His forgettable yokozuna debut a fading memory, a rejuvenated Harumafuji will be looking to pick up where he left off when the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament kicks off in Osaka on Sunday.
After a lackluster 9-6 debut at yokozuna at the Kyushu meet in November, Harumafuji faced the uncomfortable prospect of an enforced early retirement if he had posted an equally dismal record at the New Year basho two months ago.
The Yokozuna Deliberation Council had warned him that he might be forced to step down from the raised ring for good if he could not bounce back with at least 10 wins in Tokyo.
But sumo’s 70th yokozuna proved his critics wrong by leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, beating rival Hakuho on the final day to win his third championship in four meets with an unblemished 15-0 mark.
“My role is to inspire the fans. I went 9-6 (in Kyushu), but I was putting my life on the line trying to do the best that I could in that tournament,” said Harumafuji. “You can’t get bogged down merely in results, but I was definitely motivated to try to polish my training to do better.”
Harumafuji has dislodged Hakuho from the prestigious east slot on the “banzuke” rankings for the spring basho and the Mongolians will be joint favorites as they battle it out for yokozuna bragging rights.
“We are close in age and we have been rivals for many years,” Harumafuji said of Hakuho. “We have both chased the same dream and reached the top. Hakuho is a great yokozuna and role model. He became yokozuna at an earlier age, but I will continue to study him and as a result hope we can continue to thrill fans.”
Hakuho, who turns 28 on Monday, has won 23 Emperor’s Cups to Harumafuji’s five. Yokozuna legend Taiho, who holds the record for the most titles at 32, died in January.
Harumafuji has refused to set a specific number of championship victories to aim for and says he will just be going about business as usual at Bodymaker Colosseum.
“For me to say I will win ‘this many tournaments’ is not what I think about. I believe that the results will be the accumulation of the efforts I make and training I do.”
Osaka has been a happy hunting ground for Hakuho in recent years and he will be gunning for his fourth consecutive spring title. A 24th Emperor’s Cup would put him fourth on the all-time list tied alongside Kitanoumi.
“Fortune shines on me in Osaka and I am in good shape. I have had good training and I feel like my condition is improving all the time,” said Hakuho, whose last championship win came at the Kyushu meet.
Harumafuji takes on komusubi Tochiozan on the opening day, while Hakuho faces komusubi Aminishiki.