Unbeaten Hakuho in position to nab 15th career title

by and

Kyodo News

NAGOYA — Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho had to hold off his title celebrations at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Friday, despite handily beating Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu to match the third-longest winning streak in sumo history.

Hakuho, who is the only undefeated wrestler at 13-0, can claim his 15th career title outright with a win over countryman Harumafuji on Saturday, regardless of the result of Japanese-born challenger Homasho, who defeated sekiwake Kisenosato to keep his slim title hopes alive with an 11th win.

With his win over Kotooshu, Hakuho tied former yokozuna great Taiho’s 45-bout winning streak that ran from the second day of the 1968 autumn meet until the first day of the 1969 spring meet. Hakuho’s winning run began on the penultimate day of the New Year meet in January.

Futabayama (69) is first on the all-time list for the longest victory streak followed by Chiyonofuji (53) in second.

The only thing left for sumo’s lone yokozuna is to finish the 15-day meet with a perfect record, which would make him the only man since the introduction of the six-tournament system in 1958 to win three straight basho without a loss.

In the day’s final, Hakuho absorbed Kotooshu’s (9-4) charge and deftly moved from side to side as the ozeki did his best to throw him but the yokozuna was too savvy, deploying a left-handed overarm throw for the win at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.

In-form Homasho, a No. 13 maegashira, bulldozed Kisenosato (6-7) in lightning speed to stay two off the pace, while Mongolian Kakuryu charged out countryman Kyokutenho (6-7) in a fierce frontal takeout to improve to 10-3.

“I’ve experienced this (having to wait to clinch a victory) many times, so I’m not concerned (with what Homasho did),” said Hakuho.

Estonian Baruto (8-5) fell to his second loss in a row with a powerful armbar technique executed by fellow ozeki Harumafuji of Mongolia (9-4).

Hakuho has achieved his feat at a time when the ancient sport is in the midst of its biggest crisis ever, hit by a widespread gambling scandal and alleged ties to organized crime.

Since the retirement of compatriot and former yokozuna Asashoryu in February over allegations that he assaulted a man outside a Tokyo nightclub, a vacuum has been left in the elite makuuchi division with no serious challengers for Hakuho to face.

Sumo fans in the country have also been disappointed with the fact that there have been no Japanese-born wrestlers making headlines in recent years. The last Japanese yokozuna to grace the dohyo was Takanohana, who retired in January 2003.

Although several sponsors have dropped out due to the scandal and there will be no presentation of the coveted Emperor’s Cup or other awards, Niigata Prefecture has decided to give the winner of the tournament 600 kg of the region’s Koshihikari rice.

But the rice, typically the most expensive variety in all of Japan, will be presented backstage in the dressing room not in the customary “yusho” ceremony.

Musashigawa ill

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Acting Japan Sumo Association chief Hiroyoshi Murayama said Friday he will leave the governing body as scheduled on Sunday and stablemaster Dewanoumi will be in charge from Monday until Musashigawa recovers from poor health.

Musashigawa was suspended for the ongoing Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament after Miyabiyama, one of his proteges, was found to have gambled on baseball, allegedly a source of income for gangsters.