Sumo | SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Kakuryu leaves questions unanswered after Autumn Basho triumph

by Mark Buckton

In recent years, the Sumo Association has bent over backward looking to put bums on seats at the six tournaments held annually.

In large part it has succeeded, particularly so in Tokyo, with the past few tournaments seeing more full-house announcements than at any other time in recent memory.

Yet, as happy as the vast majority of fans are with the varied seating options, the huge array of hot and cold food on offer, and off-the-dohyo entertainment options in and around the stadium, all it takes is one gaffe on the part of a current rikishi to break the public trust that has so diligently been rebuilt.

And, unwittingly, Osunaarashi may be that man — albeit unintentionally — should his stadium-entering ‘ritual’ one day cause a bystander injury.

On several occasions at the Autumn Basho in Ryogoku, a number of fans were seen openly grumbling at the up-and-coming 23-year-old from Otake Beya as he made his way into the stadium proper.

Clutching a handful of salt as he makes his way from the street entrance all but the very top wrestlers use, the Egyptian routinely throws it to the floor as he makes his way through fans taking photos in the outer corridors of the stadium.

Part and parcel of the pre-bout ritual on the dohyo to ‘purify’ the ring, the use of salt on well-polished floors was hardly the most sensible thing to be doing, according to several unimpressed onlookers.

No slips have been reported to date, and hopefully never will be.

Moving away from the corridors of the Kokugikan to where the majority of slips should be taking place, the 2015 Autumn Basho was a mixed bag of thrills, spills and disappointment.

Yokozuna Hakuho dropped out after a Day 2 defeat to Yoshikaze. He had also lost the opener to Okinoumi. Citing injury, the man with 35 titles to his name joined fellow yokozuna, and fellow Mongolian, Harumafuji on the sidelines to the dismay of many longing to see the ‘best ever.’

Local lad Endo — always a crowd favorite, and seen on numerous advertising posters around the stadium — again blew hot and cold, finishing with an eventual 8-7 winning record, but failing to impress as much as he did earlier in his career.

The man dubbed Endo’s rival by many — Ichinojo — went one better with a 9-6 record. Along the way he lost primarily to those ranked above him in many close battles that will serve as the experience required to help shape his own sumo on his way to at least the ozeki rank in the next year or two.

As for the sole yokozuna left in the basho, Kakuryu, a Day 14 display of sumo that only served to rankle fans missing Hakuho and Harumafuji saw the Mongolian resort to an extremely un-yokozuna like henka sidestep against ozeki Kisenosato.

With the initial tachiai deemed to have taken place too soon, the pair were ordered to go again. After his first henka attempt, Kakuryu once more stepped to the side the second time round.

Kisenosato recovered to the delight of the fans, but more twisting and backpedaling by Kakuryu at the edge saw him go into the final day with a one-win advantage over Terunofuji — his only rival for the trophy by that point.

The fans in attendance made their displeasure known by offering little in the way of applause.

Unfortunately for Terunofuji, after setting a blistering pace early on with 11 straight wins, he had suffered a string of three defeats late in week two to allow Kakuryu to pull ahead.

Only a win for the ozeki on the final day of the tournament against Kakuryu in regulation would offer Terunofuji a second chance at an Emperor’s Cup trophy.

But that would only come if he could beat the yokozuna again, in a playoff.

And he nearly did.

In their regulation bout, to his credit, the 30-year-old Kakuryu opted to go head to head with his subordinate, and in doing so he was easily pushed back and beaten.

The scores were now level at 12-3 apiece. The fans would be treated to a playoff.

Likely because of the sumo displayed by Kakuryu a day earlier, the fans were, however, en-masse behind the 23-year-old Terunofuji.

And, as a yokozuna-in-the-making should, in their playoff, Terunofuji went full-on at Kakuryu looking to force his opponent backward.

Kakuryu meanwhile, on the brink of his first title as yokozuna, initially looked to be up to the challenge but soon reverted to recent form, moving backward and to the side, pulling Terunofuji to the floor in the process.

He was later quoted as being “relieved” at winning his first title at the rank, perhaps in the process silencing some of those who thought his promotion to yokozuna was premature without the usual back-to-back title requirement in recent years.

Sumo’s 71st yokozuna still has a long way to go to prove himself a man worthy of his promotion to the sport’s ultimate rank.

Note: Tickets for the next tournament in Fukuoka (Nov. 8-22) go on sale on Saturday at Ryogoku Kokugikan. Check www.sumo.or.jp for details in English and Japanese.