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Nagoya to be testing ground for a trio of sumo titans

by Mark Buckton

Special to The Japan Times Online

As Hakuho continues chalking up championships almost at will (his latest 15-0 record at the Natsu Basho his 25th to date), mention of the “other” yokozuna — Harumafuji (11-4) — in some sumo circles is now met with heads being shaken.

While the daggers are not yet out, sumo’s 70th yokozuna to date is now living on borrowed time, particularly in light of his next outing in Nagoya in July being the anniversary of the run that saw him promoted on the back of back-to-back 15-0 yusho in 2012.

So should it be considered somewhat premature by many to be demanding new yokozuna on the block Harumafuji put up or ship out so soon?

If compared to Hakuho at the same point in his reign as a yokozuna the answer would be a resounding “yes.” Harumafuji’s record to date of just one championship in four attempts pales alongside Hakuho winning three Emperor’s Cups in his first four starts as a yokozuna.

Hakuho for his part now has 25 top flight titles to his name and is equal on the all-time ranking with former yokozuna Asashoryu. When, not if, he moves past Asashoryu and into third place overall on said list, he will be within sight of the 31 championships of Chiyonofuji, as well as the 32 of the best ever, Taiho.

Whether or not Harumafuji is still around at the time Hakuho moves closer and closer to possibly becoming the best ever is anyone’s guess. Thus far having posted an overall 44-16 win-loss record since his promotion, including one 15-0, Harumafuji’s lack of consistency is worrying to say the least.

And, with the Nagoya Basho just six weeks away, if he is to prove even remotely effective as a yokozuna in the long term he will need to revert to the ‘hit and move’ sumo that saw him promoted to yokozuna in the first place.

In both his 15-0 Emperor’s Cup triumph as a yokozuna back in January, and also his 11-4 outing last month he went at opponents head on, used his own immense speed in the ring combined with his opponent’s oftentimes superior weight advantage to notch up double figures in finishing techniques in 30 bouts in regulation.

By comparison, in both basho in which he turned in a less than stellar report card come senshuraku, he was more often than not being beaten in pushing or force-out techniques favoring bigger men.

The solution therefore is simple: stick to what he knows, stick to what he is good at by hitting hard, both at the tachiai and by bringing into play as many finishing techniques as possible, and stop dishonoring the rank with his struggles to reach double figures by senshuraku.

Nagoya will be his real testing ground. And, should he come unstuck once more there may just be a few starting to call for his retirement.

Kisenosato will also be one to watch in Nagoya.

With the majority of the headlines throughout the basho going the way of the Ibaraki native and his fantastic 13-2 record which took the title race right down to the wire, his loss to Hakuho in his penultimate match-up could have gone either way gave more than a glimmer of hope to Japanese fans that they may see another Japanese yokozuna in the not too distant future.

There is already talk of possibly promoting him should he do something he has never done before and go unbeaten in Nagoya in July. This is not something many would bet on given the form of Hakuho at present, and the with the likes of Myogiryu (11-4) and Goeido (7-8) at the pointy end of the top flight more than capable of downing anyone in the division.

Down in the makushita division meanwhile, the sport’s first ever Egyptian, African, and Muslim all-in-one is now set to be promoted to sekitori status after a cracking 7-0 record in May.

Yet, whilst his fans are already lauding him as the next ‘big thing’ in more ways than one, he remains untested in the upper echelons, and is still very limited in his abilities; more often than not relying on brute force alone to get him through bouts.

In the eyes of most he already has what it takes to get to the very top, but will have to learn a lot in an incredibly short period of time now that he is about to go against some of the sport’s real top dogs. Another one for whom Nagoya means so much.