Hakuho is “The One.” He owns just about every conceivable record in the books. This past tournament he registered his 1050th win, surpassing Kaio’s mark of 1047. He will complete the “Hakuho Conquest” (1066 wins) in time for the Olympics in 2020. His career was made possible by the fact that he started so early, joining a heya at 16. These youngsters who start so low and achieve so much are called the “Tatakiage.”
Now that he’s achieved so much, and set so many bars so extraordinarily high, the question becomes “Who is next?” Will anyone be able to do what Hakuho the Conqueror has done? The current crop of champions do not have the health to come anywhere close. Hakuho’s the only Yokozuna left standing for the summer Jungyo tour, Terunofuji and Goeido are in a dangerous cycle punctuated by recurring injuries and threats of demotion. Takayasu, our shin-ozeki, will need six and a half years of zensho yushos to catch up to where Hakuho is now. And with Hak winning yushos, it’s not only a moving target but one where all current wrestlers are losing ground.
None of the up-and-comers, like Mitakeumi, will have a chance at such a long career. In spite of his rapid rise to the upper divisions and makuuchi, he got a comparatively late start in professional sumo. We’re now watching another up-and-comer, Yago, skip the lower divisions on the heels of their successful college careers and start in the Makushita division in their early twenties. Even Hakuho’s disciple, Enho, got a bit of a late start, like Shodai. Tatakiage wrestlers like Hakuho forgo high school and college to pursue their dohyo dreams.
So who has the chops? We are familiar with Wakaichiro, the Texan rikishi who started his career last year at 18. After securing his kachi-koshi in Nagoya we hope to see him continue his strong progress. However, this article profiles a Musashigawa-beya stablemate named Tokuda who has begun his sumo career before finishing high school. After a strong Jonidan tournament in Tokyo, he was promoted into sandanme, but will fall back down into Jonidan in September.
It’s a difficult path for these youngsters. Not all will make it to the upper divisions and many will drop out. But Hakuho has demonstrated what they can achieve. It may be this early start in sumo which imbues a successful wrestler with the ring presence and the canny abilities required for a long career. Kisenosato started at 16. Kotoshogiku at 18. Many impressive wrestlers will come out of the universities ready for successful careers in sumo. But anyone who hopes to become “The Next One” and come close to any of Hakuho’s records will need to come from the ranks of the Tatakiage.