NAGOYA – The question being raised ahead of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is whether Hakuho’s worst-ever performance as a yokozuna was a mere anomaly or has the Mongolian yokozuna really seen his last days as sumo’s top breadwinner?
The 27-year-old finished with a personal worst 10-5 mark at the summer meet in May — subpar by Hakuho’s superhuman standards.
Countryman Kyokutenho, meanwhile, became the oldest wrestler in the modern sumo era to capture a title at 37 years, 8 months, after beating Tochiozan in a playoff.
With the 15-day Nagoya meet getting under way Sunday at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, it is anyone’s guess whether Hakuho will regain his stranglehold at the top, or if the six ozeki wrestlers, centering on Kisenosato, will stop him in his tracks.
Hakuho, who is seeking his 23rd career title and first championship in two meets, was dealt a blow at the Summer Basho when he lost to Aminishiki on the opening day. It was later revealed that he fractured his left index finger during the bout.
Although he has recovered from his injury, the Ulan Bator native has not trained as much as expected prior to the Nagoya meet.
A slip-up early in the competition would undoubtedly throw Hakuho’s title hopes into jeopardy.
Kisenosato, who was a major contender in the May title race and finished on 11-4, would appear to be more than ready to finally claim his elusive first career title.
He has trained well in the buildup for the two-week mash-up, perfecting his left and right holding techniques to keep his opponents away from his mawashi.
As for the remaining wrestlers at sumo’s second-highest rank of ozeki, Harumafuji, the 2011 champion in Nagoya, Estonian Baruto and Kakuryu are poised to be in the title hunt.
Kotoshogiku, however, is nursing a left leg injury, while Bulgarian Kotooshu, who pulled out on the final day of the summer meet, is still trying to recover from a right-foot injury.
Notably, Kotooshu put a damper on the May title race with his withdrawal, which simultaneously caused Hakuho and two others to fall out of contention in what had the makings of a final day battle royal.
Goeido is determined to take a shot at glory, despite having undergone an operation on his left elbow. The other sekiwake, Tochiozan, returns to the rank after his impressive showing in May.
Newly promoted komusubi Myogiryu, who is looking sharper than ever since his 9-6 mark in May, could be a threat to the yokozuna and ozeki elite.
Hakuho is set to face komusubi Toyonoshima on Sunday and Kyokutenho, who was promoted from No. 7 to No. 1 maegashira, on the second day in Nagoya.