Comparing the Great Ones: The Lasting Impact of Generational Athletes


Hakuho-Gretzky Final

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.

Hakuho Wins 40th Career Yusho


Hakuho-Rain2

With losses by both Okinoumi and Hokutofuji during day 14, Yokozuna Hakuho won his 40th Grand Sumo championship. He won his first yusho in 2006 at the Natsu basho in Tokyo and has been on a massive winning streak ever since. No rikishi in history has been this dominant in sumo, and few professional athletes have ever been this dominant in any sport.

Tachiai congratulates Hakuho on his 40th yusho, and look forward to his continued reign as “The Boss”.

Everything You Need to Know After Act Two


Sumo wrestlers line up as they pray before the start of the annual 'Honozumo' ceremonial sumo tournament dedicated to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

The curtain has dropped on act two. The stage is now set, and the actors are ready for the grand finale of the Kyushu basho. While the early days of this tournament were overshadowed by scandal, the sumo took center stage in act two. So far we’ve seen triumph, defeat, skill and and even a little luck. But the best is yet to come! Here is a quick run down of everything you need to know going into the last five days of sumo in 2017.

Yusho Race

After two acts, only one man remains lord on high in the yusho race: Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho. With a 10-0 record and a two-win cushion separating him from second place, this is truly Hakuho’s yusho to lose. The story is not over yet, however, as two men are trailing Hakuho, just waiting for him to make one crucial mistake that will bring them closer to yusho contention. These rikishi are Okinoumi and Hokutofuji, who both ended day 10 with eight wins apiece. Should he keep his record spotless, Hakuho can clinch the yusho with a win on day 14, if not sooner.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

There were only three men who secured their kachi koshi by the end of act two. In addition to Hakuho, only Okinoumi and Hokutofuji have earned a winning record so far, and are safe from demotion for the New Year Tournament. Conversely, there are three rikishi with make koshi losing records, beginning with Tochiozan who went winless in his first eight bouts. Chiyonokuni and Kotoshogiku also have losing records and can expect to move down the banzuke for January. For a closer look at the kachi koshi and make koshi  projections, please see this article by fellow Tachiai authour lksumo.

Kinboshi

Yokozuna Kisenosato surrendered three more kinboshi during the second act of the kyusho basho, bringing the overall total to six. These kinboshi were claimed by Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, and Takarafuji respectively. Having lost to five Maegashira rikishi, Kisenosato tied the record for the most kinboshi given up in a single basho since 1949.

Kyujo and Absences

On day 3 it was announced that Aoiyama had withdrawn from competition due to issues with his ankle. He returned to action on day 8 in what many believe to be a desperate attempt to stave off a major demotion down the banzuke. Since the end of act one, only one more rikishi has joined those who have pulled out of the Kyushu basho. Early in day 10, Kisenosato withdrew from the competition due to ankle and lower back issues. This marks the third time he has had to end a tournament prematurely this year. The kyujo and Absentee list so far includes Kakuryu, Ura, Takanoiwa, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, and Kisenosato.

Tozai-Sei

After ten days, the West now leads the East by a score of 104-85. The West side of the banzuke is really beginning to pull away from the East, mostly due to Hakuho, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, and Arawashi, who have all won seven or more matches. That being said, the East has been far more affected by injuries and has lost many top point-earners this basho. The next five days will see the crowning of the first unofficial Tozai-sei championship.

Like a play, each act of the Kyushu basho has been better than the last. There’s still so much fantastic sumo that awaits us as we head into the final days of competition. So with that, let’s open the curtain on act 3. Let the finale begin!

Everything You Need to Know After Act One


 

With the first act of the Kyushu basho coming to an end, here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know to get all caught up.

Yusho Race

Five days in and the leaderboard has already dwindled down to three men, all with perfect records. Maegashira 13 Aminishiki, Ozeki Goeido, and a very genki Yokozuna Hakuho have five wins each and are neck and neck in the yusho race. Behind them with four wins are Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, Arawashi, and surprisingly, Okinoumi. I expect this group to be much smaller by the end of act two.

Kinboshi

So far, there have been three kinboshi surrendered this basho. Tamawashi earned the first of these gold star victories on day 1 when he defeated Yokozuna Kisenosato. Up and comer Takakeisho claimed the other two when he beat Harumafuji on day 2 and Kisenosato on day 4.

