Roughly 10 years ago, I noticed that virtually all sumo-related content that had been shared over the previous few months on my social media platforms was getting liked and commented on by someone with the profile picture of a young child, and a Mongolian name that I didn’t recognize.
Checking it out, I discovered that the account belonged to the mother of the child in question, and that, after having recently run into Hakuho at an airport, the family was on a something of a sumo buzz.
A decade later that same small child is now a 200-cm, 160-kg giant who has just won the jonokuchi division title.
Ariunaa Davaainj, who fights under the shikona Hokuseiho, has started his sumo career 9-0 and, at just 18 years old, could be the most promising rikishi in the sport.
It appears that chance encounter with Hakuho ended with the yokozuna suggesting the elementary schooler give sumo a go and then join his stable when he was old enough — and that’s exactly what Davaainj did.
Although born in Mongolia, Hokuseiho was raised in Hokkaido from the age of five and has Japanese nationality, which allowed him to join Miyagino stable despite it already having a rikishi of foreign origin (Hakuho).
While a random encounter with a rikishi may seem like an unusually serendipitous way of finding yourself in professional sumo, active wrestlers scouting new recruits isn’t all that unusual and in the old days, extending invitations to suitable looking young men was one of the more common ways of finding new recruits.
Veterans who may be thinking of branching out and opening up their own stable once they retire often kick-start the process by actively seeking out recruits as well. Generally, those men spend a few years in the original heya before moving to the new establishment with the man who recruited them.
Hakuho has long played his cards close to the chest, and no one knows for sure what the yokozuna’s post-retirement plans are, but splitting off from Miyagino beya seems unlikely.
The current stablemaster is just two years away from mandatory retirement and with no other candidates in a position to take over, Hakuho would be the natural successor.
Of course, given all that he has achieved to date, it’s almost unthinkable that Hakuho won’t become the fifth man in sumo history to be granted special one-generation elder status.
That rare honor would allow him to continue using his ring name post retirement and he could then either change the name of his current stable to Hakuho beya or open up a new one under the same name.
Taiho, Kitanoumi and Takanohana all ran stables under their ring name while Chiyonofuji declined the honor and instead took over the existing Kokonoe name and heya.
One-generation elder stock, as the name implies, cannot be passed on and so Hakuho beya, if it comes into existence, will cease to exist in 2050 at the very latest.
For a man who has time and again shown himself to be so cognizant of — and invested in — sumo history, it’s easy to imagine that Hakuho wants to leave a more lasting legacy.
Prior to the Mongolian’s ascendancy, debate over the greatest rikishi of all time generally centered on two men: the aforementioned Taiho, sumo’s first rock star, and Futabayama, the legendary holder of sumo’s record 69-bout winning streak.
Although that yokozuna pair have passed away, their names continue on in sumo.
Otake and Tokitsukaze stables are also known respectively as Taiho Dojo and Futabayama Sumo Dojo with those name signs taking prominence over the door of each building.
It’d be naive to imagine that for a man who has adapted his ring-entering ceremony over the years to honor various historical yokozuna, the idea of “Hakuho Dojo” persisting well into the next century hasn’t occurred to the Mongolian veteran.
Raising a multitude of great rikishi isn’t a prerequisite for such immortality either.
As a stablemaster, Futabayama produced a yokozuna and two ozeki, but none of Taiho’s apprentices made it past sekiwake.
Hakuho’s own record to date is mixed.
Former Nihon University wrestler Daikiho was scouted by the yokozuna but, apart from a cup of coffee in the top division, didn’t make a whole lot of noise in his seven-year career.
Crowd favorite Enho, another of Hakuho’s recruits, is a diminutive firebrand who never fails to excite, but a lack of size means he is unlikely to ever make it to the sport’s highest ranks.
With Hokuseiho, though, the yokozuna may just have stumbled upon someone worthy of taking up his mantle.
Of course getting carried away with early success in sumo’s lower reaches is never a good idea, as it isn’t until wrestlers reach the third-highest division (makushita) that any kind of proper evaluation can be made.
With that being said, however, in the two decades that I’ve been involved in sumo, I’ve never seen a young rikishi with the rare combination of size, power, fluidity and aptitude for the sport Hokuseiho displays.
Although just 18 he is like an adult among kids in training. His nonchalant overpowering of veterans and instant neutralizing of their attack at the faceoff is stunning. At 160 kg Hokuseiho is also relatively slender and could easily add another 20 kg without appearing overly heavy.
Hakuho is unquestionably the greatest rikishi of all time. If his latest recruit pans out, the yokozuna may also be on the way to becoming the greatest stablemaster ever.
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