream of the New Year. But I can’t tell you what it was or it won’t come true,” he said.

Hakuho is aiming to become only the third man in sumo to win six consecutive titles. Former yokozuna Taiho achieved the feat twice, while Asashoryu owns the record with seven straight title wins.

“My immediate goal is winning six straight titles. I stopped not trying to think about it because actually it is something that I’ve had on my mind,” said Hakuho, who is the odds-on favorite to win his 18th title.

At sumo’s second-highest rank of ozeki, Mongolian Harumafuji faces demotion for first time after pulling out of the Kyushu meet with an injured right ankle.