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While Hakuho chalks up another victory, Harumafuji’s future grows less certain

by Mark Buckton

And then there were 27 — little replicas of the Emperor’s Cup atop the yokozuna’s mantelpiece that is.

In taking his latest championship Sunday at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, sumo’s greatest-ever foreign yokozuna moved to within five titles of the all-time record of 32 yusho held by the legendary Taiho, a record he could well equal in the middle of 2014, should he continue in his current form.

At the moment, this possibility now appears more just a matter of time than a “will he, won’t he” question. And in reality, there is very little bar career ending injury that could stop the man born Davaajargal Monkhbat.

Suffering just one defeat on Day 10 to sekiwake Goeido, Hakuho dominated throughout the 15 days. He ended with a 14-1 record and his 24th championship in 37 tournaments at rank.

Sadly for the home fans craving a Japanese yokozuna, Ibaraki-born ozeki Kisenosato finished with another 11-4 record and will have to wait until November for his next shot at winning the title to help generate realistic talk of promotion.

To elevate him to yokozuna without ever having won a yusho would smack of desperation for a home-born grand champion by the sumo authorities. And while there are some who would like to see his consistency over the past two years rewarded thus, concerns over having promoted yokozuna Harumafuji too soon, even with the consecutive yusho box ticked, have put pay to any rash decisions in as far as Kisenosato may be concerned.

That said, the lack of consistency that has been Harumafuji’s subsequent yokozuna career to date may well serve to help Kisenosato in the long run. Promotion without back-to-back yusho has been a no-no in recent years, and quite rightly so, with a long list of ozeki known for blowing hot and cold, far too often winning one yusho then struggling to win eight next time out.

However, with a consistency in the top division second only to Hakuho over the last two years, and the fact that he has proven himself a far more capable rikishi than yokozuna Harumafuji over the past 12 months, a lone Kisenosato title might see a relaxation of the consecutive yusho rule.

In the case of Harumafuji, however, there are no doubt members of the Sumo Association and Yokozuna Deliberation Council once more introducing palms to foreheads, wondering why they ever let him wear the ceremonial tsuna belt reserved for yokozuna.

A decent ozeki when on form, and a sekitori statistically more than worthy of promotion to the top rank in the mid-2012 tournaments, Harumafuji once again failed to impress in the just completed basho, as he has in most tournaments since he was promoted.

As such, talk is increasingly audible among sumo fans of the rushed promotion, or at the very least flash-in-the pan performances in 2012, that while numerically deserving of promotion in and of themselves have not thereafter seen the man prove himself truly worthy of the rank.

This was only underlined when a seemingly nonchalant Harumafuji was seen humming after one of his five defeats this basho, causing some in the Sumo Association to question whether or not he was properly reflecting on his performance as one of only 70 men to hold the rank in the last 256 years.

Couple this with his thus far hugely disappointing overall numbers as a yokozuna — 9-6 (November 2012), 9-6 (March this year), 11-4 (May), 10-5 (July) and 10-5 this basho — and the fuel is certainly there in the eyes of many to demand he at the very least consider retirement.

In the coming days this is quite possibly a concept that will be voiced by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, the group that only last year backed his promotion. For now, each basho Harumafuji fails to reach the unofficial yokozuna “minimum” wins of 12, he is seen as raising doubts on their own ability to properly select a yokozuna candidate. If he turns out another unremarkable outing in Fukuoka we’ll surely be hearing demands for his resignation.

On a more positive note, maegashira 13 Endo, the much lauded star of the future for Japanese sumo, finished with a very respectable 9-5-1 in what was just his fourth tournament in the sport. Following up an opening day loss with a solid nine wins in the next 12 days, he was unfortunately injured on Day 13. Although he sat out the last two days, he will find himself in upper makunouchi come Fukuoka in November.
A division lower, Egyptian Osunaarashi continued his climb up the rankings with a solid 10-5 at juryo four and will make his makunouchi debut in November.

Although he is a powerhouse when on form, he does have a tendency to look for the backward pedalling pull-downs to win, something that will see him struggle at the foot of makunouchi if the next two months are not spent in a steep learning curve.

And way down in the bottom jonokuchi division — that one to watch mentioned in the pre-basho Sumo Scribblings — Hiroshima of Fujishima Beya — went 4-3 in his seven outings. Not the strongest start but watch this space: This is a lad for the future.