Yokozuna Harumafuji pulled out the howitzer for Brazilian big boy Kaisei on Saturday to retain his undefeated record on the seventh day of action at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
Harumafuji improved to 7-0 as the sole leader with yokozuna rival Hakuho stalking in a trio, including rank-and-filers Takarafuji and Tochinowaka, one behind at 6-1 as the first week of sumo’s first major tournament of the year wrapped up to a full house at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
But the second week will get started on a sorrowful note Sunday after legendary former yokozuna Taiho, largely regarded as the greatest sumo wrestler of the post-war era, died the same day at a Tokyo hospital at the age of 72.
Coming off a 9-6 embarrassment in his yokozuna debut at the Kyushu Basho in November, Harumafuji is in the process of taming critics who pilloried him for seemingly not having what it takes to remain at the top of sumo’s ladder.
In the penultimate bout, Harumafuji sprung at the tachiai, sending Kaisei (4-3) into full retreat with a throat grab before getting a left hand on the mawashi and circling around to send the No. 3 maegashira out from the rear and maintain his clean slate.
“The flow of my sumo was good today,” said Harumafuji. “I am doing my best to keep my winning streak going.” Asked if he had heard the news of Taiho’s passing, Hakuho said, “Really? Wow I’m in shock. . . . He was a great hero in sumo.”
Hakuho, who is gunning for back-to-back titles and his 24th career championship as the senior yokozuna, tarred and feathered Toyohibiki in the day’s finale.
Toyohibiki, who is still winless, moved the yokozuna back momentarily, but it was only for show as Hakuho quickly flipped the switch and tossed his opponent down with a powerful left-handed overarm throw. The yokozuna later said it was hard to keep his mind on the match after Taiho, who was like his father in sumo, died.
“I heard before the match and I was having trouble focusing, but I knew I couldn’t perform shabbily today because of that,” said Hakuho, who said he had met with Taiho at the latter’s home just two days before and had promised to cook him a Mongolian dish in the near future.
“He told me to do my best to aim for his record of 32 championships one title at a time. ‘Destiny’ was the word he always told me to remember.”
Kotoshogiku was the only victim at sumo’s second highest rank of ozeki.
Kakuryu (5-2) outflanked Mongolian countryman Kyokutenho (1-6), getting his left hand on the front of the mawashi and his right on the outside, circling around his opponent before dropping him with twisting backward knee trip.
Kisenosato (5-2) had little trouble with Goeido (4-3), swatting the sekiwake forward to his hands almost immediately at the initial charge
Kotoshogiku (4-3) thought he had victory in his grasp against newly promoted komusubi Shohozan (2-5), barging him to edge only for his opponent to launch a counterattack.
Sumo’s torso-grinding specialist was hoisted upon his own petard, when he tried an ill-advised leg pulling throw and was tossed down with an armlock throw.
Bulgarian Kotooshu (4-3) made short work of the roly-poly Gagamaru (2-5), sending his opponent sprawling to the dohyo surface right out of the crouch with a pulling underarm throw.
Baruto, who needs 10 wins for an ozeki redux, steamrolled Tochiozan (3-4) in a lopsided affair, blasting his opponent back and over the ridge with a flurry of beefy thrusts.
The Estonian giant is still wincing with a heavily taped left knee and it is up in the air whether he can win six of his remaining eight bouts to regain promotion for the March Basho.