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Will Nagoya put Hakuho within reach of Taiho’s 32-yusho record?

by Mark Buckton

Special To The Japan Times

With 29 Emperor’s Cup wins to date, yokozuna Hakuho is already the third most successful grand champion in the almost 260 years of sumo’s recorded history. Only Taiho, who was primarily active through the 1960s with 32 wins, and Chiyonofuji, active from the 1970s to the early ’90s with 31 wins, stand between the sport’s best ever non-Japanese rikishi and the title of “best ever.” Or so people think.

Hakuho’s greatest hurdle in eventually moving past Taiho — a man he so long idolized — could well be his own reluctance to do so.

A win at the basho in Nagoya, which kicked off Sunday in a city where he has already claimed four Emperor’s Cups and a host of jun-yusho, would take him to 30 career yusho, two shy of Taiho and one short of Chiyonofuji.

Even if he doesn’t walk away with his fifth Nagoya title, few long-time followers of the sport doubt it is anything but a matter of time before he will find himself on the verge of breaking first Chiyonofuji’s record, then that of the man he practically worshipped when alive.

Moving past the 31 career titles the current Kokonoe Oyakata chalked up — bar career-ending injury — is almost a given. Equalling Taiho’s 32 wins should cause no real problems. Winning a 33rd — possible as early as January should things go his way — is another matter entirely.

Hakuho’s admiration of Taiho, a Japanese household name more than 40 years after retiring, is well known.

What can only be speculated is the current top dog’s mental state in being faced with the opportunity to list himself become the “best” and to relegate his idol to second place.

Whether or not he opts to do so is a decision he will make in private in the not-too-distant future, but I think he might surprise us all and call it a day after equalling Taiho’s record sometime in 2015.

One way or another, whatever decision Hakuho makes, back on the dohyo he continues to outperform his fellow Mongolian yokozuna duo of Harumafuji and Kakuryu. Harumafuji has gone without a yusho win since late 2013, and Kakuryu, in his first yusho at rank in the May tournament, posted a rather unimpressive 9-6.

Meanwhile, although talk of Endo of Oitekaze Beya being the next big thing has cooled down somewhat of late, it also must be remembered he has still only had six basho as a sekitori since his makushita debut early last year.

In that time he has already won the jury division championship, not to mention a kanto-sho (fighting spirit prize) and a kinboshi win against yokozuna Kakuryu in the top flight. Ranked at maegashira 5 in Nagoya after a couple of tough outings in Tokyo (7-8) and Osaka (6-9) in the past two basho, he will benefit from more time and experience going against those of similar rank early in week one rather than being flung against ozeki and yokozuna too soon as happened in his last two outings.

To some extent, Osunaarashi — a couple of ranks better at a career high of maegashira 3 — will also serve to take some of the media heat off Endo even if few expect anything bar a substantial makekoshi losing record for the Egyptian. A final day score approaching parity would be a wonderful result for the sport’s first Muslim, particularly when considering his commitment to the traditional Ramadan fast that began in late June and runs through the tournament to July 27.

Another juryuo rank-and-filer to keep an eye on is Ichinojo. Like Endo, he won his first sekitori tournament, albeit with an 11-4 record compared to Endo’s 14-1. As such he now finds himself at juryo 3 for Nagoya and shouldn’t have too much trouble putting together the wins needed to secure his promotion to makunouchi come September.

Standing at 190 cm, the 21-year-old from Mongolia is already a whopping 183 kg. While he is currently cutting swathes through the opposition in the sport’s second division, once he squares off against larger, more capable men in makunouchi, his real schooling will begin. In the meantime, look for a possible second juryo title and top-flight debut in September.

As for Hakuho back at the pointy end . . . title number 30 methinks, and a lot of head-scratching to follow. Will Nagoya put Hakuho within reach of Taiho’s 32-yusho record?