Hakuho showing no signs of letting up

by Mark Buckton

When Hakuho won his 33rd Emperor’s Cup in January, he was widely acknowledged as the greatest ever grand champion in the history of the sport.

At the time, he moved past Taiho into first place on the all time leaders, in the process equalling the former great in achieving the most career tournaments with at least 10 wins (57), before a day later once more pulling level with Taiho’s career tally for at least 11 wins (55) during a basho.

Laurels aplenty have since been heaped on the shoulders of this living legend of modern-sumo.

Notwithstanding a minor verbal gaffe following the outcome of one of his own January bouts, there has been absolutely no sign of the 30-year-old letting up, as was so widely predicted in sumo circles.

As such, while Osaka’s Haru Basho will always be remembered as the tournament at which Hak won his 34th top division title, he also notched up a further trio of numerical records.

In both the aforementioned 10- and 11-win career tourneys he moved past Taiho into virgin territory, with 58 and 56 respectively.

As an added bonus he also had his 49th consecutive double-digit outing.

Meanwhile, the Mongolian yokozuna duo of Harumafuji and Kakuryu had a far-from-pleasant Osaka experience.

Harumafuji had yet another lackluster outing, ending with a 10-5 record, the bare minimum expected of a man of his rank. Losses to Ichinojo, Tochinoshin and Toyonoshima in the first nine days coupled to defeats to ozeki Kotoshogiku and Hakuho in the final two days of action put pay to any chance at his first yusho since late 2013.

Numerically Kakuryu, the 71st man in two and a half centuries to be promoted to the rank, fared even worse, recording a 0-1-14 record after failing to appear on the opening day.

Since promotion following last year’s Osaka tournament, sumo’s 71st grand champion has not once looked like winning a tournament, giving rise to talk of whether it was a mistake to promote him after just one championship win.

Happily, and as is so often the case in sumo when those of whom so much is expected fail to perform, someone else steps in to give Hakuho a run for his money – at least on paper.

In Osaka that man was new sekiwake Terunofuji. Hardly scoring a mention in the national media for the first three-and-a-half years of his sumo career, the last 18 months have seen sumo’s latest Mongolian star rise fast.

A juryo division championship in September 2013, has been followed by just one losing record in eight outings.

In Osaka he finished with a hugely impressive 13-2, in the process handing Hakuho his only loss of the tournament, and claiming the runner-up slot, just one win behind the greatest ever.

For his troubles, and for claiming one yokozuna and two ozeki scalps along the way, he was awarded the Outstanding Performance prize as well as the Fighting Spirit trophy.

Anyone willing to wager on Terunofuji becoming sumo’s 72nd yokozuna, and Mongolia’s fifth?