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Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010


Hakuho: the greatest of the modern era?

Special to The Japan Times Online

Sunday, Sept. 26th, saw sumo Grand Champion Hakuho Sho lift his 16th Emperor's Cup.

Barring injuries, and given the fact that he is still in his mid-twenties, the Mongolian yokozuna could well lift 16 more in the not too distant future.

It was not so much the fact that he secured his 16th that impressed fans and sportswriters this time out though — it was the fact that he did so on the back of another 15-0 unbeaten record, his eighth to date, but his fourth in succession. These 60 bouts without a loss (and two bouts undefeated at the end of the January tournament) now far surpass anything any other yokozuna in the modern era has come close to achieving — Chiyonofuji's record of 53 bouts unbeaten fading fast from the memory.

Should he now go on undefeated through the midway point of the next basho (and in Week One the bouts are generally easier for higher rankers as they go against each other in the ?nal stretch), he will move past the legendary Futabayama (69) into ?rst position on the all time unbeaten list with 70 consecutive wins.

Oddly enough, as his moved past Chiyonofuji's impressive tally of 53 wins at the midway point of the recent Aki Basho, he did so to relatively little aplomb from his peers. More than a few voices were heard waxing lyrical about how things were tougher in the old days, how the rikishi nowadays don't practice enough — the intent apparently to belittle Hakuho's achievement. It is perhaps ironic then that in the shape of the ozeki trio of Estonian Baruto, Bulgarian Kotooshu and fellow Mongolian Harumafuji, Hakuho is up against the most effective and potentially dangerous opposition to have occupied in the second rank for 10 years — a period encompassing the reign of Asashoryu, and the back end of the careers of Musashimaru and Takanohana, yokozuna greats in their own right.

Not many will now gamble against Hak moving past Futabayama into top slot on the unbeaten rankings, and many would perhaps wager on him going 15-0 in November's basho down in Fukuoka to move to 77 undefeated.

One other record many have overlooked in sumo is the record number of wins per year — a record in the modern period of 90 bouts over a 12-month, six-tournament period held by Asashoryu with 86. In the past six basho, Hakuho has actually pipped his former rival by one win — having gone 87-3 over the last 90 bouts. To maintain this record over the calendar year, as is demanded by record purists, he will have to move to 77 without loss, picking up the "most wins in a (calendar) year" as a bonus of sorts.

Should he be able to do so the sumo record books will need more than a few amendments, and those in charge of said records within the Sumo Association's inner-most depths would do well to start rearranging the total career Emperor's Cups for the record held by Taiho (32) would be within reach by the Autumn of 2013, just three years hence — a feat the Hakuho of today may not openly discuss or claim focus on, but one he is certainly capable of rewriting, given the chance.

Away from the main headline grabber though, a promising tourney record was posted by Tochizan of Kasugano Beya — 11-4 at sekiwake, perhaps the start of an ozeki run if he can keep up the momentum, and one for Japanese fans to hope for given the long overdue retirement of sole Japanese ozeki Kaio in his home town basho in Fukuoka come November.

The Oguruma Beya pairing of Yoshikaze and Takekaze also went through Aki to post 11-4 and 12-3 records respectively and will find themselves up in the top maegashira ranks when the next banzuke is released. Another man due a hefty promotion — Gagamaru at maegashira 15 — will also reach a career record high thanks to a solid 10-5 ?nish in just his second makunouchi basho. He is now the third Georgian in the top ?ight, along with Kokkai and Tochinoshin. Perhaps these are the guys set to play second ?ddle to the Mongolians in domination of sumo's elite in the months ahead.

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