Harumafuji conquered rival yokozuna Hakuho, putting an exclamation point on his first title at sumo’s highest rank on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
For a man whose critics had begun singing a Harumafuji requiem after his famous meltdown on his yokozuna debut at the Kyushu basho in November, it was redemption of the highest order. Having clinched the championship with a day to spare on Saturday, he finished 15-0 in his third tournament in four meets.
What the Mongolian firebrand proved more than anything else is even great champions at times have clay feet, and perhaps the members of the Japan Sumo Association’s Yokozuna Deliberation Council were too quick to judge a man they themselves had recommended for sumo’s highest rank.
“I used that to motivate me in this tournament. I thought about it in a positive way,” said Harumafuji, referring to the indictment from the yokozuna advisory council, which called on him to win at least 10 bouts or consider calling it quits after losing his final five bouts in Kyushu and ending at 9-6.
“This is not a rank that just anyone can reach, and I know I have to fight to keep it.”
Harumafuji gave a sell-out crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan all they hoped for and more in a mouthwatering finale, where he was once again lightning quick off the tachi-ai, getting both hands on the back of his opponent’s mawashi before moving in for the kill with a sure-fire frontal force-out maneuver.
He surpassed his stablemaster Isegahama with his fifth career title. “I’ve been able to repay my debt of gratitude. Even though I clinched the title yesterday, I was focused for today’s match.”
Hakuho, who was denied back-to-back titles and his 24th career Emperor’s Cup, ended his first campaign of the New Year with a 12-3 record — mediocre by his high standards. He also lost to rank-and-filer Myogiryu on the third day and ozeki Kotooshu on the 12th.
“I have no words to speak of today. Today’s result speaks for itself,” said Hakuho, who uncharacteristically allowed Harumafuji inside for a grip on his mawashi immediately after the initial charge. “I haven’t been able to win a Tokyo meet in awhile. Recently, I’ve only been winning titles in the outer regions. I don’t want to become known for not being able to win in Tokyo,” said Hakuho, whose last title in the Japanese capital came at the 2011 autumn basho.
Facing the possibility of make-koshi, or a losing record, Kotoshogiku rose to the occasion against Kakuryu, getting his left hand outside for a firm belt grip before marching his ozeki rival over the straw bales to leave both men at 8-7.
Bulgarian Kotooshu (10-5) dispensed with Kisenosato (10-5), who momentarily appeared to grab the advantage when he got his right hand outside to gain leverage, only for the rival ozeki to slip out and toss him to the dirt with an overarm throw.
Ringside judges ordered a rematch between Estonian sekiwake Baruto and Ikioi (8-7) when the first bout was too close to call.
Baruto, who is still suffering from an injured left knee, got the better of his opponent with his second helping when he crushed the No. 5 maegashira down from the side, giving him a majority of wins, but two fewer than the 10 he needed to regain his ozeki status for the spring basho in March.
Sekiwake Goeido just passed the grade with a winning record.
After getting his right hand on the outside of Georgian Tochinoshin’s (9-6) mawashi for a hidari-yotsu, Goeido needed all his strength to heave out his opponent, who kicked his left foot once in defiance and tried an “utchari” reversal to no avail.
Takayasu (12-3), a No. 7 maegashira who was one of two men along with Hakuho in the title race until the penultimate day, was yanked forward to the dohyo surface by komusubi Tochiozan (8-7) but still won his first Fighting Spirit Prize.
“I wanted to win my last bout,” said Takayasu. “There is still a lot of room for improvements. I appreciate that overall my sumo was recognized to win this award.”
Komusubi Shohozan came guns blazing against Kyokutenho (4-11) to finish his campaign in his komusubi debut with a win, but will most definitely make a drop in the ranks after ending with a 4-11 record.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5