Yokozuna Harumafuji announced his intention to retire at a press conference on Wednesday.
The decision is the result of a scandal involving the violent beating of a junior wrestler, and now means the careers of the last two yokozuna to retire end under a cloud.
The resignation was inevitable once Tottori prefectural police had indicated that they would send papers to prosecutors in the wake of stablemaster Takanohana’s filing of a report with them.
Regardless of the outcome of any court case, and even if the yokozuna escaped serious legal punishment, his career was over. No one, not even Harumafuji himself, denied that he attacked and struck maegashira Takanoiwa several times in a drunken rage. That fact alone, regardless of whether the blows were with a remote control, beer bottle, fist or ashtray, was enough to warrant dismissal.
The Yokozuna Deliberation Council (YDC) had called for an ‘extremely harsh punishment,’ which is about as close as you can get to a retirement advisory without explicitly saying so.
It’s obvious the ongoing police investigation was the reason the body didn’t directly demand the yokozuna’s dismissal. Once that investigation was complete, however, the sumo association was likely to act upon the YDC’s recommendation.
Harumafuji must have seen the writing on the wall and decided to follow compatriot and fellow yokozuna Asashoryu in jumping before he was pushed.
He will still have to deal with the legal fallout over the assault and could face serious repercussions there.
That will partly depend on the contents of the statement Takanoiwa made when interviewed by police. We still have no idea what he said as his stablemaster, Takanohana, has kept the veteran out of sight and even refused to allow the sumo association’s own crisis management panel to interview him.
It’s unclear if Harumafuji’s retirement will sate Takanohana’s stated desire to see justice done. The former yokozuna is now engaged in open conflict with the leadership of the sumo association and may turn his attention to the upcoming elections for the board of directors.
The timing of Harumafuji’s retirement means that he will not appear on the banzuke for the New Year Basho when it is released Dec. 26th
It’s an unfortunate ending for a yokozuna that was popular with the general public.
The scandal has also cast a shadow over fellow yokozuna Hakuho’s 40th title. An achievement that should have been widely feted has now been sidelined by both the ongoing events and the senior yokozuna’s own behavior. Hakuho’s refusal to mount the dohyo after a loss on Day 11 was bizarre by any standards.
All-conquering he may be inside the ring, but throwing that strop, and a ham-fisted attempt in his victory interview to get the Harumafuji incident brushed aside, only serve to illustrate how much of a novice Hakuho is outside it. The living legend also called for a celebratory three cheers when few people connected to sumo are in a banzai state of mind.
Despite Hakuho’s tone-deaf actions, it is at least partly understandable why he was in such a good mood. Forty Emperor’s Cups is a feat that stands alone in the arena of individual sport.
That someone could rule the roost so completely at the highest level for more than a decade is almost inconceivable. When Tiger Woods won 14 golf majors between 1997 and 2006, he was being celebrated as potentially being the greatest of all time. In the 2000s, Roger Federer won 15 tennis grand slam titles and phrases like ‘most dominant athlete of all time’ were being thrown around.
If either man had been winning at the same pace as Hakuho, they would have ended up with roughly 28 majors in the same span. That bears repeating. Hakuho has performed at a pace that is equivalent to a golfer or tennis professional winning three of the four major tournaments every year for ten years.
Hakuho’s wasn’t the only good performance in Fukuoka though. Making his sanyaku debut, Komusubi Onosho rebounded from a 1-6 start to win seven of his last eight fights and finish with a winning record. That follows up his unprecedented three straight 10-5 tournaments to begin his top division career.
Onosho continues to turn heads and, given that he is still just 21, it’s looking increasingly likely he will be one of the stars of the next decade.
Takakeisho, just one rank behind, had an even better 11-4 runner-up effort that earned him both the Outstanding Performance and Fighting Spirit awards. Takakeisho is also 21, and his rivalry with Onosho stretches back to when they were both just schoolkids.
A man twelve years their senior, and one who has had his own legal troubles with the sumo association, won the second division title. Sokokurai’s juryo win is his first division championship since May 2007, when he took the sandanme title on his way up the sumo ladder. The veteran from the Inner Mongolia region of China was kicked out of sumo over match-fixing but fought a two-year legal battle and was reinstated in 2013.
There was some speculation that Harumafuji might go down a similar route if dismissed prior to being found guilty in court, but being a grand champion is a whole different ball game and the yokozuna decided to fall on his sword rather than drag things out.