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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
F2 is born -- you read it here first!
By MARK BUCKTON
Special to The Japan Times Online
F2! F2! F2! Rather a strange way to start an article on the recently completed Natsu Basho but as the dust continues to settle and as sumo fans around the world slowly adjust to life after the tournament, I for one believe the man with the Emperor's Cup now sat proudly on his sideboard is increasingly likely to be compared to one of the sport's most legendary of yokozuna from decades past.
The yokozuna in question is NOT however, the star of the 1960s, the now retired Taiho. A great, perhaps the greatest ever, but not the man I see reborn in Hakuho. The yokozuna of lore these eyes see walking down the hanamichi or preparing for battle atop the dohyo each time 'Munkhbat Davaajargal' performs is the 35th yokozuna -- Futabayama Sadaji (1912-1968) -- the 'F' in F2.
That Hakuho will one day sit atop a banzuke as a yokozuna is no longer in any doubt in the minds of many. That he will do so in similarly dominating fashion to Futabayama may well be debatable for some but I am going to jut out the jaw and straighten the neck. Let time be my judge.
Indeed, to many sat in the Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday afternoon, May 21st the realization that a little piece of history had been made probably dawned in the minutes or hours after the youngster from Mongolia went face to face with the current head of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, Rijicho and former dai-yokozuna himself, Kitanoumi, in order to collect his first Emperor's Cup; a scene we will be seeing more frequently in the years ahead.
As is though, not all is F2. Going into the basho most sumo fans were focusing either on the eventual winner or his fellow ozeki Tochiazuma, as the Tokyo native pushed forward in his bid for a top dog slot himself.
Winning just two of his first six bouts though something was clearly wrong and, come day seven, Tochiazuma's dream of becoming a yokozuna had stuttered, spluttered and stalled leaving him watching the action from his home in Adachi-ku.
Thereby joining yokozuna Asashoryu, a day 2 dropout due to an injury to his arm, with two such big names gone, the basho ran the risk of fizzling out before the end of the first week.
Luckily, other big names initially performed well with Kaio winning eight straight after a couple of early defeats and Chiyotaikai reaching the midway point undefeated. Age perhaps then played its trump card as neither performed anywhere near their first week best in the home stretch although 9-6 (Kaio) and 10-5 (Chiyotaikai) are reasonably respectable numbers at this stage in their careers.
Media darling Kotooshu struggled with a gammy leg throughout and only just secured his kachikoshi winning record on day 15 but could well be losing his 'favored foreigner from the west' title to the Estonian giant Baruto. A fantastic 11-4 record in his first makunouchi basho indeed bodes well for this young lad even if it could signal another delay in a Japanese rikishi making it to the top of the pile.
Slightly below Kotooshu in the top makunouchi division, sekiwake Miyabiyama, loser in a final day play-off to Hakuho, performed valiantly and has now gone 8-7(Jan), 10-5(March) and 14-1(May) in his last trio of outings. Fingers crossed then for the Ibaraki native as he tries to return to the rank of ozeki he vacated after the September 2001 tournament. He will probably need double figures again so....
A couple of divisions lower, Shimoda of Oitekaze Beya took the makushita title in impressive style in just his first tournament in the professional game with a 7-0 record even though much of the foreign attention at least was on the teenage Russian Wakanoho. The Magaki Beya man (boy?) will now be appearing on the outer edges of sekitori radar screens and will undoubtedly join fellow Russians Roho and Hakurozan in the top division before long. At his current pace, possibly before the year is out if the famed 'wall' fails to materialize.
Even further down, its time to look back and ask if you remember that young Japanese American lad (Daishoyu) I mentioned just before the basho? He went unbeaten in just his second full tournament to finish 7-0 and although he lost out in a jonidan division title play-off, he will receive a healthy promotion come June 26th and the release of the next banzuke. Keep watching as I think this kid is going places.