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As Baruto heads out and Kisenosato aims upward, Hiroshima is one to watch

by Mark Buckton

In the runup to the Sept. 15–29 Aki Basho sumo headlines have been dominated by the decision of former ozeki Baruto of Onoe Beya to call time on a nine year career peppered by injuries, and containing brief but highly memorable flashes of brilliance.

Joining the sport in mid-2004, the former nightclub bouncer from Estonia initially shot up the ranks, winning back-to-back yusho in the jonokuchi and jonidan divisions, before making his sekitori debut a year later.

The highlight of his career came in January, 2012, with a 14-1 record in makunouchi to help him claim his first and only Emperor’s Cup.

His victory made headlines around the world, many had him down as a yokozuna in the making, but later the same year injury to his left leg condemned him to mediocrity for most of his remaining time in the sport.

Sadly, his decision was far from unexpected given his most recent ranking of juryo 3 after being unable to finish May’s Natsu Basho in Tokyo, then failing to appear altogether at July’s tourney in Nagoya.

Philippe Sutra, 28, arguably France’s leading expert on the sport and currently in Tokyo for the tournament, like many was not overly taken aback. “It’s not really a surprise with all his injuries over the years,” Sutra said. “It is also well known that he has never got over feeling homesick, so now that he has been demoted to the juryo division (as a result of those injuries and being unable to fight) it might be the right time to leave.”

Bizarrely the 187-kg, 197-cm giant — real name Kaido Hoovelson — has opted to do just that, sooner rather than later, in the middle of the upcoming basho. This has been seen by some as disrespectful with the tournament ongoing, and stable-mates with whom he has shared so much over the years still going out and giving their all on the dohyo.

It is understood by Sumo Scribblings that when settled back in Estonia he will move into farming, a long held desire of the 28-year-old, although he will return to Japan from time to time to help promote the sport.

Back with the guys who will competing day in, day out from Sunday, and Kisenosato will once again be the one all eyes are on in his latest bid to upset the Hakuho dominated applecart, winning his first yusho in the process.

When asked about the possibility of a yusho for the Naruto Beya man, following an early morning trip to check out the Mongolian makunouchi 10 ranked Shotenro at Fujishima Beya in Tokyo, Sutra didn’t see Kisenosato winning the basho outright. Without hesitation Sutra named Hakuho as the man to take home the Emperor’s Cup at the year’s penultimate tourney.

“Hakuho is always the favorite,” he said. “Even at 50 percent, Hakuho is better than anyone else. That said, Kisenosato may get another jun-yusho runner’s up record, which could generate discussion on promotion, but Hakuho will win it. Ideally Kisenosato would force the yokozuna to a play-off on Day 15, and if this happens (with his record of late) he may get the nod and be promoted to yokozuna.”

Taking some of the pressure off Kisenosato and the ever present talk of ‘next Japanese yokozuna’ will be makunouchi 13 man Endo. In just the fourth basho of his career, he is already set to go against some of the sport’s elite having humiliated much of the juryo division in July with an incredible 14-1 yusho winning record.

Look for a comfortable double-figure finish for the Oitekaze man, and promotion toward the high maegashira ranks come November’s basho in Fukuoka.

A division lower, Egyptian star Osunaarashi will once again be the center of attention in juryo. Ranked at juryo 9 in Nagoya in July, he had an impressive 10-5 finish, which saw him promoted to juryo 4 where he will be fighting at a career high. He may even find himself moved up to the makunouchi top flight once or twice over the basho should he continue to impress and a top-flight man drop out due to injury.

And for those looking for the “next big thing” down low, very low, in the domestic ranks look no further than Hiroshima of Fujishima Beya. Having joined the sport at the start of the year, his initial ascent was halted in just the second bout of his career by injury. Fully recovered and back in training, he is now a much improved rikishi and has benefitted hugely from training with seniors in his stable near Nippori in Tokyo.

Hugely talented when fighting on the belt, oftentimes beating stable-mates ranked two or three divisions higher, and still in his teens, he is one youngster with more than enough potential to make it to sekitori status if he can put on a few pounds and work on his stamina.