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Hakuho wins title with frowned-upon move

Kyodo

It was not pretty, but Hakuho defeated fellow Mongolian yokozuna Harumafuji to capture a record-extending 36th career championship title with a 14-1 record on Sunday, the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

Entering the day in control of his own fate with a one-win lead, Hakuho used a frowned-upon henka sidestep technique at the charge to avenge three straight defeats to Harumafuji (9-6), triggering boos and jeers among the sold-out crowd at Edion Arena Osaka.

The most successful wrestler in sumo history, Hakuho has dominated the top makuuchi division in recent years but had not won a championship title since the Nagoya meet in July last year.

Hakuho, whose only defeat here came on the opening day, apologized for using a henka but hundreds of spectators had already left the arena before his post-match interview.

“Winning a championship has seemed far away over these last eight months,” said Hakuho, who took long pauses before answering as he struggled to hold back tears.

“Losing (on the first day of the tournament) was a good dose of medicine for me. I wrestled well from the second day but I never planned to win on the final day with a henka and I feel really bad about that.”

In a matchup between the only other wrestlers still in with a shot at the title coming into the final day, Kisenosato claimed ozeki bragging rights and closed at 13-2 by muscling out Goeido (12-3).

Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu floored ozeki Kotoshogiku with an underarm throw for a 10th win. Kotoshogiku, who started the meet with hopes of promotion to yokozuna after a surprise championship win at the New Year meet, finished with an 8-7 mark.

In other bouts of note, Kotoyuki emerged victorious from an entertaining slugfest against local favorite Ikioi for a 12-3 record. The top-ranked maegashira, who beat one yokozuna and two ozeki en route to double-digit wins, won his first Outstanding Performance prize.

“It was a close fight (against Ikioi) but I was patient and did better than I expected,” said Kotoyuki. “Every day has been fulfilling and I have learned lessons and gained confidence.”

Fourth-ranked Ikioi (10-5) has also had an impressive showing here but failure to score an 11th win saw him miss out on the Fighting Spirit Prize. There was no Technique Prize awarded for the second tournament in a row.

Bulgarian-born No. 3 maegashira Aoiyama (7-8) piled more misery on Toyonoshima, thrusting him out to condemn him to a 12th defeat on his return to sumo’s third highest rank of sekiwake.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze (4-11) has also had a disappointing tournament, although he was able to finish on a winning note by outmuscling Mongolian ozeki Terunofuji (8-7).

No. 11 maegashira Ichinojo (11-4) finished with a flourish, the Mongolian giant getting a firm left-handed grip on Sadanoumi’s belt and marching the ninth-ranked grappler out to an eighth loss.

  • Stuart M.

    I don’t like the Henka move as much as the next sumo fan, but wrestlers who burst out of the tachiai with their eyes closed while expecting the Yokuzuna to just stand there and take the punishment really do deserve to have a Henka pulled on them. The next time out maybe they will keep their eyes open.

  • Roy Warner

    If the henka is disfavoured, let it be banned. Permitted techniques are permitted techniques. It may not be sporting for the top ranks to employ against their subordinates, but if a yokozuna can be fooled by a sophomoric dodge, well, his credentials as a yokozuna are called into question.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Frowned upon, but permitted. If the technique is allowed then it can be used. No one seemed to complain when this sidestepping technique was continually used on Konishki years ago when he was so heavy that he couldn’t stop himself from cruising out of the ring.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Frowned upon, but permitted. If the technique is allowed then it can be used. No one seemed to complain when this sidestepping technique was continually used on Konishki years ago when he was so heavy that he couldn’t stop himself from cruising out of the ring.

  • Christopher Mulligan

    It was a valid move in the context of the fight, not an intentional henka
    as Hakuho stated. Haramafuji charged in so fast, it was just a natural reaction. The shame came from the reaction of the crowd and the nationalistic comment of Maenoumi.

  • Moriarty13

    Harumafuji does it all the time… quick sidestep. Hakuho may not look cool in the final bout, but he was dominating the basho. He won against kakuryo, Kise, Goeido, Kotoshogiku, Terunofuji, etc. without even sweat. I see the best Hakuho in months, powerful and dominating again and despite de semiHenka I’am glad to see him be “the boss” again.