Injury Did Not Prevent His Influence At Aki
No Rikishi influenced the Aki 2016 Basho than Hakuho, the most dominant Yokozuna in recorded history. Although he sat out the entire tournament with a suite of injuries, nearly every discussion was framed in terms of his absence. By sitting out Aki, Hakuho may have achieved more than anyone could have imagined, but it remains to be seen if he can overcome the injuries that drove him to see a hospital bed instead of his customary place on the dohyo.
Injured And Defeated In Nagoya
During the July tournament in Nagoya, Hakuho started in his customary strong way, laying waste to everyone and anything that stepped into the ring to oppose him. For fans of the art and technique of sumo, watching Hakuho is a joy. He is quick, clever and brutishly strong. His confidence is overflowing, and he displays a respectful, dignified presence while he dispatches his opponents with flair and style.
But in Nagoya, the great performance run came to an end during a rather unusual match against Ikioi on Day 9. In the video below, we can see the point where Hakuho either injures himself, or his injuries manifest to the point that they stop him cold just as he was about to win once more.
Hakuho is pressing the attack against Ikioi, when he suddenly collapses, much to everyone’s surprise (most especially Ikioi)
Followed by what happened when he faced tournament winner Harumafuji
The knee collapse on the champ is quite brutal, he is clearly injured and has no strength in either leg to apply against Harumafuji
Summer Jungyo & Lead Up To Aki
As mentioned elsewhere on Tachiai, the summer long break is a time for Jungyo – the Sumotori take to the road and bring a really nice, compact sumo experience to towns and cities across Japan. Hakuho, who takes his role of Yokozuna with the utmost seriousness, committed himself fully to appearing on tour, and being the standard barer for Sumo. Sadly it seemed that this mean his injuries where not healing, and may in fact have gotten worse.
But as early as late August, it was clear that Hokuho was not in top form, and in fact was in so much pain as to be largely immobilized. In spite of the tendency for Sumotori to continue to march to the dohyo in spite of moderate to severe injuries, it began to be discussed that Hakuho would sit out Aki.
The sumo world erupted in discussion, mostly because at that time, everyone was certain that Kisenosato would be assured of a win and ascendancy to sumo’s highest rank. Of course now in October we know that was not to be, and a new champion stepped forward instead.
When the Aki banzuke was published, Hakuho occupied the Yokozuna 1 East position as has been his place for much of the recent past, but trouble was in motion already.
Kyujo, Hospitalization and Recovery
With less than a week to go before the start of Aki, Hakuho held a press briefing to announce that he would not participate in the Aki basho, but would instead undergo surgery to repair damage to his toe, and to his knee. While there was some description of the damage to his big toe of his right foot, the damage to his left knee, seen so clearly effecting him at Nagoya, was less thoroughly discussed.
True to his word, Hakuho underwent surgery on the 12th to attempt repairs to his injuries. The Sumo world is notoriously tight lipped about things like injuries, surgery and other things that would cause anyone to question the health and performance of their star athletes. But over time it was possible to piece together that Hokuho’s right big toe had several bone chips impacting it, and that he likely damaged the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) of his left knee.
Within a week he was back on his feet, and training like a man driven to regain his throne. He also seems to have undertaken some level of a fasting regime, and lost a noticeable amount of weight. This may have, in fact, been one of the remedies to help his knee heal – reduce the load it carried.
A Shadow Over Aki
Even without participating a single day, every match, every scenario, every discussion of who might win was framed by the overwhelming fact that Hakuho was, for once, not present. This should and must not detract from the amazing work and effort Goeido put into his Zensho Yusho victory from Kadoban status, truly a historic feat. But the entire calculus of who faced whom, the momentum and the flow of the basho was massively disrupted by Hakuho’s normal position as the insurmountable obstacle to victory for every rikishi.
The Road to Kyushu
As of this writing, Hakuho has not yet joined the Aki Jungyo, which is currently rambling southwards through Honshu, delighting the fans and letting the rikishi get up close and personal with the public. All indications point to his primary focus is on continuing his recovery, and working to improve his health and performance. He is likely splitting his time between the Miyagino stable in Tokyo, and whatever facilities he has in Mongolia. It remains to be seen if he will join the Jungyo later this month.
The Michael Jordon of Sumo
There can be no serious argument that Hakuho has had a massive and enduring impact on the sport of Sumo. There has never been a more dominant, winning Yokozuna in history, and he has stated he intends to stay active, and winning, until the 2020 Tokyo summer olympics. His goal is to perform the dohyo-iri that will be part of the opening ceremonies. It would be a spectacular crowning achievement to an unparalleled career.
But there should be serious concerns for his ongoing health and ability to perform. If he has in fact damaged his MCL, we should note that in many cases with professional athletes, this manner of injury can end their careers. Thus far there are no clear indications in the press that he continues to have problem in day to day life with his knee, but fans will learn much he first time we see him face off against an opponent.
At Tachiai, we sincerely hope that Hakuho can and will take whatever time is needed to completely recover from his injuries, and returns to Sumo fighting fit and ready to resume his march towards Tokyo 2020.