Today marks one week since the end of the 2017 Kyushu basho, and while most of the post-tournament media has centered around the unfortunate retirement of Harumafuji, there are still several stories to be covered as we move on from Fukuoka. One such story is the milestone 40th yusho win by Yokozuna Hakuho Sho. In a post last week, Bruce summarized Hakuho’s decorated career by comparing him to several of the worlds most talented athletes. While all of these comparisons are accurate, when I explain the Dai-Yokozuna to my non-sumo friends and family, there is only one man whose achievements in his respective sport are equal to those of Hakuho: The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.
While sumo and hockey couldn’t be more different, there are striking similarities between the careers of Hakuho and Gretzky. For starters, both men began their professional careers in their late teens, with Hakuho having his maezumo tournament at 16, while Gretzky made his first WHA appearance at the age of 17. It took less than seven years for each of them to achieve the top prize in their respective sports, with Hakuho earning his first yusho six years after his debut and Gretzky winning The Stanley Cup in his fifth season. But the most comparable characteristic Hakuho and Gretzky share is the lasting impact they have had on their sports. As the most dominant athletes to ever compete in sumo and hockey respectively, Hakuho and Gretzky have accumulated an impressive array of achievements and accolades. While Gretzky holds the records for points, goals, and assists in hockey, sumo’s records for most yusho (40), zensho yusho (13), career wins (1064), and top division wins (970) belong to Hakuho. With such colossal records as these, and with no athlete past or present coming close to equaling them, the legacies of these two men may never be surpassed. As the Wayne Gretzky of sumo, Hakuho’s impact on Japan’s national sport will be felt for decades to come.
So what does this all mean to sumo fans moving forward? Well, as a hockey enthusiast, I’ve learned of several realities one must come to terms with when their favourite sport is dominated by generational athletes such as Hakuho and Gretzky.
1. Hakuho’s records will go unbroken for a very long time
The majority of Gretzky’s records were set in the 1980’s, and since then no player has come close to breaking them. They have stood for over 30 years, and sumo fans could see Hakuho’s records stand just as long, if not longer. Hakuho may be a once in a lifetime athlete, but a bit of luck also played a part in his success. He has remained relatively injury-free for much of his career and staying in fighting form for so long allowed him to set the bar to such a high degree. It will take another generational athlete with a similar set of circumstances to come close to rivaling Hakuho’s legacy.
2. Second is the new first
Since Gretzky’s time, there have been a select few who have made runs at his records. The only active player within sight of these lofty achievements is Jaromir Jagr, who despite playing well into his forties, still trails Gretzky by a staggering 937 points. Despite being the ultimate second fiddle, Jagr is considered one of the all-time greats of the sport. Much in the same vein, as Hakuho’s achievements rise further and further out of reach, many a Yokozuna’s career will be defined by how close they can get to his records. Sumo’s future legends will be those who can surpass Taiho’s 32 yusho mark, or Kaio’s 1047 career wins, and end their careers nearest to Hakuho.
3. Future greats of the sport will be compared to Hakuho
It is no secret that a changing of the guard is poised to take place in the world of Sumo. Many veterans will soon begin to leave the fighting to younger generations, and new stars will emerge to take their place. Much like every standout NHL rookie has been called the next Gretzky, sumo’s great rikishi of tomorrow will undoubtedly be compared to Hakuho at every milestone. Hakuho will be the measuring stick upon which every future Yokozuna will be judged, for better or for worse.
Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Hakuho’s achievements will remain a part of sumo’s rich tapestry for years, if not decades, to come. He is The Great One of sumo, the Gretzky of rikishi, and the most dominant Yokozuna of all time. Hakuho has climbed to the top of the mountain, and it will take a hell of a man to knock him down.