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.

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.

Harumafuji Scandal Development


Hakuho

There has been another development in the Harumafuji scandal today. While speaking to the press, key witness Yokozuna Hakuho stated that there was a bottle involved in the incident, but it was not used in the assault on Takanoiwa.

横綱・白鵬が取材に応じ、「やってはいけないことで、手を出したのは事実です。私もその場にいたわけだし、相撲界として世間に本当に申し訳ない気持ちでいっぱいだ。報道されているようにビール瓶で殴っていたわけではありません。ビール瓶は持ちましたが、手から滑り落ちそのあとに私が間に入って部屋から連れ出しました」

Hakuho noted that Harumafuji had been holding a beer bottle before the altercation, but it slipped from his hand before Hakuho separated him from Takanoiwa. The Dai-Yokozuna also expressed his sorrow for not stepping in and breaking up the fight sooner, and apologized to sumo fans for the entire incident.

Former Yokozuna Asashoryu has also remarked on the incident and stated via his Twitter account that there was no bottle involved in the conflict.

モンゴル出身の元横綱朝青龍もツイッターで「ビール瓶で殴ってないらしいよ」

Despite this claim, there has yet to be any proof that Asashoryu was present at the scene of the event on October 26th, and could be basing his opinion on second-hand knowledge.

This development raises the question of how Takanoiwa could have been seriously injured without the use of a weapon. Hakuho’s word is highly respected in the sumo world, but should evidence come forward that the night’s events were drastically different than how he described them he could find himself in hot water as well. Tachiai will continue to cover this story as it develops.

Link to the NHK article:

Five Quick Thoughts on Day 3


Asanoyama

 

With day 3 done and dusted, and day 4 on the horizon, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the lower Makuuchi matches that I wanted to give a little extra time and attention to.

1. Mr. Happy and the Day 3 Blues

Let’s start with one of my favorite rikishi, Mr. Happy himself, Asanoyama. Today he went head to head with Kagayaki, who not only defeated Asanoyama but also beat his own archenemy, gravity. In September, Asanoyama remarked that he felt jinxed by the east entrance early on in the basho, as his first two losses came from that side of the dohyo. He doesn’t seem to be jinxed in Kyushu so far, as he has now lost on the east and the west side, marking the first time Asanoyama has had consecutive losses in the top division. This is not the start he or his fans had hoped for. It is still very early in the tournament though, and it will be interesting to see how Asanoyama handles this setback.

2. Shodai Comes Alive

Now where has this Shodai been!? After two lackluster basho, Shodai appears to have found a bit of the fighting spirit that had carried him to such great success in 2016. His match with Endo began with a shocking turn of events, as Shodai actually looked like he took a step forward at the tachiai! From there, the two young mawashi-grapplers fought with some uncharacteristic otsu-sumo thrusts. Despite Endo putting up most of the offense early in the bout, once he strayed into Shodai’s grip he was done for, and quickly found himself on the wrong side of the tawara. Shodai showed some much-needed passion today, and I hope this is the beginning of an upward trend for him.

3. What is Up With Chiyomaru?

On the opposite side of the passion spectrum, was Chiyomaru. The rotund rikishi looked deflated (not physically of course), and put up no resistance against Daishomaru. This has led me to speculate that he may be dealing with an as of yet undisclosed injury. Considering his physique, it would not be a surprise if he is dealing with back or knee issues. Chiyomaru could benefit from following Kaisei’s example and shedding a bit of mass to improve his health and sumo. I’d hate to see sumo lose its most kawaii rikishi because of injury.

4. The Great Wall of Ichinojo

There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes, and a genki Ichinojo is nearly impossible to push around. Today it was Hokutofuji’s turn to take on the immovable object, but he was not up to the task and immediately fell to the clay after making contact with Ichinojo’s mighty frame. The giant Mongolian is undefeated thus far and could be a major force in the yusho race. With Terunofuji a shell of his former self, Ichinojo could one day find himself taking on the mantle of sumo’s resident Kaiju.

5. A Look on the Bright Side

With the shadow of the Harumafuji scandal cast on this basho, it is important to recognize that there are still many positive stories coming out of Fukuoka. For starters, the young crop of rikishi continue to make their mark in the Makuuchi division and their matches remain competitive and enjoyable. Kisenosato and Takayasu seem up to the task of competing this basho, with the later of the two looking like an early contender for the yusho. Finally, Hakuho appears focused and determined to make more history this November, and become the first man to ever to win forty yusho. With so much to look forward to, let’s remember that there is still some great sumo to come.

 

I Got Next: Searching for the Next One, Tachiai Introduces Readers to the “Tatakiage”


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.”

The Many Hands Began To Scan For the Next Plateau

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.

Kaisei Favoring Right Knee After Hakuho Sparring Session (updated)


According to the Nikkei Shimbun, Hakuho sparred with Kaisei the other day, winning all fourteen bouts. Kaisei seemed to be checking his right knee but hopefully he’ll be ready to go this weekend*. (If I took on Hakuho, I’m pretty sure my knee would be the least of my worries, so I’m not reading too much into Kaisei’s soreness.) Since Kaisei is pretty far down the banzuke, I hope he will do well and ease back into the upper maegashira ranks where he seems to belong.

The real point of this post is the hidden tidbit buried in the third paragraph that I’m embarrassed to say I did not realize before. This is the longest yusho dry spell of Hakuho’s long and distinguished Yokozuna career. Perhaps a little extra motivation? I like to see that Hakuho and Kisenosato are being rigorous in their tournament prep.

*updated*

Kaisei is, indeed, listed as absent for the Osaka tournament.