The eyes of a nation will be on yokozuna Hakuho when he walks out for his bout on Sunday at Ryogoku’s Kokugikan Stadium.
Never before in the history of a sport documented since 1757 has an individual of any rank been on the verge of winning 33 career championships.
Never before has any wrestler – Japanese or otherwise – faced such media pressure as Hakuho faces at the moment.
Non-Japanese fans are just as excited about Hakuho’s chances of making history as those born and brought up with sumo a familiar site on TV and in the media.
There have been side effects to the limelight being trained on Hakuho’s preparations for his 65th top-flight tournament.
For one, the fanfare that has so surrounded sumo’s first-ever Egyptian sekitori, Osunaarashi, has all but vanished and should give the man floundering at maegashira 13 a chance to bounce back.
Mongolian up-and-comer Ichinojo, a far more realistic long-term contender to one day perhaps replace Hakuho, is already a sekiwake after just two top-flight tournaments. He too will welcome the respite from being front and center.
Even Endo — darling of the domestic media throughout much of 2014 — has vanished from the back pages, albeit temporarily.
Indeed, so big a story is Hakuho’s quest to take the crown worn for over four decades by the much-loved Taiho that only once in the past decade has one man attracted so much media coverage.
And the last time it happened was for all the wrong reasons, when former yokozuna Asashoryu returned to Japan in disgrace after being photographed playing soccer while supposedly injured and was followed from the airport by five helicopters on his way to a press conference at the Kokugikan. (According to newsmen covering the 1964 arrival of The Beatles in Japan, the Fab Four were only followed by four helicopters!)
Apologizing on live TV, Asashoryu got on with his career but things were never the same again and just two years later he retired, again under another black cloud.
Should Hakuho win his fifth consecutive championship come the 25th, his 33rd overall, the man who initially struggled to be taken into a sumo stable will, of course, be making history.
Not since Taiho, now deceased, won his 32nd bout a generation ago in January 1971 have fans been faced with the possibility of a new ‘greatest ever.
And looking at the current crop of wrestlers, the chances of another Taiho or Hakuho appearing on the horizon any time soon are negligible.
Whether or not Hakuho will claim his rightful title of ‘greatest ever’ this time out, at ‘home’ in Tokyo’s Kokugikan, is up to the man himself.
But were gambling on sumo legal, I’d put my mortgage on it.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5