When former ozeki Tochiazuma was presented with the Emperor’s Cup on Jan. 22, 2006, few in the sport could have predicted that Tochiazuma’s third and final championship victory would be the last to be awarded to a Japan-born rikishi for the next decade.
And Sumo Scribblings, in its first-ever column, a few weeks later on March 8 of that year was no different. Tochiazuma at the time was the only real serious domestic contender for yokozuna promotion.
True, the one-time pusher-thruster and belt-grappling powerhouses of Chiyotaikai and Kaio, respectively, were still chalking up decent scores from time to time, but both were past their best.
So too, hindsight now tells us, was Tochiazuma. In the end he failed to live up to expectations, finishing the March Haru Basho in Osaka that year with a 12-3 record. His final chance at promotion was gone, and following retirement for health reasons the following year, he has gone on to adopt the Tamanoi stable master’s name.
Scribblings can, however, in that same first column claim to have “spotted” and brought to the English reading public eye the living sumo legend that is now Hakuho.
Here’s a key part of that column: A rank down at sekiwake we find Mongolian Hakuho (and) whatever figures (he) does post come the (final day), he is one to watch long term. The 20-year-old, will make ozeki sooner rather than later and you’d not find many willing to stake their shirts on him not sitting alongside (then yokozuna) Asashoryu one day at the top of the pile.
For his efforts since being singled out as one to watch here in Scribblings back in March, 2006, Hakuho was recently listed in the famous Guinness Book thanks to the 35 tournament titles he has claimed to date.
True, I did go on record suggesting Hakuho should have considered calling it a day earlier this year, and do stand by that suggestion, particularly now in light of his 12-3 record in November’s Kyushu Basho and Harumafuji winning his seventh yusho leaving Hakuho with his first back-to-back tourneys without a top-flight win since mid-2012.
Come the 10th of next month when the action returns to the Kokugikan in Tokyo, the 31-year-old Harumafuji will be looking to come out firing on all cylinders to add to his career tally of seven Emperor’s Cups so far and also to win his own first ever back-to-back titles as a yokozuna.
One man who will not make an appearance will be Africa’s first-ever sekitori, Osunaarashi. The Egyptian has seen a string of medical issues plague his rise to the top with the latest needing a hospital stay post-Kyushu and thus ruling him out of the upcoming Hatsu Basho.
He will hopefully recover for the Haru Basho in Osaka in March, but with a body held together by increasing amounts of tape and bandages, who knows?
Mitakeumi, meanwhile, looks increasingly like Japan’s next “big thing” on the back of Kisenosato and Endo having squandered chance after chance at regaining a little local pride in the title race over the past few years.
The Dewanoumi Beya man is still learning his trade in the top division but has had a solid sumo upbringing through school and university. And at present, nobody in the ranks of local lads in the sport compares when it comes to the always exciting combination of raw talent, background and skill set of Mitakeumi.
After a decade of misery for Japanese rikishi, and with Mitakeumi still at maegashira 10 in just his second top-flight tournament, this might just be the one Japanese fans have waited so long for.
Much lower in the rankings, another foreign up-and-comer if the online hype is to be believed is Homarenishiki. Winner of an amateur tournament in the U.S., although he is himself Canadian, the 20-year old joined Nishikido Beya early last year and will find himself at a career high of sandanme 46 come opening day.
Unlike a number of other eventual foreign greats before him, however, the 196-cm Homarenishiki still looks terribly awkward and gangly on the dohyo, particularly when facing shorter opponents.
According to at least one source close to him, he has what it takes both mentally and physically, but making it to the top in sumo requires just that little bit extra.
Natural wrestling talent is crucial as is natural talent in any sport, but this seems to be lacking in Homarenishiki, which leads me to predict a career of mediocre up-and-down results in mid-lower makunouchi at worst, and perhaps a career similar to former Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu at best.
A second coming of a man like Hakuho, this is not.
Happy New Year to all!