Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NEWS: Harumafuji takes historic showdown over Hakuho on final day

Originally posted on The Asahi Shimbun on July 22, 2012

Ozeki Harumafuji (Davaanyamyn Byambadorj) won the first final-day showdown between an unbeaten ozeki and yokozuna--and the first duel of unbeaten wrestlers on the final day in 29 years--by pushing Mongolian compatriot Hakuho (Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal) out of the ring at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on July 22.

Ozeki Harumafuji (Davaanyamyn Byambadorj, left,
pushes yokozuna Hakuho (Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal)
out of the ring to win the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament.
(Yuta Takahashi)
The win gives Harumafuji his third championship title and ends one of the most exciting 15-day rivalries in recent memory. Harumafuji won his first tournament three years ago and his second last year. Hakuho had been aiming for his 23rd title, and if he had won on July 22 that also would have been his ninth perfect finish, a summit that no one has ever reached before.

Though evenly matched at the face-off, Harumafuji got inside first and took a hold on Hakuho's belt with both hands. Hakuho never quite recovered from that, as Harumafuji bulled forward and thrust him over the edge with a surge of victorious gusto.

The last time that two unbeaten wrestlers had squared off to decide the title 29 years ago was between two yokozuna and this was the first such showdown between a yokozuna and an ozeki. Seeing the excitement the wrestlers were creating as they kept piling on the wins, sumo officials deliberately put off their showdown, which could have been fought as early as July 20.

"I put everything I had into the match,'' Harumafuji said, as his family looked on from the spectator seats. "I owe my win to my fans and all the people who have supported me.''

The ozeki said he would devote himself "wholeheartedly'' to winning again in September, which would earn him promotion to yokozuna.

Though overshadowed by the Mongolian winning streaks, the other ozeki fared pretty well on the final day.

Slamming out with his head first, Bulgaria's Kotooshu pounded Kisenosato hard at the face-off, lost his momentum momentarily and then charged ahead once again to finish at 9-6. The face-off was possibly the most energetic of the whole tournament. Kotooshu hit Kisenosato so powerfully that the sound of the impact echoed throughout the arena. Kisenosato ends with an impressive 10 wins.

Mongolia's Kakuryu (Mangaljalavyn Anand) also ended on a high note with a fine throw that sent fellow ozeki Kotoshogiku onto his back. While the two ozeki had a spotty record that kept them from being contenders for the title, they both close with strong numbers. Kakuryu, in his second tournament at sumo's second-highest rank, marked nine wins and Kotoshogiku got 10.

Baruto benefitted from a relatively easy draw on the final day, taking out Russian No. 5 maegashira Aran (9-6) with his much more powerful and better placed thrusts. Despite coming in with high expectations, the Estonian ozeki came up short this tournament after starting off extremely well--he won his first seven bouts, but then won only two more.

Sekiwake Tochiozan, fighting with a heavily taped left shoulder, drove out No. 5 maegashira Takayasu (6-9) for his fourth win. The injury sucked away Tochiozan's will to fight and he is likely glad this tournament is over. He will still have to fight his way back up the ranks, though, since a demotion is almost certain.

Komusubi Myogiryu kept the pressure on No. 4 maegashira Takekaze (7-8) to get his all-important eighth win, along with the special technique prize. Myogiryu was struggling earlier on at his new ranking, but managed to keep it together well enough to get by. He's never won more than three bouts in a row, however, so that's something he can work on.

Demotion-facing komusubi Toyonoshima goes home with five wins after defeating lowly No. 10 maegashira Tamaasuka, who closes out at 2-13. Top maegashira Kyokutenho, who shocked sumo fans by taking the championship the last time as the better wrestlers melted down, won his second bout in a row, but that of course was also only his second victory of the whole 15-day competition. That goes down in the sumo books as one of the worst performances ever to follow a championship effort.

Lower down, No. 2 maegashira Aoiyama won his eighth bout, over No. 9 maegashira Tokitenku. That puts him in good position for a promotion into the titled ranks come September.

Word List:
  • showdown: an important match between two great players or teams
  • compatriot: someone who is from the same country as you
  • rivalry: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.
  • thrust: to put something somewhere with a quick hard push
  • surge: a sudden increase
  • gusto: with a lot of enthusiasm
  • overshadow: to make someone or something seem less important compared to someone or something else
  • winning streak: a series of wins following one after another in a game or sport
  • spotty record: not consistent or uniform; irregular or uneven, often in quality
  • draw: a way of choosing which teams or players will compete against each other
  • demotion: to give someone a lower rank or a less important job