Undefeated yokozuna Harumafuji clinched his fifth career championship with one day to spare, bullying out ozeki Kakuryu at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday.
The yokozuna surpassed all expectations with an insurmountable 14-0 mark after a crash-and-burn yokozuna debut in November, where he suffered the indignity of losing his final five bouts.
He has more than silenced his critics who suggested involuntary retirement would be his only option if he did not win at least 10 bouts at the Tokyo Basho. Now the only thing left is for Harumafuji to punctuate his first title win at sumo’s highest rank by beating rival yokozuna Hakuho on the final day on Sunday.
Hakuho, who with rank-and-filer Takayasu was one of two men with a shot of reeling in Harumafuji, was denied back-to-back titles and his 24th career Emperor’s Cup, although he manhandled bugaboo Kisenosato (10-2) to improve to 12-2 in the day’s next-to-last bout.
Harumafuji took his aggression out on Mongolian countryman Kakuryu in front of a sell-out crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan, avenging his defeat from the Kyushu Basho, where Kakuryu sent him to a fourth loss en route to his unflattering 9-6 mark.
Harumafuji was again razor-sharp at the tachi-ai, getting his right hand outside and a firm under-handed grip on the mawashi of Kakuryu (8-6) in the day’s finale. He moved the ozeki to edge once, but Kakuryu fought back only to be lifted over in a powerful frontal forceout.
“I am really happy,” said Harumafuji. “This is my first title as grand champion. I fought each day and made sure I had no regrets.”
“Since becoming yokozuna I feel a responsibility to perform well and win the championship to respond to people’s expectations of me. That is something I really feel strongly about.”
Hakuho was in no mood for games against Kisenosato — the man famous for stopping his 63-bout winning streak at the 2010 Kyushu Basho. The yokozuna smashed him in the face at the tachi-ai and once again before getting his right hand outside to run the ozeki over the ridge with little resistance.
Hakuho said he is confident about his impending matchup with Harumafuji, who will be bidding for his third championship with an undefeated record after going 15-0 in the July and September tournaments last year.
“The momentum of my sumo has been very good over the past two days after dropping to my second loss. I just have to keep that in mind as I prepare for tomorrow’s match. It’s not over yet,” said Hakuho.
Ozeki Kotoshogiku, sumo’s torso-bumping specialist, got his left hand outside for migi-yotsu against Russian Aran (6-8) and reached deep in his energy reserves to grind his opponent over in a frontal forceout, leaving him on the bubble at 7-7.
Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu (9-5) threw salt in Estonian Baruto’s wounds, condemning the sekiwake to a seventh defeat when he heaved him out with a textbook frontal takeout. Baruto had been hoping to regain his ozeki rank with 10 wins but is now fighting just to scrape out a winning record.
Takayasu, a No. 7 maegashira, improved to an outstanding 12-2 when he ripped down sekiwake Goeido (7-7) with a last-ditch thrust-down technique on the edge.
In an early bout, Bulgarian big boy Aoiyama (7-7) lost the script after uncorking a fierce thrusting attack against Takarafuji (9-5) and was conversely propelled off the raised ring into a group of unsuspecting spectators.