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Kyushu Basho 2013 – a tale of two newbies

by Mark Buckton

Special to The Japan Times Online

In Japanese sporting circles, mention of the name Endo has, for the past few years, come with images of national soccer team and Gamba Osaka player Yasuhito Endo.

All that is about to change.

Weighing in at 143 kg and standing 184 cm tall Shota Endo is a rikishi bound for the upper echelons of the sport of sumo. Blink and you’ll miss his dash to the top. This lad is in a hurry.

Since he first stepped onto the dohyo at the Osaka Basho in March he has chalked up consecutive 5-2 finishes in the sport’s third division, a hugely impressive 14-1 yusho winning scoreline in juryo, and a cracking 9-5-1 in his first appearance in makunouchi in September.

So fast has been his ascent, so powerful is his sumo that he has understandably drawn more than a few sideways glances. So much so that he is now already being touted as the next Japanese yokozuna.

Few serious sumo watchers will balk at this, even with him in just his fifth career tournament when the action gets underway Sunday in Fukuoka.

Indeed some fans in Japan are already so enamored by Endo they are referring to the chance to see him in action as their prime reason for buying tickets.

Hakuho and the other household names in the sport’s top division are in many ways merely playing walk-on parts in what is increasingly becoming the Endo show!

But as good as he is, and he is very good, the largest potential cash cow the Nihon Sumo Kyokai has had under its wing in 20 years is injured. And it is a bad injury.

Having limped out of the September tournament rumors have in the last few weeks been flying left right and center as to the extent of the damage to his left ankle.

In the last few days though more concrete information has emerged, and indicates he has a slight fracture although the full extent of how this will affect him during the basho is as of yet unknown.

He is practicing, albeit not as ferociously as he has done so ahead of earlier tournaments, and for now is playing a standard sumo approach to injuries of day-by-day, wait-and-see.

If he does ultimately fail to appear in Fukuoka, or if indeed he puts in an early appearance in a bid to win a handful of bouts that should see him safe in the division come January before pulling out, many eyes will move to the presence of Oosunaarashi.

Although not yet a rival of Endo, chance has played a part in his own promotion to the top flight, just one tournament after Endo.

Coming through the lower five divisions in record time, oftentimes on the back of scrappy and sometimes lucky wins, Oosunaarashi is already being lauded by some non-Japanese as the only realistic candidate for future promotion to yokozuna in an ever decreasing pool of foreign wrestlers coming through the ranks.

From now, however, having made maegashira 15 in just his 10th basho since his jonokuchi debut, from the very beginning amidst a flurry of media attention, he will be up against the big boys in more ways than one down in Fukuoka.

From the opening day, the 189 cm, 138 kg Egyptian will face men for whom life — and survival — in the rarified air of makunouchi is the norm.

One or two may be hangers-on who struggle to achieve a winning record each basho but all those in ranks around him are far more experienced, far more technical.

Some have operated in the sanyaku ranks, going against Hakuho from time to time. All will want to hand the foreign media sensation a bloody nose in the shape of a round black mark against his name indicating defeat.

As such, Osunaarashi will have had an incredible basho should he win more than he loses over the eight days.

The learning curve upon which he has thus far performed so well has just become a lot steeper.

And for a man without the years of competitive level amateur sumo behind him like Endo, and still lacking so much technically, I for one fear his wall is fast approaching.

Potential future yokozuna from Egypt? Not a snowball’s chance in the Valley of the Kings methinks. Ozeki one day? Possibly but still a long shot. Rank and filer who flirts with sanyaku? That’s more like it!

Meanwhile, away from the “headliners” of the future, look for yokozuna Hakuho to dominate as he so often does in Fukuoka.

Another yusho, besides being his 28th career championship, will be his seventh consecutive in Fukuoka, just one short of the eight straight set by Chiyonofuji between 1981 and 1988!