Yokozuna Hakuho picked up where he left off in Nagoya — with another classy win — as the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament got under way Sunday in the aftermath of a widespread betting scandal that has cast a sinister shadow over Japan’s national sport.
Hakuho, who has won the last three tournaments with flawless 15-0 records, settled after a nervy start in the day’s finale, putting fellow Mongolian Kakuryu to the sword with a routine shove at the edge of the ring to extend his astonishing winning streak to 48 bouts.
Hakuho, who is chasing his 16th Emperor’s Cup, is third on the all-time list for most consecutive victories. Another five straight wins will see him match the run of former yokozuna great Chiyonofuji.
On current form that achievement would appear to be little more than a formality and a fourth consecutive 15-0 basho would leave Hakuho just seven wins off legendary yokozuna Futabayama’s all-time leading streak of 69 wins.
The Japan Sumo Association is hoping more fireworks on the raised ring from Hakuho can help the sport put behind it a gangster-linked gambling racket that resulted in the dismissal of popular former ozeki Kotomitsuki and the suspension of a slew of wrestlers at the Nagoya basho in July.
Last week, stablemaster Sadogatake was demoted two ranks for failing to supervise Kotomitsuki and the JSA also meted out the same punishment to stablemaster Matsugane for accepting lodgings in Osaka for the spring tourney from a company president connected to gangsters.
Two wrestlers from the Matsugane stable who were found to have been involved in baseball gambling after the Nagoya basho — juryo division grappler Matsutani and sandanme class wrestler Wakarikido — were both hit with two-tournament suspensions.
Sandanme wrestler Furuichi and hairdresser Tokoike, who both offered to retire over their involvement in the gambling ring, were also dismissed. The 22 wrestlers who admitted to being involved in the latest scandal to tarnish sumo before the Nagoya meet got off the lightest with only official reprimands. Seventeen of them, including former ozeki Miyabiyama, were suspended for Nagoya basho, resulting in a huge drop in the “banzuke” rankings for this meet.
Live feeds returned to television screens Sunday after national broadcaster NHK canceled live coverage of the July meet in response to the scandal, which also robbed Hakuho of the chance to lift the Emperor’s Cup as the trophy was not awarded in Nagoya.
“Sumo has faced its biggest crisis since the foundation of the sport and I would like to offer my deepest apologies for all the trouble and worry it has caused everyone,” JSA chairman Hanaregoma said in an opening address to spectators at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
“We have been able to hold the tournament as normal here thanks to the cooperation and understanding of everyone associated with sumo. This is a relief,” he told an earlier press conference.
In other bouts at the top, ozeki Kaio, who had to pull out midway through the Nagoya meet due to an injured left shoulder, slapped down second-ranked Homasho to get the first of the eight wins he needs to keep his rank. Kaio is battling demotion for the 13th time in his career.
Estonian ozeki Baruto needed to do little more than flex his muscles to see off veteran Wakanosato while Bulgarian bruiser Kotooshu dodged a bullet to yank down top-ranked Tokitenku in the following bout.
Harumafuji made it a clean sweep for the ozeki crew, the Mongolian sending underachieving komusubi Kisenosato to the sandy surface with a well-placed pulling underarm throw.
Georgian No.2 maegashira Tochinoshin sentenced Russian grappler Aran to defeat on his sekiwake debut, completing a miserable opening day for sumo’s third rank after Tochiozan was bumped over the edge by third-ranked Kotoshogiku.