OSAKA – Hakuho pulled off an improbable comeback in Houdini-esque fashion, rallying from behind and beating yokozuna destroyer Kakuryu in a playoff to win the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
The yokozuna got his chance for a rematch against countryman Kakuryu after the sekiwake was sent to a second defeat at the hands of Goeido, forcing a playoff when Hakuho disposed of ozeki Baruto in the final bout of regulation to leave both men with 13-2 marks.
Hakuho, who had lost to Kakuryu earlier in the tournament, for the second time in as many meets, tasted the sweetest revenge in the end to win his 22nd career title, tying him with former yokozuna Takanohana for fifth on the all-time list.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it would come this far,” said Hakuho, who rebounded from one win behind. “I now realize how difficult it is to wins 22 titles, which gives me a newfound respect for yokozuna Takanohana. I feel honored that I could match him.”
The lone Mongolian yokozuna latched his left hand onto Kakuryu’s mawashi and tried to dump his opponent over the ridge in a frontal assault, only for Kakuryu to retaliate as he teetered on the ropes in a counterattack at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.
Hakuho moved around his opponent while executing a deft inner leg sweep to topple Kakuryu with an overarm throw to thunderous applause from a packed house in Osaka.
“This is my first championship like this. It was exhausting. When you’re chasing in the title race, there’s nothing you can do but hope, so I just focused solely on my bouts,” Hakuho continued.
It was the first time that a wrestler came from behind to win a tournament on the final day since former yokozuna Asashoryu achieved the feat at the 2004 Summer Basho, except for cases in which wrestlers involved in playoffs met each other in regulation bouts.
Kakuryu, who secured a move up to ozeki with his 13th win the previous day, also won the Outstanding Performance and Technique prizes but fell short of winning his first career title.
The tension was palpable before Hakuho and Baruto locked horns in the final bout of regulation, with Estonian giant Baruto making one false start before the bout got under way.
Baruto, who had been making a bid for promotion to sumo’s ultimate rank before stumbling to four defeats over the first two weeks, got a superior grip on the mawashi and moved the yokozuna toward the edge, but Hakuho hung on for dear life before ushering his opponent over the straw bales.
Baruto, who won the New Year meet with a 14-1 mark in January, ended the Spring Basho with a 10-5 record.
Osaka native Goeido raised the roof in front of his hometown fans, getting a razor-sharp jump at the face-off before wrapping both hands around Kakuryu and taking him out in one swoop.
For his mega-efforts, Goeido picked up his 12th win and third career Technique Prize, and forced Kakuryu into the winner-takes-all championship.
Kotoshogiku emerged the victor in a battle of Japanese ozeki when he bulldozed Kisenosato in a lopsided affair, as both men finished their campaigns with pedestrian 9-6 records.
Mongolian Harumafuji cart-wheeled Bulgarian Kotooshu out of the ring with a well-timed overarm throw, leaving him on 11-4, while his rival just passed the grade with an 8-7 mark.
Toyonoshima, who beat ozeki pair Kotoshogiku and Kotooshu earlier in the meet, finished with an 11-4 mark and won his fourth Technique Prize after forcing out Kitataiki, who ended on 9-6.