In years to come, the 2014 Aki Basho will most likely be remembered as the tournament in which makunouchi’s Mongolian new boy Ichinojo made arguably the biggest splash in a top flight debut in living memory.
On his way to an incredible 13-2 finish – second only to eventual champion Hakuho come Day 15 – the son of a nomadic couple downed two ozeki (Kisenosato and Goeido) and one yokozuna (Kakuryu). This feat earned him on a well deserved Fighting Spirit prize to go along with an equally impressive Outstanding Performance trophy.
Few doubt they will be his last.
Regardless of when and how he wins further such accolades, one thing that is assured now is a huge boost in the rankings from the maegashira 10 rank held in September.
How he fares when at the lofty heights of upper makunouchi less than a year after joining the sport is another issue altogether.
But having seen him develop from day one of his professional career, I’m willing to stick my neck out and predict that the 199-kg, 192-cm giant Ichinojo is in line to become the sport’s next yokozuna.
Hakuho (14-1 overall) probably enjoyed the spotlight being aimed at someone else for a change so he could focus on what he does best: win championships.
Throughout the 15 days Hakuho displayed a level of sumo some fans may view as “boring.” Those with more experience, however would probably view the sumo performed by the yokozuna as “unequalled.” So much so that come sun-up on the final day, the greatest ever non-Japanese yokozuna was just one win away from equalling the 31 yusho record of Japan’s own second greatest ever – the legendary Wolf – Chiyonofuji.
By sun-down that same day, having beaten fellow yokozuna Kakuryu, Hakuho was now equal to the Wolf.
As such, he is now just one championship shy of the greatest ever, sumo’s 48th yokozuna, Taiho.
Winner of 32 Emperor’s Cups over the course of his career, Taiho has for decades been the yardstick against which all other “greats” have been measured. To date all have fallen short.
Should Hakuho equal the 32-yusho record in Fukuoka during the November Kyushu Basho, Japan’s 257 year old sport could potentially have a new record come late January.
The biggest question in sumo now is not if, but when.