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Saturday, July 28, 2012

News photo
Ozeki Harumafuji goes flying as he pushes Toyonoshima from the ring on Day 8 of the Nagoya Basho. MARK BUCKTON PHOTO MARK BUCKTON PHOTO

Harumafuji's third yusho marred by an ill-mannered yokozuna


Special to the Japan Times Online

Five, 10, 20 years from now, whenever we look back at the career of the current yokozuna Hakuho, it will be hard to avoid a particular black mark against the name of one of the sport's most successful of grand champions.

That resume stain occurred on Day 14 of the recent Nagoya Basho when the man with 22 yusho to his name sidestepped ozeki Kisenosato at the tachiai, breaking a cardinal rule in the sport for men in his position.

Henka, as such a cowardly move is commonly called, is not an illegal technique, and for many a Russian and Eastern European rikishi in recent years it has almost become a routine "go-to" move. That said, for the men in the uppermost sanyaku echelons of the sport such moves are an unwritten no-no.

For his part, in the changing rooms after the bout, a clearly embarrassed Hakuho mumbled something about wanting to do better sumo the following day in his bout against the eventual yusho winner Harumafuji.

Twenty-four hours later he did go toe-to-toe with his fellow Mongolian and was fairly and squarely beaten in what was the first final-day meeting of men with 14-0 records in three decades.

Had he won, the fuss about his actions the day before would have resonated all the more loudly through the Japanese media but for now it has all but disappeared thanks in large part to the bigger interest in the London Olympics. Mention will be made come the September Aki Basho in Tokyo — and the bout no doubt replayed countless times on TV when he meets Kisenosato in the final days of the tournament.

For now, though, he is off the hook.

Harumafuji, for his part, had an outstanding basho. Dominant in most of his matches from Day 1 he never really looked like losing and has improved in leaps and bounds since he last lifted the Emperor's Cup, exactly a year ago, also in Nagoya.

He now needs to put together a similar performance to secure the Aki Basho and automatic promotion to the top rank will follow.

In going after this goal he, above all others, will be aware that the man standing in his way — Hakuho — has not gone three basho without a tournament victory since 2006! He will also be mulling over the fact that despite being on the brink of yokozuna promotion twice before, he failed to get into double figures in subsequent basho when the pressure was really on, going 9-6 after his first yusho, in 2009, and then 8-7 last year.

Sadly, the majority of fans will not be able to see how he is faring ahead of the September tourney as the Sumo Association has, for some reason, closed the now routine open practice at the Kokugikan which has drawn in thousands in recent years, raising awareness of sumo and aiding in ticket sales.

Other prize winners in Nagoya in the Makunouchi Division included the impressive Kaisei, a Brazilian rikishi fighting out of Tomozuna Beya who went 11-4 at maegashira 8 to secure himself a very healthy promotion when the next banzuke is released. For his troubles he was awarded the Fighting Spirit Prize. Another special prize winner worth keeping an eye on is the 25-year-old Japanese born Myogiryu. As a new komusubi, a rank often termed the meat-grinder, he secured a very respectable 8-7 result and with it a technique prize to guarantee himself promotion to sekiwake next time out.

Away from the top flight of sumo, Africa's first-ever rikishi, Osunaarashi, down at Jonidan 8 in Nagoya, bounced back from a hospital stay just before the tournament started and finished 5-1-1.

He has already attracted a decent-size following off the dohyo and is often seen using social media to connect to his fans. Some would argue, though, that he should devote more time to learning new techniques since his reliance on his greater upper body strength will only take him so far.

He is one to keep an eye on for in the future if he can stay healthy and learn to go to the belt more while also being patient in his fights. Look for him to be approaching the sekitori ranks by mid-2013.

In the next Sumo Scribblings look out for the first-ever interview in English with former ozeki Kotomitsuki, who left the sport under something of a cloud in the baseball gambling scandal in mid-2010.


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