Sumo | SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Hakuho stands shoulder to shoulder with sumo’s greatest

by Mark Buckton

Much has been made about Hakuho coming from behind in Fukuoka last week to claim his latest Emperor’s Cup. And rightly so.

Rounding off the 15 days of action with a convincing yorikiri win over fellow yokozuna Kakuryu to finish with a 14-1 record, in the process picking up his fourth consecutive title, far more important was the fact that this was his 32nd career yusho to date.

Equalling the great Taiho’s 32 that has stood almost unchallenged for over 40 years, the man of the moment was left visibly moved he realized the scale of what he had accomplished.

Only once in the past four decades has a wrestler come close to approaching the benchmark set by Taiho between 1959 and 1971, when Chiyonofuji wrapped a yokozuna career that spanned most of the ‘80s, finally coming to an end in 1991 with 31 top division titles to his name.

As such, Hakuho (coincidentally the name of the sumo era in which Taiho was himself the dominant force) is now in virgin territory. Never before in over two and a half centuries has a rikishi of any nationality faced such pressure.

Every bout in next year’s Hatsu Basho in January will be scrutinized endlessly as he attempts to make it five in a row, 33 overall. Tickets for the final weekend of action at the first tournament of 2015 will be snapped up in minutes when they go on sale on Dec. 6.

In the meantime most are looking at just how Hakuho — once a 15-year-old 62-kg boy from Mongolia whom no stable wanted when he first arrived and whom had a less-than-stellar start — has made it this far.

Some have retold stories of how a 3-cm growth spurt over the course of 2003, coupled with a weight increase of 34 kg in the same time frame, led in part to his first juryo division championship in early 2004, and later that year claiming his first jun-yusho runners-up position in the top flight.

Many have looked at his “breaking” the jinxed “shiranui” form of yokozuna ring-entering ceremony that for so long has condemned those adopting it to relatively short, unsuccessful careers at the top when compared to those selecting the unryu form.

Others too have discussed just how many yusho he will win prior to his retirement.

Few, however, have considered the fact that if he opts to retired after his 33rd win, he must leave the sport altogether. This is because under present Sumo Association rules only Japanese nationals are allowed to remain in sumo as oyakata following retirement.

Unfortunately, this does not look like a rule that is going to be reconsidered any time in the near future.

As a result, Hakuho, who has thus far refrained from any announcement on the issue of naturalizing as a Japanese, could potentially be out on his ear because of the color of his passport.

That’s right. Sumo’s biggest crowd-puller will be gone. Imagine world soccer minus David Beckham, or tennis without Roger Federer.

The Sumo Association might want to take time to think about that.