March 29th, 2010 13:04 EST
Hakuho Takes Osaka Sumo Tournament with Perfect Record
The 2010 Osaka sumo tournament was billed as the first in the post-Asashoryu era, Asashoryu being the fiery grand champion who was equally well known for his violent behavior away from the raised clay surface as he was for his successes in the ring (by the way, why is it called a boxing ring when it is square? A sumo ring really is one: a circle.)
Asashoryu was recently banned for life from sumo for an extracurricular fight, apparently alcohol-fueled and apparently resulting in a broken nose for someone dumb enough to get into a tussle with a sumo grand champion. Losing sumo`s most famous and charismatic, if most hated, wrestler had a dramatic impact on the sport`s overall popularity with ticket sales lagging way behind and TV ratings way down. On a personal note, since I`m sure you wanted to know, I also paid little attention to the early days of the tourney since I was more focused on the exploits of a couple of Butlers, one from West Virginia and the others from my beloved Naptown.
Still, as the tournament unfolded, there were two dominant story lines.
One was the continued improvement of Baruto, the Estonian behemoth who has come into his own of late. He entered the tournament as a sekiwake, sumo`s third rank and needed to win 13 of 15 bouts to make the move up to the ozeki status, sumo` second tier. Despite a couple of scares, he looked dominant in lining up a 14-1 result, earning his promotion and losing only to Mongolian star, Hakuho, the other story line.
Hakuho, Asashoryu`s compatriot who was recruited into sumo by the fallen grand champion, was famously in tears as the ban of his rival was announced. Nonetheless, he picked up the ball (bad metaphor for sumo) and ran with it. He compiled a perfect record and won the tournament title in style.
On the tournament`s final day, Baruto faced off against Kotomitsuki, a wrestler already of ozeki status. From the face off, Baruto immediately launched a series of thrusts to Koto`s face and neck, stunning the superior ranked wrestler and then moved down to the belt where he got a two handed grip and shoved out Kotomistuki with relative ease. Thus, Baruto defeated the last of the four ozeki-ranked wrestlers he took down in the course of the tournament.
Baruto`s win gave him an outside chance of winning the tournament but unfortunately for him, Hakuho was not interested in letting up. In the final bout, Hakuho faced off against Harumafuji (who used to be called the much more manageable name of Ama). Harumafuji got the better start out of the face off and got the first belt grip but was nearly shoved out twice, nonetheless. Surviving the second push out attempt, he managed to get Hakuho back to the center of the ring where there was period of stalemate and attempts by both wrestlers to belt-throw the other. Ultimately, the cool and calm Hakuho got the successful one, twisting the belt and adding a push to the head for good measure to upend Harumafuji, preserve a perfect record, and win the tournament.
Will sumo recover from losing Asashoryu? Eventually, it will. How long will it take? That depends on whether Baruto and Harumafuji turn into legitimate rivals for Hakuho or if he continues to "go it alone".
Most noticeable was the continued lack of a serious Japanese tournament contender. Until a Japanese wrestler wins a tournament or make a run for grand champion status, sumo popularity will remain hard to revive. And there is no reason to see that changing any time in the next year or so.