Sumo | SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Hakuho out for No. 35, Henderson out just to survive

by Mark Buckton

When the 2015 Summer Grand Sumo Tournament gets under way on May 10 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, for the first time in just over three years, Hakuho’s dominance over fellow yokozuna Harumafuji and Kakuryu will not be the hot topic on the lips of sumo fans the world over.

Neither will the greatest yokozuna in the history of the sport gunning for Emperor’s Cup No. 35.

Ichinojo’s continued quest to establish himself in sanyaku and prove a viable rival to ozeki-hopeful Terunofuji, as he has claimed to be, might take up a few column inches.

Terunofuji’s bid to make it to the sport’s second rank — a certainty should he win 14 following his 13-2 jun-yusho in Osaka as a sekiwake — will draw some attention as long as he stays unbeaten.

Endo, as the handsome poster boy of the local fans, will continue and again he will be written up as the next Japanese hope if he can come back from his latest injury.

But, for many sumo watchers, the man of the moment in professional sumo is an individual yet to even appear in a competitive match.

Brodik Henderson is his name, and since his arrival at Nishikido Beya earlier this year, his life has continued to be one big media circus according to those close to the man himself.

Training reports are mixed, with some mentioning routine minor injuries, others broken bones, and yet more that Henderson is steam rolling the opposition he faces at the stable run by former sekiwake Mitoizumi.

However he is faring though, whatever injuries he has suffered thus far, come early in the first week of the summer basho, the 200-cm, 160-kg Canadian will face off in his first ever bout atop the Kokugikan dohyo.

As a maezumo rikishi, however, he is still unranked and is not listed on the official banzuke. That honor will come just ahead of the July tournament in Nagoya, if he opts to remain in the sport.

And the question about ‘if’ is not as odd as it sounds.

Many non-Japanese with a European background have come and gone in the last few decades of the sport’s 258 years as an established and ordered entity. Comparatively few of those arriving to the fanfare seen upon Henderson’s arrival have made a mark.

Nathan Strange, an Englishman who joined Azumazeki Beya in late 1989 amidst much publicity in both Japan and his native London, fought under the name of Hidenokuni and lasted just two tourneys comes to mind. So does Ott Juurikas. Known as Kitaoji in sumo, he arrived in Japan with the now-retired ozeki Baruto in 2004, made the headlines almost daily, but was back home in Estonia before the ink in his passport was dry.

Another Canadian, John Tenta, 30 years ago started well with a flurry of wins and lower-level championships, then upped and shipped out to professional wrestling. As with Strange and Juurikas, the sumo lifestyle had proven too much.

By comparison, the huge success enjoyed by Hawaiian rikishi, of course the Mongolians, and others has come on the back of their knuckling down, not being noticed, and working their way through the ranks without attempting to draw too much attention to themselves.

This is how Hakuho rose to where he is today, how so many others from overseas have made a name for themselves in the sport, and how they have earned the respect of fans around the world.

Henderson’s passion for all things Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. is worrying in this regard but at least one source indicates this is now being curtailed.

Hopefully then, come his first bout, the youngster will be aware of the way he is expected to behave in the professional game, and we won’t see a repeat of the gesticulating he opted for after the win in an amateur tournament that brought him to the attention of those linked to Nishikido.

Hopefully he is already starting to learn that sumo is just as much about the mental game as it is about the physical.

And hopefully one day he can make it all the way to the top, to become sumo’s first yokozuna from a European background, albeit by way of Canada!