They both had to win.

unclemoustache

unclemoustache

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Here's a little article I wrote about the latest sumo basho. I hope you enjoy it.


They Both Had to Win



Mongolian sumo wrestler Terunofuji entered professional sumo in July of 2011, and quickly fought his way up the ranks. In 3 years had made it to the top divison after winning the Yusho (championship) in Juryo (2nd division) the previous basho (tournament). (Basho are held every 2 months, and each wrestler has 15 bouts [one each day] for the upper 2 divisions, and 7 bouts for the lower 4 divisions.)
He was promoted to Ozeki (2nd highest rank) in July of 2015. Many thought his promotion to the top rank of Yokozuna was only a matter of time, and a rather short time at that.

But disaster struck. He began to struggle with knee injuries and other health issues including diabetes. He appeared to be making progress again in early 2017, but the July basho saw him with 5 losses and one win before dropping out. His next several tournaments saw mostly losses, and he often dropped out after a few bouts. He fell back to Juryo, then Makushita, then Sandanme, and finally Jonidan, the 2nd lowest division. He had dropped over 240 ranks and faded almost to obscurity. He was a brief flash in the pan before injury forced him to be only a mediocre rikishi, as many thought.

But in March of 2019, he entered at Jonidan 48, and won all 7 bouts, immediately thrusting him up to the next division. His next 4 tournaments saw only 3 losses, rocketing him up the ranks and divisions, and in November of 2019, he won the Makushita (3rd division) tournament. Two months later he won the Juryo tournament. 3 tournaments later, in July of 2020, he was back in the top division, and, much to the delight of everyone, he surprisingly won the Yusho. With only a single exception, every tournament for the next year saw double digit wins, and he won the top division tournament twice more. His promotion to Yokozuna was almost certain.

Almost.

Throughout his career, July was an important tournament for him. He began his career in July 2011, achieved Ozeki for the first time in July 2015. July of 2017 began his losing streak, and July of 2018 he dropped out altogether for the next 4 tournaments. July 2020 gave him his second top division championship, and now we come to July of 2021. If he won this one, he would be a Yokozuna. His return to the second highest rank (Ozeki) was already the greatest comeback in sumo history, and if he could achieve Yokozuna, it would be the crowning achievement of his life. He HAD to win this one.



Hakuho, also from Mongolia, is arguably the greatest sumo wrestler of all time. He began his sumo career in 2001, and achieved Yokozuna status in 2007. He has won a staggering 45 top division championships, and holds a large number of all-time records including most undefeated championships, most career wins, most wins in a calendar year, and most tournaments as Yokozuna.

He is a formidable fighter, combining his great strength with incredible speed and a wide variety of techniques. Many call him The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) and not without reason.

But he also has a number of detractors who don’t care for his rebellious attitude against the sumo authorities and his brutal actions on the dohyo against his opponents, and the fact that he is not Japanese. National pride runs deep in Japan. But it’s still amazing to watch any master of his craft do what he does best, and Hakuho is no exception.

But he’s getting older, and more susceptible to injury. For 9 years beginning in 2007, he only dropped out for part of 1 tournament. But the last 5 years he’s dropped out of 16 tournaments, either in part or entirely. As a Yokozuna, he cannot lose his rank like Terunofuji did, but he is still expected to continue to participate and win the vast majority of his bouts, and the sumo authorities were beginning to scold. In July (there is July again!) of 2020, after winning his first 10 bouts and losing the next three, he dropped out with a knee injury and underwent surgery which kept him out of the next several tournaments. The sumo authorities moved from scolding to threatening, but didn’t yet take any action against him. A Yokozuna is, after all, a Yokozuna.

In 2021, he underwent more surgery, missing the May basho. The sumo authorities again issued warnings, falling short of insisting upon his retirement. And now we come to July of 2021. He hasn’t competed (except for 2 bouts in the March basho) since July of 2020. He’s undergone multiple surgeries. He’s old. Does he still have what it takes to win? Is he rusty from his long recovery? If he doesn’t win this one, he’ll likely be forced to retire, and for him this would be a terrible disgrace. Why is this so important?

Hakuho has long wanted to stay in sumo until the 2021 Olympics. His own father won the Olympic silver medal in 1968 in men’s Freestyle Middleweight wrestling, and he was hoping to do something similar. But sumo is not an Olympic sport, so he would have to honor the memory of his father with a championship at the July basho, which was to be held just before the Tokyo Olympics. Faced with forced retirement and disappointing his deceased father, he simply had to win this one.



And now we come to the July basho of 2021. Both Hakuho and Terunofuji are in good form, despite their various previous injuries and surgeries. They are strong. Both are incredibly driven to win, and both have to win this one. Terunofuji has lately taken to a bit of brutality, often throwing his opponents off the dohyo after he’s already secured the victory. No doubt he needs to psyche himself up to defeat the GOAT, who will be his toughest opponent. They both have to win this tournament.



Day 1 of the tournament begins, and Terunojuji defeats Endo with a hard shove off the dohyo. He is ready for anyone. Hakuho manages to squeak out a win over Meisei in a good old-fashioned belt fight. It was a near thing.



On Day 2, Terunofuji shows mercy on the wily Wakatakakage by not throwing him off the dohyo, but this time poor Endo is up against Hakuho, who slaps the stuffing out of him before throwing him off the dohyo head first. A good reminder for Enho that he’s in the top division where they don’t play around. Another potential champion, Takakeisho is injured on this day and has to drop out of the basho, paving the way for an easier championship for Terunofuji or Hakuho.



