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Little-man sumo pays off for Harumafuji

by Mark Buckton

It was without doubt one of the most disappointing yokozuna-yokozuna bouts in recent years.

When Harumafuji’s disappointing hit-and-run technique against fellow Mongolian Hakuho on Nov. 24 gave him the championship after an action-packed 15 days, few were that impressed.

Instead, rather that his sixth yusho to date earning him praise and fan accolades, far more evident were questions surrounding the type of sumo he consistently resorts to.

Throughout, the Isegahama beya yokozuna was in hit-and-run mode.

Just hours after carrying off the Emperor’s Cup, rather than praise his performance, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council (YDC) once again expressed concern about the sport’s 70th grand champion to date and questioned the type of sumo he employed in Fukuoka to break his streak of four lackluster outings dating back to March.

In reverting to the “little man” sumo that got him to the yokozuna ranking, Harumafuji again failed to live up to standards so often displayed by Hakuho and other great sumo wrestlers in recent years.

Some fans have gone so far as to claim that ozeki Kisenosato (13-2) performed more like a yokozuna, with every single one of his 13 wins the result of forward-moving sumo. I would have to agree.

By contrast the senior-ranked Harumafuji used more than a handful of side-stepping and back-pedaling pulling moves to catch his opponents off guard from the get-go.

Indeed, it was perhaps with one eye on Kisenosato outshining Harumafuji in form throughout 2013 that the YDC hinted that the ozeki could himself could be considered for promotion on the back of a single championship in January.

Questions will be raised if the recent consecutive championships standard for promotion from ozeki to yokozuna is not imposed, with many foreign fans no doubt claiming preferential treatment for a Japanese ozeki.

Regardless of nationality, however, few will argue that his four yusho in the past four tourneys is deserving of reward, and that over the past two years none of the other ozeki have come close to his consistency.

Away from the pointy end of the division, up-and-comer Endo of Oitekaze Beya went 6-9 on an ankle that would have most laid up for weeks, in turn securing his makunouchi status.

The next six weeks will be crucial in his long-term success in the sport.

Rest and recuperation are — or should be — on the cards to give him the chance to enter the Hatsu Basho (starting Jan. 12) in tip-top condition.

Lower down, the man so lauded in the Japanese media as the first African, first Muslim and first Egyptian to enter the sport rounded off a forgettable tournament with a performance demonstrative of just how much he has to learn.

Going into the final weekend with seven wins he had two shots to get his kachi-koshi winning record. Losing to Ikioi on Day 14 by yorikiri his chance of earning a highly respectable 8-7 record in his first tourney in makunouchi went out the window almost immediately on the final day when, lacking any semblance of a plan going into his bout with Brazilian Kaisei, the 21-year-old attempted a henka sidestep at the initial charge. While not illegal, it’s a move that’s generally looked down upload in the sport, and in his attempt to dodge Kaisei at the initial face-off he suffered the embarrassment of his foe recovering and eventually was pushed out himself.

His rank for the next tournament, whether or not it means survival in the division or demotion to juryo, will be made public come the release of the next banzuke ranking sheet on Dec. 24.

If Osunaarashi want to live up to his fans’ and the media expectations, he needs to focus on his sumo, ignore the hype and get down to busine