When he won his eighth Emperor’s Cup on Sunday afternoon, in the eyes of many, yokozuna Harumafuji also guaranteed that ozeki Kisenosato would forever remain in the sport’s second rank, never to win the coveted Emperor’s Cup.
Not so, say I — at least in as far as that bit about one day getting his hands on the silverware goes.
At age 30 now, and in the professional game since he was 15 when his two-year journey through the lower divisions saw him famously engaged in a rivalry with another up and comer of the same era — Bulgarian Kotooshu (a former ozeki, and current Naruto Oyakata) — the man from Ushiku City in Ibaraki Prefecture has for so many years carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.
As a result, with this latest ‘failing,’ some might say it is now time for him to rest up, to take his foot off the pedal, and to enjoy the rest of his time as one of the highest-ranked and most respected men in the sport’s top flight.
He is, however, and lack of actual silverware notwithstanding, still the most consistent and thus ‘best’ ozeki in living memory, having secured 11 runners-up spots to date along with one Technique Prize, three Fighting Spirit Prizes, and five Outstanding Performance Prizes.
Over the course of his career, he has beaten the men ranked above him as ‘yokozuna’ on 71 occasions.
And in winning 38 fights (13-2 / 13-2 / 12-3) over his past three tournaments, he is incredibly unlucky in being the first man to win so many without being promoted to the rank of yokozuna in over 20 years. In the same three basho period only Hakuho, the most successful yokozuna ever, with 39 wins has been as good or better.
So perhaps he does deserve a little ‘me-time’, imitating the likes of (ozeki pair) Kaio or Chiyotaikai 10 years ago in just doing enough to get by at rank, to survive from basho to basho to pick up a handsome pay check each month.
But resting up, taking it easy, and not giving every single outing 100 percent effort is not in Kisenosato’s DNA.
Hagiwara (his real name), as he was known for the first two and a half years of his career, is a Japanese rikishi without equal in at the last decade.
Ironically, in that time, while never quite having what it takes to win a tournament, he has seen fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku famously lift the trophy aloft once — after the January tournament earlier this year when ‘Giku’ broke a 10-year drought for home-grown wrestlers.
Kotoshogiku has in the tournaments since returned to form, struggling to replicate that once-in-a-lifetime basho for the man from Fukuoka, by winning just 19 fights in the three tourneys since.
Meanwhile, the man-machine that is Kisenosato never lets up.
The stats, with that pesky lack of actual silverware ignored for a moment, speak for themselves.
And it is this fire-in-the-belly attitude that will once day see him win a tournament. I promise!
When he does, no other man at the same rank will have ever put in so much effort to do so, and no man will deserve it quite as much.
Slightly lower down, meanwhile, another Ibaraki native, albeit a man with one foot in the Philippines by way of his mother, posted an impressive 11-4 final score at komusubi which included wins over the ozeki trio of Kotoshogiku, Goeido and Terunofuji as well as every other komusubi and sekiwake.
In doing so, Takayasu earned himself his first ever Technique Prize in what was his ‘third time lucky’ komusubi tourney.
His previous two outings at the same rank ended in makekoshi losing records.
Promotion to sekiwake will of course follow as will the opportunity for a shot at eventual ozeki promotion if he manages to stay in form in the 11- or 12-wins bracket over the next three tournaments.
The odds are, however, stacked heavily against this particular 26-year-old Tagonoura-beya man from Tsuchiura in Ibaraki, just up the road from Kisenosato, posting the numbers required to ever be compared to his elder and better — back-to-back double-digit tourneys having evaded Takayasu completely in his six years as a sekitori.
The question therefore is whether or not this Ibaraki native will prove me wrong? Somehow I doubt it.
Ibaraki belongs to Kisenosato.