Sumo | Rikishi Files

Asashoryu electrified sport with unorthodox style

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Hakuho may be the greatest rikishi of all time, but for many fans he has never come close to his immediate predecessor in terms of excitement.

Yokozuna Asashoryu dominated sumo in a Hakuho-like manner during the mid-2000s, but in terms of sumo style and personality they could not be more different.

Hakuho is an almost serene technician with a larger frame who can win every way imaginable, whereas Asashoryu was the human embodiment of “Looney Tunes” mainstay Taz — a compact bundle of power speed and rage tearing his way through whatever stood in his path.

Asashoryu’s intimidation factor was so strong in 2004 and 2005 that most opponents were beaten before they even set foot in the ring. On the rare occasion when he did lose, Asashoryu would make sure to put the upstart in their place by visiting their stable and putting them through hellish training prior to the following tournament.

Asashoryu was fire and aggression in the ring but he was also fantastically skilled, able to switch attacks and techniques at a speed few could keep up with.

His unorthodox sumo was something that rikishi who had grown up in the Japanese system found almost impossible to handle. Kotomitsuki, an excellent title-winning wrestler who made ozeki, lost 28 straight bouts to Asashoryu between 2002 and 2008, each one in a different way that the last.

Asashoryu’s career overlapped with that of Hakuho and their battles were some of the greatest bouts sumo has seen in the past half century or more. Four times they met in a playoff for the title and it’s telling that Hakuho’s only victory came through a henka (sidestep) and slapdown.

Asashoryu’s fiery temperament was his undoing, and he was forced into retirement soon after winning his 25th title.