Hakuho caps perfect run to 42nd title at Spring sumo tourney
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - One thing is for sure: Hakuho had to really fight for this one.
Hakuho weathered a fierce battle with fellow yokozuna and Mongolian Kakuryu on the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday in Osaka to win his record-extending 42nd career title with a perfect 15-0 record.
The title chase came down to the final bout after No. 4 maegashira Ichinojo notched his 14th win earlier in the day, putting the pressure on the veteran yokozuna. Had Hakuho lost, he and Ichinojo would have had a playoff for the title.
But Hakuho got the win he needed, although it took over a minute to finish off Kakuryu (10-5). The wrestlers secured mutual belt holds and went back and forth, launching attacks that were eventually thwarted. Hakuho finally backed Kakuryu up to the edge, where he used a mighty arm throw to slam him to the ground.
“I practiced well [going into the tournament],” Hakuho said. “Sweat was the important thing.”
The winning maneuver took its toll, however, as Hakuho appeared to injure his right bicep and left the ring rubbing his arm. Later, he moved the supporter he used for his elbow up to the bicep as he received the Emperor’s Cup and other trophies.
Hakuho has recently been battling injuries as much as his opponents in the ring. After returning from injury last September to win the Autumn tournament with a perfect 15-0 record, he proceeded to withdraw prior to the Kyushu tournament in November after undergoing ankle and knee surgery.
Returning for the New Year tournament in January, he appeared on the way to another unbeaten championship, winning his first 10 matches, only to withdraw after suffering three straight losses when the injuries flared up again.
Earlier Sunday, Ichinojo posted a solid victory over No. 2 maegashira Daieisho to finish a career-best 14-1. Using a combination push-and-pull strategy, Ichinojo needed two attempts to slap down Daieisho, who was dealt his makekoshi eighth loss.
As a consolation, Ichinojo received the Outstanding Performance Prize.
Meanwhile in a crucial match ostensibly with the rank of ozeki on the line, sekiwake Takakeisho obliterated ozeki Tochinoshin to finish 10-5 and ensure he will be promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank. Tochinoshin, who needed a winning record to keep his rank, suffered his makekoshi eighth loss and will be demoted.
Takakeisho, winner of the Kyushu tournament, needed nine wins to achieve the 33 over three tournaments regarded as the standard for ozeki promotion, While he had already reached nine, a loss on the final day might have swayed opinion against him. He received the Technique Prize.
In an all-ozeki battle, Goeido capped off a strong showing by fighting off a spirited attack from Takayasu, then shrugging him aside and dropping him to finish 12-3. Takayasu ended up 10-5.
The two komusubi, Hokutofuji and Mitakeumi, both finished up with victories, but face demotions after closing with identical 7-8 records. One komusubi spot could go to sekiwake Tamawashi, winner of the previous New Year tourney but whose loss on Day 15 left him 5-10 and facing a drop.
Burly Bulgarian No. 7 maegashira Aoiyama took home the Fighting Spirit Prize with a 12-3 record after a final victory that sent No. 13 maegashira Tomokaze tumbling out of the ring, while taking the referee with him.
Terunofuji denied in playoff
Meanwhile, in one of the more intriguing but less noticed aspects of the tournament, former ozeki Terunofuji came up just short of a title in his return to the ring in one of sumo’s lowest divisions.
Terunofuji lost to young Mongolian compatriot Roga in the playoff for the championship of the jonidan division — the fifth of the six tiers. According to the Japan Sumo Association, it marked the first time a former ozeki had taken to the ring in a division below the third-tier makushita since the Showa era.
Terunofuji, 27, has battled knee and medical problems in the years since winning his lone makuuchi division title in May 2015, causing him to miss numerous tournaments and leading to his plunge down the ranks.
The 20-year-old Roga, a national high school champion while at Tottori Johoku — the same school that Terunofuji attended — whose hair is still too short to be tied back in the chonmage topknot style, secured a belt hold on the jump-off and forced Terunofuji to the edge.
“I was nervous,” Roga said in a post-match TV interview.
Terunofuji, his surgically repaired knees both heavily wrapped, put on a solid stand against the straw bales, when Roga twisted him down for the victory.
Both Terunofuji, ranked No. 48 in the division, and 15th-ranked Roga had finished 7-0 in the tournament, setting up the playoff. Both are in line for promotion to the fourth-tier sandanme division.