[sumo] John Gunning On Why This Could Be One of the Best Bashos In History

Jeffrey Anderson jpaitv at gmail.com
Wed Jul 22 09:56:05 EDT 2020

July meet could go down as one of most important in sumo history
Ozeki Asanoyama fights No. 1 maegashira Endo on the second day of the July
Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. | KYODO
BY JOHN GUNNING <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/author/john-gunning/>


   - JUL 22, 2020
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Less than a third of the way through 15 days of action at Tokyo’s Ryogoku
Kokugikan there are talking points aplenty.

If the 2020 July meet continues to progress along current lines, it could
turn into one of the most important and interesting tournaments in recent

Straight out of the gate we had the sight of a yokozuna losing for the
first time ever by *koshikudake* (inadvertent collapse.)

Kakuryu’s swing-and-a-miss leg sweep attempt sent him crashing — Charlie
Brown style — to the clay and earned his opponent (Endo) the distinction of
having both a win and a loss against *yokozuna* by the rare nontechnique.
The Oitekaze stable man lost to Hakuho in the same fashion two years ago.

Adding injury to embarrassment, Kakuryu hurt his elbow in the fall, and was
forced to withdraw from the tournament the next day.

With koshikudake occurring roughly three times in every 10,000 bouts it’s
certainly not something you see every day, but even that was usurped (in
terms of rarity) by another fight on the very same day.

The 42-year-old Tenichi’s defeat of a 50-year-old Hanakaze in sumo’s second
lowest (*jonidan*) division earned him revenge for a loss against the same
foe exactly 24 years earlier. Having almost a quarter of a century pass
between a pair of *rikishi’s *first and second bouts is staggering, and you
won’t see many matchups in any fighting sport where the combined age of the
participants is 92.

Don’t hold out hopes for a Tenichi-Hanakaze decider in 2044 though — the
latter man is just 15 years away from the JSA’s retirement age, and in 2035
Hanakaze will have to leave sumo for good. Making it to 2023, however, will
earn him the distinction of being the oldest rikishi in sumo history.

A year and a half after Hanakaze made his professional debut, Bo Jackson
had one of the most famous plays in NFL history when he kept going after a
91-yard TD and ran right up the tunnel at the Kingdome in Seattle.

It’s unknown whether (the then-2-year-old) Hakuho saw that play, but the
yokozuna certainly emulated it on the third day, almost disappearing down
the hanamichi that leads into the dressing room after a victory over — you
guessed it — Endo.

Hakuho has looked sharp from the get-go and, with Kakuryu out of the
picture, is in excellent position to win back-to-back titles for the first
time in three years.

It’s a measure of the yokozuna’s greatness that in the five years that have
elapsed since what most would consider to have been his peak, the Miyagino
stable man has lifted the Emperor’s Cup nine times. Victory again this time
out would mean Hakuho’s ‘decline phase’ alone was Dai-Yokozuna worthy.

Incredible and all as that stat is, it pales in comparison with the level
Hakuho reached a decade ago.

Between Jan 23, 2010, and May 19, 2011, the Ulaanbaatar native won 102 out
of 104 bouts with both losses coming against future yokozuna Kisenosato.

That might well be the greatest period of sustained success in sumo history
and is unlikely to be even approached, never mind bettered, in our lifetime.

A decade is a long time in sumo, however, and despite his recent successes,
Hakuho is closing in on the end of his career. With newly minted
*ozeki* Asanoyama
and a pair of Sadogatake stable youngsters also among the early tournament
leaders, the changing of the guard that has been mooted for the past few
years might finally be about to take place.

The aforementioned Kotonowaka and Kotoshoho are of course still too young
and inexperienced to properly evaluate, but neither has seemed fazed by
anything to date and they should drive each other to great things in the
years to come.

For now, it is Asanoyama who seems set on a collision course with Hakuho
and a title-deciding matchup that would set him on the road to yokozuna

Of course, in a violent sport like sumo dreams can end in a heartbeat and
one only need look no further than former ozeki Terunofuji, battling his
way back after serious injury, to see evidence of that.

Assuming Asanoyama avoids getting hurt, his form in the early going has
provided confidence for those predicting great things out of the former
Kindai University man.

Asanoyama is 0-3 head to head against Hakuho so far but the 26-year-old
doesn’t even need to beat the yokozuna to put himself in line for
promotion. If, on the final day, his bout with Hakuho is the one that
decides the destination of the Emperor’s Cup, whether in a playoff or
regulation matchup, the Japan Sumo Association and Yokozuna Deliberation
council could well decide that such a result, followed by victory in the
September meet, is enough to earn yokozuna status.

For Asanoyama the key will be getting to that decider unbeaten, or with one
loss at most. To put himself in line for promotion to sumo’s highest rank,
the Takasago stable man needs to avoid the losses to lower rankers that
have tripped him up in recent tournaments.

If he can do that and we get a title showdown on day 15, then the July 2020
tournament could go down in history as one both incredibly exciting and
hugely significant.

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Best regards,
Jeffrey Anderson

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.
- John Greenleaf Whittier
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