Kyujo and Absences

There are currently six men on the banzuke who have pulled out of the competition. Ura, Takanoiwa and Yokozuna Kakuryu withdrew citing health issues before the start of the basho. Aoiyama joined them on day 3 after sustaining an ankle injury in his match with Okinoumi. Day 3 would also see Yokozuna Harumafuji pull out of the competition following accusations of an assault on Takanoiwa during the October jungyo tour. After four straight losses, former Ozeki Terunofuji withdrew on day 5 to address the multiple health issues that have been plaguing him as of late.

Tozai-Sei

On day 1, I mentioned that I would be keeping track of the unofficial Tozai-sei Championship going on between the East and West sides of the banzuke. The Tozai-sei was an award used in the early 20th century and was given to the side of the banzuke with the most wins, and I’ve decided to resurrect it for a bit of added fun this basho. The rules are simple: for every win a rikishi gets, his side receives a point. After five days, the West leads the East with a record of 53 to 46. This lead is no doubt thanks to Aminishiki, Ichinojo, Takayasu, and Hakuho, who have a combined 18 points thus far. The top point earners on the East side are Okinoumi, Mitakeumi, and Goeido, who have 14 points between them.

With day 6 set to start in just a few short hours, there are still so many great sumo highlights to look forward to as the Kyushu basho rolls on.

Behold, The Giant Macaroon Of Victory!


Macaroon

Among the yusho prizes is this giant macaroon (macaron) which is awarded to the victor.  On this auspicious occasion, it is green.  I imagine you saying “But Bruce, surely that is just a plastic model!”. But I have it on good authority, that the ones awarded to Kisenosato were eaten before the yusho parade.

Harumafuji Wins Aki Basho


Harumafuji Yusho

In the final match of the final day, the championship of the Aki basho was decided in a pair of exciting contests between the lone surviving Yokozuna, Harumafuji and the lone surviving Ozeki, Goeido.

Harumafuji took the initiative early in the match and quickly drove Goeido from the ring, setting up a playoff to decide the champion. Both rikishi retired to the dressing rooms to prepare for the final, deciding match. In a strange outcome of the rules, Harumafuji (being higher ranked) would enter from the East and Goeido from the West. This was the opposite of their final match of regular play. So fans were treated to video of both Team Goeido and Team Harumafuji passing each other in the hall.

Before returning to the dohyo, Yokozuna Harumafuji was seen practicing a tachiai with Juryo rikishi Terutsuyoshi. This was critical as he was working out hand placement that moments later use against Goeido.

The final and deciding match was over at lighting speed, as Harumafuji blasted Goeido over the tawara, using the same body grip he practiced on Terutsuyoshi. Harumafuji picks up his 9th tournament win, and his yusho parade featured “Uncle Sumo” Aminishiki carrying the victory banner.

Tachiai congratulates both Harumafuji and Goeido for going the distance and competing with everything they could muster in this strange and chaotic basho. You guys stuck it out, and in the end made it worth watching.

Additional Thoughts On Aki Day 13


asanoyama

Day 13 is in the record books, and once again this Wacky Aki rose to the challenge of giving us a defining WTF day of sumo. First and foremost, Goeido lost to Takakeisho. Not in some grand epic battle, he seems to have fallen down. Then there was the rather impressive cluster of rikishi 2 wins behind Goeido. 10 of them actually. All but 2 of them lost their day 13 matches. That’s 8 rikishi who had a chance to claim the yusho, done and out in one day.

But because Goeido lost and Harumafuji won, we move yet closer to the enticing Senshuraku Showdown, as Harumafuji will face Goeido on the final match of the final day. There are still plenty of strange things that can happen tomorrow, day 14, but for now it looks like the yusho may be decided by the outcome of that match.

Or will it? Who’s that over in the corner looking happy and doing shiko while humming a jaunty tune in his head? It’s none other than the happy rikishi, Asanoyama. You see, he also won his match today, and he is also one behind Goeido now. Should he win again on Saturday, he is a yusho contender for the final day should Harumafuji defeat Goeido. Quite unlikely I would say, but what kind of sumo magic would it be if this young rikishi at the very bottom of the banzuke (M16e) could take the Emperor’s Cup in his first Makuuchi basho? The Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan would smile for sure.

Below is video via Twitter of Goeido suffering his catastrophic Slippiotoshi