The time has come for yokozuna Hakuho to look in the mirror, recognize the person looking back at him as head and shoulders above all others the greatest sumo wrestler that has ever lived, but to then accept that it is now time to retire, to call it a day.
Or as fans of sumo like to phrase it “to hang up his mawashi.”
Back in late July last year, just after Hakuho had won his 35th Emperor’s Cup, having seen the signs of what was to come back then, I wrote this: “(Hakuho) should already be thinking of the perfect time to go.
“If for nothing more than being able to say in the future that he finished at the top of his game, to leave the fans wondering ‘what if’ should another man ever come close to his record, it’s time for the best ever to hang up his mawashi” before ending my post-basho piece with “He is just too good to fade away.”
Presumably, Hakuho missed that column.
Eight months and four tournaments later, however, having just emerged from his worst run as a yokozuna — no trophy since that July basho in Nagoya and pulling out of the September tournament after just two days — even the most ardent of Hakuho’s supporters must have noticed the writing on the wall.
True, it was Hakuho awarded the Emperor’s Cup on Day 15 of the Haru Basho in Osaka on Sunday. True, that makes 36 career yusho to date. And true, he could probably go on for a couple of years if he really wanted to.
But all good things come to an end. And Hakuho’s star is already on the wane.
Oft-repeated claims that he has expressed a desire to be active when the 2020 Summer Olympics roll into Tokyo now are just silly.
Fan discussions of a possible 50 yusho record before calling it a day are unrealistic.
And after the tears Hakuho shed on Sunday following a less than honorable henka sidestep in the final bout of the tournament against Harumafuji, I have a sneaky feeling he knows it is time to plan his exit.
And that exit should come sooner, rather than later regardless of pressures he faces to stay in the sport.
For the best part of a decade Hakuho has been sumo’s golden goose even without a Japan-born yokozuna promoted in almost 20 years, and only one Japan-born yusho victory in the past decade; albeit one now largely forgotten with Kotoshogiku’s predicted 8-7 finish in Osaka and tsuna run in tatters.
So, presuming Hakuho missed last July’s column as he hung around, largely as an also-ran in three of four tournaments since, here’s hoping he reads the following.
Yokozuna, you are the best there has ever been on a dohyo.
That fact is undeniable.
But you are now 31 years of age. And for 15 of those years your body has taken a beating in one of the hardest and most physical sports on the planet.
Time and Mother Nature are both catching up with you.
So too are those around you at the pointy end of the makunouchi division.
It is time to pass on the baton, to let others carry the sport you have led so admirably as a yokozuna since your promotion in the sport’s darkest of days in 2007.
At it’s lowest ebb, following the hazing death of Tokitaizan and former yokozuna Asashoryu feigning injury the only yokozuna worth his salt in both performances on the dohyo and behavior off it was yourself.
True, you are still the best there is in a mawashi.
And that is how you should be remembered.
Not as a man who resorts to a final day henka against a fellow yokozuna, on his way to yusho No. 36.
Go now and you go in true Japanese fashion, falling on your sword for that Day 15 performance so unworthy of your name.
Go now, and the name Hakuho Sho will be remembered for all the right reasons for as long as sumo exists.
As I said back in July last year, (Hakuho Sho) “is just too good to fade away.”
Your time has come, yokozuna.
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