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Hakuho beats Kakuryu in playoff to capture 28th title

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Yokozuna Hakuho won his 28th career championship Sunday, sumo’s dominant force doing what he has done umpteen times with everything on the line on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hakuho suffered his first setback with a defeat at the hands of ozeki Kakuryu in the final bout of regulation, but bounced back to claim the Emperor’s Cup with an impregnable display in the playoff, moving him within four titles of matching legendary yokozuna Taiho’s all-time record of 32 championships.

“I was just determined to stay calm,” said Hakuho, who finished on 14-1 along with Kakuryu. “I am glad I was able to move forward in the playoff. I just had to recall my first day of this tournament. This is a great start to the new year.”

Kakuryu pulled off the win in regulation with a powerful frontal crush-out after getting Hakuho out of his favored position, but the odds were stacked against him as he was out of his depth for the final showdown.

Hakuho staved off the ozeki’s thrusting attack before getting his right hand on the bottom of the mawashi and his left hand around his opponent’s shoulder. He then crushed him over the edge in front of the seventh sold-out crowd of this basho at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

“Once I recalled the first day, it gave me the strength I needed. I wanted this championship more than anything,” Hakuho said. “This is my final championship at the age of 28, so it turned out to be a great tournament.”

Hakuho might have been the all-out winner, but it was up-and-comer Endo who became the big storyline with an impressive performance in just his third appearance in the top makuuchi class.

The No. 10 maegashira lost to Takanoiwa (7-8) by shitatedashinage in his final bout but still finished with 11 wins and the Fighting Spirit Prize.

“I had some good bouts and some bad bouts throughout the tournament, but it feels good (to win the Fighting Spirit Prize),” said Endo, who needed to beat Takanoiwa to also take the Technique Prize. “Next basho I want to come out with everything I’ve got.”

Ozeki Kisenosato, who had been bidding for promotion to yokozuna for the second time before a spectacular implosion, withdrew on the final day with a toe injury and ended with a unflattering 7-8 mark, meaning he will be in danger of losing his ozeki rank at the spring basho in March.

He forfeited his match against fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku, who wrapped up his campaign at 9-6.

Bulgarian Kotooshu, who entered the meet needing 10 wins to regain his ozeki rank, fell to fellow sekiwake Goeido (8-7) in a weak performance and ended on 8-7.

Satoyama, who had just returned to the makuuchi class after a long stint in the second-tier juryo division, was disqualified in his final bout for pulling Takayasu’s (9-6) topknot. The No. 16 maegashira not only missed out on the Technique Prize but ensured himself another drop into the lower tier as he ended at 7-8.

No. 1 maegashira Toyonoshima (8-7) outlasted Shohozan (9-6) in a marathon bout to win with a rear okuridashi shove out, giving him his kachi-koshi for a return to the sanyaku ranks.

Komusubi Tochiozan twisted Tamawashi (8-7) down by the head for his 11th win.

Egyptian-born Osunaarashi ended on 9-6 after a defeat to Sadanofuji (6-9), wrapping up a strong outing in only his second run in the elite class.

Sumo’s other yokozuna, Harumafuji, missed the New Year basho due to injury.