On July 21, yokozuna Hakuho became the third most successful rikishi in the modern era, even if his 26th yusho victory since first holding aloft the Emperor’s Cup 42 tournaments ago came with something of a bittersweet aftertaste.
Winning 13 straight from day one, Hakuho’s defeat to ozeki Kisenosato on Day 14 down in Nagoya put an end to his latest attempt to break the 74-year old record of 69 bouts without loss held by legendary yokozuna Futabayama (1912-1968).
He will no doubt have found solace in the fact that his 26 yusho in 43 has bettered Asashoryu’s incredible 25 in 44, but his days of looking to break the Futabayama record are, in all likelihood, over.
Now at age 28, the main question sumo fans are asking is how close he will get to the 31 yusho of Chiyonofuji and the 32 of Taiho. Few have any doubts he will one day equal and eventually break both records.
But in his way, and increasingly so of late, stands Kisenosato, regarded by many as Japan’s next yokozuna.
Kisenosato’s shot at promotion in Nagoya all but went belly up on Day 5 when he lost to Chiyotairyu (7-8 overall). Since he had dropped an earlier bout – on Day 3 – to Tochiozan (10-5), his chances of winning the yusho when he had yet to face a trio of fellow ozeki and both yokozuna were slim to none.
On Day 7 Goeido’s yorikiri victory over Kisenosato guaranteed we would not be seeing a Japanese ozeki promoted to yokozuna for the first time in 15 years.
Dreams shattered, but with the faint possibility of carrying over his yokozuna run to the September Aki Basho in Tokyo being dangled in front of him, Kise then went on to defeat both yokozuna in some style, and two of three ozeki!
Come the final day of the basho, however, any possibility of him ever making the top rank all but died with his lackluster defeat to Kotoshogiku.
However, still a far better ozeki than his peers at rank, and in the past three basho yokozuna Harumafuji too, the Ibaraki native remains the only Japanese rikishi capable of winning a yusho any time soon.
Harumafuji, meanwhile, once again proved a disappointment given his yokozuna rank, finishing with a poor 10-5 record.
In five tournaments to date as a grand champion he has won just one yusho while failing to even challenge for the Emperor’s Cup on all of his other outings.
The question as to whether he was prematurely promoted to yokozuna, even with his incredible back to back zensho-yusho record in mid-2012, is now front and center in many minds.
Whether or not he will be asked to retire sooner rather than later is an issue that will be answered following the Aki Basho in September. Another scrappy basho, barely reaching double figures and once again serving as a mere “also-ran” in the yusho race, will not be tolerated.
On a more positive note, and in particular for fans of Japanese rikishi, the biggest story of the tournament in juryo centered on Oitekaze Beya’s wonder-boy Endo.
Still fighting under his family name, the lad from Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast finished his debut basho as a sekitori with a brilliant 14-1 record at juryo 13, claiming the division title and hopefully securing himself promotion to makunouchi.
In so many ways Endo is the classical rikishi. Combining ability on the belt with some very effective thrusting techniques, he will very soon be challenging for a sanyaku slot.
The juryo also-ran that made a few headlines was Oosunaarashi.
Lauded as the first African to make the salaried ranks, the Egyptian is still lacking a decent tachiai, more often than not leading with his hands out in a somewhat awkward manner, and is still very limited in terms of his ability on the belt.
While his 10-5 in Nagoya was rightfully seen by most as a great start to his sekitori career, he is still far too dependent on reverse gear backpedalling moves in similar form to other non-Japanese rikishi such as Roho, Kokkai and Aran in recent years.
Too often in Nagoya we saw him trying to slap down his foes rather than stick with forward moving sumo that will in the end make or break his career in makunouchi.
Still, with time and the right coaching, this is a lad with a decent career ahead of him. Perhaps not quite as promising as that stretching out in front of Endo, but decent nonetheless.