For the first time since 2009, the Kyushu Basho, Nov. 11-25, will see two yokozuna featured on the ranking sheet. Hakuho is in the slightly more prestigious east slot, with Harumafuji over on the west side of the banzuke.
Harumafuji will, of course, be the one many want to see in his first tournament as a yokozuna. Rather than let the pressure get to him as many do in their debut at the very top of the sumo rankings, he is predicted to once again be challenging for the yusho come Day 15.
His back-to-back 15-0 victories in the July (Nagoya) and September (Tokyo) tournaments will not soon be forgotten, yet, try as hard as he may to repeat the feat he is now a marked man. Victory against a yokozuna is just that little bit special for any rikishi; against a man new at the rank, the chance to stamp a little authority on future face-offs.
Indeed, beating the yokozuna will be something three of those closest in rank will be desperate to achieve in Fukuoka.
Baruto, Kotooshu and Kotoshogiku — all very effective ozeki when on their game — are all kadoban for the upcoming tournament, having posted losing records last time out in September. As a result, anything short of an 8-7 winning record will see them demoted back down to sekiwake from where promotion back to ozeki is incredibly difficult.
While this is something few would predict for Estonian Baruto and Japanese Kotoshogiku if healthy, persistent health issues in recent years and a less than impressive 69-18-63 record in the last two years (18 bouts missed through injury) have Kotooshu the fan favorite for the drop.
For a man just a couple of months shy of his 30th birthday it might also mean the end of the road.
And, of course, Hakuho will be champing at the bit to once again prove himself king of the ring by reclaiming the Emperor’s Cup he has won 22 times to date.
In a record period — for Hakuho — while a yokozuna, the 27-year-old has not enjoyed the sight of the top-flight trophy on his mantelpiece since the Osaka Basho in March of this year. In that time a fact many have overlooked are three of his eight losses in a 37-8 overall record coming on the final day — and all against Harumafuji.
Are we therefore looking at a possible yokozuna rivalry on the cards to equal the likes of Takanohana and Akebono of 15 years ago, and another rivalry with so much potential between the same Hak and his predecessor, Asashoryu that sadly failed to reach its full potential? Fans of professional sumo will certainly hope so.
Off the professional dohyo, Oct. 26 and 27 saw the Hong Kong Sumo Association and the International Sumo Federation based in Tokyo put on the latest Sumo World Championships.
At the time of this typing — now over a week after the actual event — no results have been made public by either of the organizers, although some of the competitors have leaked final medal standings.
In summary, almost across the board in both the men’s and women’s competitions at light, middle, heavy and open weight classes, a continental shift of power was seen as Western Europe was easily outdone by their continental rivals in the east. Led primarily by Ukraine and Russia, eastern Europe notched up a joint 12 individual medals compared to just two for Western European athletes.
This will be particularly disappointing for Sharran Alexander from Great Britain, a Guinness Book world record holder as the heaviest female athlete who first appeared on the amateur scene as part of a British TV show following female rikishi in 2006. In reality now too big to wrestle effectively she once again leaves a tournament empty handed, and well into her 40s, retirement must surely be on her mind.
Similarly, long time amateur from Sumo Ireland, John Gunning was defeated in the early rounds, and has reportedly decided to bring to a close his participation on the international scene. The “home” of sumo — Japan — meanwhile saw their male athletes imitate their Olympian counterparts with the women outdoing the men in terms of gold medals won in individual competition; one to the women but none to the male rikishi!
On a more positive note for Asia overall, Mongolia really outdid themselves in Hong Kong with two golds and a bronze for the men, two silvers for their women, and a bronze in the men’s team event.
Few would be surprised if we didn’t see at least one or two of the male Mongolians targeted by professional sumo scouts in the near future.