Last Monday, one day after winning his historic 33rd Emperor’s Cup, Hakuho was asked about the judges’ decision to have a rematch against Kisenosato a few days before. In the unguarded moment, and probably when still feeling the effects of celebrating the night before, he replied, “regarding the video, even a child could see that I won.”
Stepping back, it was the critical moment of a critical match. Hakuho drove both wrestlers out of the ring and at full speed it was too close for a definitive victor. After a conference, the judges decided on torinaoshi – a rematch – despite video evidence that Kisenosato touched the ground first.
Hakuho is a wee bit sensitive about the fact that he is not Japanese. And among Japanese fans there is a lot of anticipation for there to be a Japanese yokozuna and also quite a bit of cheering for a Japanese man to win an Emperor’s cup. The last active Japanese yokozuna was Takanohana, who retired in 2003. There has not been a Japanese cup winner since Tochiazuma won 9 years ago.
This seems to imbue Hakuho with a bit of resentment towards some of his competitors. You can see the extra intensity, determination, and aggression in Hakuho’s bouts against crowd favorites like Endo or if Kisenosato is still in the running when they meet. Dude, Hakuho, just because they’re rooting for Endo…it doesn’t mean they’re rooting against you.
I love Hakuho. He is the best sumo wrestler I’ve had the fortune to see. Sumo benefits, and the fans benefit, from the added intensity and emotion in the sport. In the case of this particular controversy, it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Then again, I’m an American and our Superbowl Champion New England Patriots won their title while a former star is on trial for capital murder. So maybe my bar for sensationalism in sports is a bit too high?
Anyway, I’m not going to think any less of Hakuho for these comments. He was very close to the late Taiho and he always seems to carry himself with dignity and he does take sumo very seriously. I just think he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder since he will not be fully embraced by Japanese as much as he feels he deserves. And he’s probably right. But, at the same time, I know there was blowback and resentment when Tiger Woods dominated golf…but that game was never more popular.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t a expect Japanese or Kenyan or American wrestler to be embraced by Mongolians if a star suddenly came over and started dominating Mongolian wrestling or archery or horseback riding…and even less so if there seemed to be a wave of them utterly dominating every tournament for a decade. Face it, we love COMPETITION. When someone (or a group of people) dominate a supposedly competitive sport, it takes the fun out of it. We cheer the underdogs, the upstarts, the Jeremy Lins. We get pleasure out of seeing trouble brewing at McDonald’s, Starbucks, WalMart, or even with Kim Kardashian. We often want to see our leaders knocked down a peg.
In the case of Hakuho, though, it’s weird. I would like to see him challenged a bit more and I would like to see more wrestlers winning but I’m happy he’s doing so well. Also, I’d never want to see him stop performing at this peak level. I know that if he were to become injured or to start to lose, I’d feel I’d lost something — like I do when watching Tiger miss another cut. That man lost his family, a billion dollars, the player life, lost his game, and now he lost a tooth. Yes, I enjoyed seeing him lose a tournament or two when he was dominating…but I want to see him win again. I would never hope anyone would go through what he’s gone through. I give him props that in spite of all that he’s gone through, he hasn’t spiraled out of control like John Daly or Johnny Manziel.
Hakuho is utterly dominant and we are witnessing true greatness and I hope he performs at this level for another 10 years. But he needs a worthy rival. Beyond the skill and power, I think it’s that intensity that I really enjoy…even as I root for Harumafuji.