Harumafuji settles into New Year groove

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Yokozuna Harumafuji uncorked a mortar round on would-be challenger Myogiryu to earn his second victory at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.

Rival yokozuna Hakuho, meanwhile, laid into the troublesome Aminishiki to stay on track in his bid for his second consecutive Emperor’s Cup championship.

Neither an inundation of heavy snowfall nor the resultant disruption of public transportation could deter sumo fans from making it out in the Japanese capital on Coming of Age Day, braving the elements to trudge their way to Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Harumafuji sent Myogiryu (0-2) into a semi-somersault when he deftly backpedaled before smacking the top-ranked maegashira to the dohyo surface in the day’s finale.

“I basically went with the flow to execute my sumo. The main thing is getting my opponent into a position of leverage,” said Harumafuji, who prefers a left-handed outside grip with his right hand placed inside on the mawashi.

The day before, Harumafuji escaped the indignity of matching the worst losing streak of six (not including defeats by default) by a yokozuna, a dubious distinction held by only four rikishi including Takanohana.

“Not bad for the first two days,” Harumafuji said. “It felt good with all the snow. Everyone likes it when it’s sparkling white outside, right?”

Hakuho got his left hand in for an underhand grip on Aminishiki’s mawashi in the day’s penultimate match, before slamming him to the dirt to improve to 27-4 in career bouts against the top-ranked maegashira. Sumo’s 69th yokozuna is in the hunt for his 24th career title, which would place him in a tie for fourth on the all-time list with former yokozuna Kitanoumi.

“I got off to a strong start yesterday, so I was just determined to continue the momentum,” said Hakuho. “This is the first big snowfall in Tokyo in many years. So it’s actually kind of refreshing. I’m happy. I can understand how fans from the Tohoku region must feel,” he said.

Kakuryu became the first wrestler of sumo’s second highest rank to taste defeat, with the three other ozeki coming through unscathed.

Kisenosato, who along with rival Kotoshogiku has aspirations of becoming the first Japanese wrestler to win a championship since former ozeki Tochiazuma achieved the feat way back at the 2006 New Year basho, disarmed Kyokutenho within seconds for his second win.

Veteran Kyokutenho, surprise winner of the 2012 summer basho, could do nothing to blunt the ozeki’s fierce charge when he quickly moved in for his favored left-leaning grip in a trademark frontal takeout.

Estonian giant Baruto faced his first big test as he aims to regain his ozeki rank with at least 10 wins, locking horns with rival Kotoshogiku (2-0), but was no match for sumo’s torso-bumping specialist who got in close to heave the bigger man over the edge.

Baruto (1-1), who is still recovering from an injury to his left knee, is evidently nowhere close to his former dominant self as he purposely refrained from putting pressure on his injured leg.

“I have to be able to firmly grapple my opponents but I haven’t been able to do that at this basho,” said Baruto. “I haven’t really thought about how to correct this problem. Whatever the case, a win is a win and a loss is a loss,” he said.

Bulgarian Kotooshu (2-0) manhandled Shohozan (0-2), tossing down the newly promoted komusubi with an overarm technique after unleashing a flurry of vicious strikes.

Kakuryu sputtered out of the blocks with a listless attack against Tochiozan (1-1), who hit the ozeki with a salvo of thrusts to send him packing over the straw bales.

Goeido (1-1) paid for a slow start at the tachiai against Toyonoshima (1-1), who got both arms around the sekiwake for a turbo-fast frontal shove-out.

In a battle of two wrestlers from Georgia, Tochinoshin (2-0) sent Gagamaru (1-1) sprawling to the sand with a well-timed left-handed, pulling overarm throw just seconds into their match.

The last time two yokozuna appeared together at a New Year basho was in 2010, the final tournament of Asashoryu’s career.