|

Will Hakuho prove the party-pooper in Kisenosato’s quest?

by Mark Buckton

Hakuho, sumo’s best grand champion in the past 25 years, will be aiming to win his fourth Nagoya Basho since being promoted to the top rank in 2007, and his 26th overall. Some would say this will be the toughest basho he has faced as a yokozuna.

Incredibly popular with both Japanese and foreign fans of sumo, most following the Nagoya Basho will, however, be hoping he slips up, and that for the first time in over seven years a Japan-born rikishi picks up the title come July 21. That rikishi’s name is Kisenosato.

In recent basho he has stood head and shoulders above all others, bar Hakuho, in the quest for his own ceremonial white tsuna belt that would see him crowned the first Japanese yokozuna in 15 years.

His last outing saw him go into the final day with a chance of lifting the title before a disappointing loss to fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku left him with a 13-2 record, meaning that if the 27-year-old from Ibaraki Prefecture is even to be considered for promotion post Nagoya, he will have to go unbeaten, winning the yusho with a perfect 15-0 record.

Already the best of the ozeki by a country mile Kinenosato has only failed to score less than 10 — the prerequisite of any ozeki each basho — once in the past 12 basho and in the eyes of so many in and around sumo is the only realistic chance the home fans have of seeing a domestic born yokozuna anytime in the near future.

These feelings reach overseas too. Long-time sumo follower Moti Dichne attributed the improvement in Kisenosato’s game to his recent trips away from his own stable to take part in degeiko — morning practice in other stables than his own. “Before the last basho, Kisenosato was finally allowed, after all these years to go for degeiko. (The) result was an instant total improvement, but (he is) lacking that final push. The intensive degeiko he has already been doing in Nagoya, and will be doing before the tournament will do the trick. Add impetus and conviction which Hakuho has less of, and (I am) totally convinced (he will do what he needs to do).”

So, will he, won’t he? If he does it will make headlines around the world, even with the naysayers demanding back-to-back yusho. July 21 will be the day of reckoning.

There are of course others who would see the “other” yokozuna Harumafuji as another threat to Kisenosato. Yet, since his promotion on the back of consecutive 15-0 titles in Nagoya and Tokyo in July and September of 2012, Harumafuji has in large part failed to impress.

He did win the Hatsu Basho in January with a solid 15-0 record that included an excellent yorikiri victory over Hakuho, but winning yusho is what is expected of him every basho as a yokozuna. However, of four tournaments at rank to date, he has an incredibly poor overall win/loss record of 44-16.

At both the Kyushu and Osaka tournaments he failed to get into double figures and only notched up 11 wins at May’s Natsu Basho in Tokyo. His only yusho to date aside, as a result of this less-than-stellar showing to date, the knives are slowly being unsheathed. Another similarly poor result in Nagoya will see calls for his resignation. At the very least recent claims that he was unworthy of promotion, despite the prerequisite two titles in a row, will start to garner more and more support, and rightly so.

A division lower, in juryo, the main story pre-Nagoya centers on the promotion from makushita of Oosunaarashi, sumo’s first Egyptian rikishi. In possession of incredible upper body strength, the man from Otake Beya will more than likely find himself “schooled” in more ways than one now he is set to go up against the real big boys of the sport.

As impressive as his 42-6-1 career record is to date, few in the ranks of long-term fans see him in possession of the all-round skills to do well at rank this time round. That said, he will undoubtedly one day make the top flight. He may even make it into sanyaku. But given that he already appears on the dohyo covered in as many bandages as something found in a pyramid — even at this early stage in his career — he is far more likely to follow in the footsteps of the bullish duo of Kokkai and Aran than any of the current ozeki or higher.

Look for some hard-fought fights but for the lad born Abdelrahman Alaa Eldin Mohamed Ahmed Sharan to realize he has come too far, too soon.