The verdict is in . . . well, almost.
After his critics had begun singing a Harumafuji requiem, the Mongolian yokozuna chalked up his ninth straight win with a thumping of upstart Goeido at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.
Coming off a 9-6 mark at the Kyushu basho in November, where he became the first yokozuna debutant to lose his final five bouts, Harumafuji has already matched that number of victories with the only thing to prove now that his notorious meltdown was only a fluke.
Harumafuji retained the sole lead while Hakuho remained hot on his heels at 8-1 along with rank-and-filer Takarafuji as this year’s first major basho enters its final six days at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Goeido (5-4) was counting the stars spinning about his head by the time Harumafuji was done with him in the day’s penultimate bout. The yokozuna stung the sekiwake with a maelstrom of slaps to the face before pulling him violently forward to the dirt for an emphatic win.
“I hit him pretty hard,” said Harumafuji, who is shooting for his fifth championship. “I wanted to get his mawashi but things were over pretty quickly. I was pumped up . . . very focused,” said Harumafuji, adding that he is only focused on himself and not Hakuho for now.
Hakuho, who is aiming for back-to-back titles and his 24th career championship, made mincemeat of Baruto, getting a left hand inside and a right hand around the mawashi of the struggling sekiwake before ushering the bigger man over in a lopsided affair in the day’s finale.
Things took a bleak turn for Estonian Baruto (5-4), who is nursing an injured left knee and needs to win five of his last six bouts to regain his ozeki rank in March. Hakuho patted Baruto on the back after sending him out as if to say, “Hang in there!”
“I got my hand on a good spot,” said Hakuho of his inside grip on Baruto’s mawashi. “But he wasn’t himself today, so I figure his knee must be in really bad shape. Even so, you know he has power for a guy who can get this many wins fighting on one leg.”
Baruto said, “I didn’t want to let him get the front of my mawashi like that but he’s really in high spirits. I was hoping to hit him with a thrusting attack. I still have a way to go in the coming days.”
Ozeki Kotoshogiku (6-3) dispensed with Kaisei (4-5), letting his opponent crumble to the dirt like a cheap seersucker suit when the Brazilian No. 3 maegashira’s legs slipped from underneath him.
In an all-ozeki clash, Mongolian Kakuryu (6-3) immediately got a migi-yotsu, his left hand outside and right hand inside on Bulgarian Kotooshu’s (5-4) mawashi, before grinding him over the edge in a matter of seconds.
Ozeki Kisenosato (7-2) had to work himself into position for leverage against Toyonoshima (3-6), but broke down the smaller man’s defenses before getting his left hand around and a firm grip on the inside of the mawashi for a sure-fire frontal takeout.
Shohozan (2-7) fell victim to yokozuna-killer Myogiryu (5-4), who soaked up an unsteady charge from the newly promoted komusubi before easily swatting him to the dirt surface.
But fellow komusubi Tochiozan (4-5) made quick work of Aminishiki (3-6), spinning the top-ranked maegashira onto his back with a smack-down technique right after the tachiai.
In an earlier bout, former ozeki Miyabiyama finally emerged from a dark tunnel when he jettisoned Tamawashi (3-6) over the ridge with a thrust-down technique to pick up his first win.