A lot of what might happen during Aki hinges on tomorrow’s banzuke, but we know for certain that this September might turn into a head to head battle between Yokozuna Kakuryu, and Yokozuna Hakuho. Both men are looking to score another yusho, but much to the surprised and delight of many, Kakuryu seems to finally be coming into his own.
In the heat of Nagoya, it was clear from the start that the two Yokozuna would be setting the pace, with both men unbeaten after day 8. But a surprise loss by Hakuho to the Mongolian boulder, Ichinojo, resulted in the dai-Yokozuna being a loss behind the seemingly teflon-coated Kakuryu. With the decimation in the Ozeki ranks, the roster of rikishi to fight the Yokozuna dipped lower and lower down the banzuke. On day 13, Kakuryru drew a bout against an up and coming Maegashira from Oguruma heya: Tomokaze.
From the video, you can see that Kakuryu underestimated young Tomokaze, and got a face full of clay. This briefly brought the two Yokozuna to 1 loss apiece. But Hakuho lost his final 2 matches, and Kakuryu took the emperor’s cup with a respectable 14-1 record, including a win over Hakuho.
To my mind, I see Aki as a re-match. It seems that Hakuho has been able to put the mechanical injuries he struggled with in Nagoya behind him, and may be in better fighting form. We know that Hakuho seeks to remain active and competing in sumo until at least the Tokyo 2020 Olympics next summer, and is currently working to secure Japanese citizenship. He is also an arch-competitor, and is always in it to win it.
Kakuryu was an annoying excuse of a Yokozuna for quite some time, and many sumo fans (at times myself included) thought he might best step aside as he was not fighting at a Yokozuna level. It has been a pleasant surprise to see him reforge his body, and return to top form. His reactive style of sumo focuses on stalemating his opponent until they make a mistake, and then exploiting that mistake for a win.
Having both Yokozuna genki and competing will add to the misery of the struggling Ozeki corps, and their matches against Hakuho and Kakuryu may be the deciding difference in at least one of their careers.
Head to head this September, I would give an edge to Hakuho. His pride and his ego will drive him to take one away from his country man, Kakuryu. But Hakuho has shown himself to be surprisingly fragile, so fans should be ready for him to go kyujo to protect his near-term future.