Just over a year ago when Hakuho wrapped up the Osaka tournament with yet another perfect 15-0 record, I wrote that he was continuing to cement his status as the greatest of all time and solidify his place on sumo’s Mount Rushmore alongside Raiden, Futabayama and Taiho.
While arguments against Hakuho being the G.O.A.T. increasingly diminish, who should join him on that fictional monument is definitely open to debate and I’m not even sure that I agree with my own stated opinion from 12 months ago.
Futabayama still has to be there, not only because of his records, but also what his presence meant to the general public during World War II.
No one these days needs reminding of the distraction and hope that sports can provide in times of crisis. Futabayama was a glimmer of light during one of this country’s darkest periods.
The fact he went unbeaten for three full years in a sport where the slightest slip in concentration can be fatal remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of athletic competition.
After retirement it was also revealed the yokozuna’s legendary accomplishments came despite him being blind in one eye.
If Hakuho and Futabayama are locks, then who should occupy the remaining two slots is far less clear.
The two other men I mentioned last year have strong cases for inclusion.
Raiden’s win rate is untouchable. In two decades in the ring he lost a fight about once every two years on average, and that was with several moves being off limits to him alone (in an effort to level the playing field).
Of course, between 1790 and 1811 sumo didn’t have the same kind of widely-cast net in terms of participants, and Raiden was a virtual giant when compared to most of his contemporaries. There were no individual championships awarded in those days, and just two tournaments a year, but if you extrapolate the numbers and place them in a modern-day context, Raiden would have won 84 Emperor’s Cups. That’s almost double the figure that Hakuho stands on currently.
Taiho’s popularity had an almost Beatlemania-like aspect. His 32 championships were thought by many to be an untouchable record before Hakuho came along. As with Futabayama, success didn’t dull his popularity, and despite most tournaments being forgone conclusions during his active days, the public’s appetite for sumo remained strong.
There are a few other rikishi worthy of consideration for sumo’s Mount Rushmore.
Tanikaze, who was active in the latter part of the 1700s, remains in second place on the all-time consecutive win list with 63, after holding the record for over 150 years. More incredibly, though, was the fact he lost just one bout between October 1777 and February 1786. Going almost an entire decade with a single defeat against 108 wins could well be the most impressive sumo feat of all time and is something that will never be repeated.
Tanikaze, along with Onogawa, was the first wrestler ever granted a yokozuna license while active and allowed to perform a special ring entering ceremony. He is one of the most significant rikishi in the history of sumo for what he achieved both inside and outside the ring.
Chiyonofuji of course is the only man, alongside Hakuho and Taiho, to have lifted the Emperor’s Cup on at least 30 occasions. The Hokkaido man’s ripped physique, good looks and aggressive fighting style made him a fan favorite in the 1980s and he remains one of the best known rikishi among the general public. His place on the all-time greats list, though, is often disputed, because of the many rumors that swirled around him both as an active rikishi and a stablemaster. Despite his numbers in the ring, the fact that he never was a serious candidate for sumo chairman, and the low-key way in which his career is often discussed is significant.
Umegatani, Tachiyama, Wakanohana and Kitanoumi are also great rikishi whose inclusion would be worthy of debate, but it’s unlikely any of them would displace the men mentioned above.
Time is normally needed to properly evaluate a rikishi’s career in historical terms, but Hakuho isn’t the only wrestler active in recent times that will be talked about for decades to come.
Asashoryu’s accomplishments have been somewhat overshadowed by Hakuho but in the early years of the 21st century the first ever Mongolian yokozuna was utterly dominant. He was so fearsome and intimidating that in 2004 and 2005 most of his fights seemed to be already decided before the action commenced.
Asashoryu was the bad boy of sumo, but in retrospect most of his indiscretions seem blown out of proportion. Regardless of whether you loved or hated him, there was no denying the arena crackled with energy and excitement every time the Ulaanbaatar native set foot in the ring.
Ozeki Kaio may not have the gaudy numbers or win rate of most of the men previously mentioned, but the longest serving ozeki of all time did lift the Emperor’s Cup on five occasions and retired with the most wins in sumo history. Staying at sumo’s second highest rank for 11 years was a remarkable achievement.
As with any subjective exercise of this nature, more people will disagree than agree with the conclusions. Nevertheless, it’s fun to speculate, and in the absence of any real sumo, as good an activity as any.
If you have a different foursome, by all means let us know in the comments below.