Day 3 comes and Terunofuji has an easy and clever win over Takanosho, while Hakuho shows his old self by completely dominating Daieisho, throwing him to the floor. The GOAT is definitely back on top.



Day 4 has a switch of opponents. Terunofuji does a funny dance around the dohyo with Daieisho before he gets fed up and roughly throws him out of the ring and into row 4 of the audience. Hakuho has a rougher time with Takanosho, and nearly loses by getting turned around, but, unlike most rikishi who inevitably fail at that point, The GOAT miraculously twists about and throws Takanosho down just before he himself steps out. True Yokozuna sumo as only Hakuho can do.



Day 5, Terunofuji beats the large but energetic Hokutofuji. While Hakuho easily defeats Ichinojo, the Mongolian Giant.



Day 6 has a reversal of opponents. Terunofuji beats Ichinojo while Hakuho blasts Hokutofuji.



Day 7 they both win again.



Day 8 they both win again, but Hakuho scores for himself some extra points. As he throws Kotoeko out of the ring, he is forced to follow him, and during his fall, he changes direction and intentionally falls on one of the shimpan (ringside judges). Some of us consider it a fitting retribution for being denied elder stock a few months ago, which was a rude slap in the face to sumo’s greatest hero. But that’s a different story.
 
unclemoustache

unclemoustache

My 'stache is bigger than yours.
Joined
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Messages
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Location
S. Il. near St. Louis
Part 2






And so it goes – our two champions continue to dominate the field as the tension mounts. Terunofuji has a few close calls, but manages to continue to win. Hakuho also has a few close calls and manages to continue to win. Both of them often completely dominating their weaker/slower opponents.

On day 13, Undefeated Terunofuji goes against Ozeki Shodai, a very formidable opponent, and barely gets the victory while Hakuho watches with intensity. The next bout has Hakuho against Takayasu, whom he has beaten 20 times before, and he does so again quite easily.

Day 14 sees another switch in opponents. Terunofuji against Takayasu, and it’s a bitter struggle for a while, but Terunofuji ends up roughly throwing him off the dohyo. Hakuho is against Shodai, and it suddenly gets weird. Hakuho starts the match WAAY back from the line so his heels are on the bales. He’s never done that before, and it seems to have the desired effect of throwing his opponent off his game. They start and approach one another slowly, Shodai obviously unsure of what is about to happen. Hakuho give him a mighty slap but with his left hand instead of his usual right, further throwing Shodai off. From there it’s a bit of cat-and-mouse and Shodai doesn’t know how to attack, and eventually Hakuho wins. It seemed very un-Yokozuna-like sumo, but Hakuho needed the win and was willing to resort to such tactics to ensure victory against such an opponent.



So onto the final day. Hak and Teru both 14 – 0, and the tension is huge. Hakuho had his father’s olympic medal brought to him for luck. As the tournament begins and the other wrestlers win or lose, everyone is thinking only of the final match between the two legends. They both have to win this one.



Each sumo bout has about 4 minutes of warm-up and ritual, ending with a bit of a stare-down before the Tachiai. The stare-down between these two is epic. It’s not easy to lock eyes with Hakuho, whose glare alone often causes his opponents to lose heart, yet Terunofuji locks eyes with him. They are both 6’4”. Finally, in honor of the higher rank, Terunofuji squats down first and Hakuho follows, but the stare down continues. Surprisingly, the gyoji (referee) is not very insistent about telling them to ‘get your hands down’ to start the match as is normally done. He is enjoying the moment with the best view in the house. I don’t doubt that he can practically see the intensity passing between the two fighters. The crowd can feel it as well, and they actually applaud during the stare-down. Another long stare down as they squat, and finally Terunofuji is ready – he puts both hands down and waits, every muscle tensed and ready. Hakuho lingers a bit and puts his right hand down as usual, and then drops his left and the match begins.
Hakuho quickly attacks with another off-beat left handed slap followed immediately by a right forearm smack to the face. He’s not taking any chances and is determined to do as much damage to Terunofuji as he can. Terunofuji is slow, the attack seems to stun him for a moment, but he charges forward, and manages to secure a left-hand grip on the belt to push Hakuho out. This is Terunofuji’s favorite grip, and Hakuho is in trouble. But he knows his danger so he jerks to the side, breaking Terujofuji’s grip and slapping him hard, keeping a distance between them with several well-placed slaps. Terunofuji returns in kind, giving slap for slap, and he is not weak. Soon they are chest to chest again, and Terunofuji is in trouble – Hakuho has a right-hand inside grip, a death-knoll for most of his opponents. But Terunofuji also has a right hand inside hold on Hakuho’s belt - an equally deadly grip. The battle is fierce. Hakuho tries for a mighty throw, but it’s not easy to throw the 390 pound Terunofuji. Hakuho loses his right hand grip but has a vice-like arm lock on Terujofuji’s right bicep – a strong hold which, in the control of a mighty master, can dominate an opponent. And Hakuho is the mighty master to dominate, for he twists to the side and pulls the arm. Terunofuji is off balance and his arm is bent at a dangerous angle, and he falls to the clay with a thud, while Hakuho throws his fist into the air and yells in triumph. He has done it! Terunofuji gets to his feet, a defeated warrior, holding his right arm carefully, for it pains him. He’s darn lucky that Hakuho didn’t break it at that angle.

Terunofuji walks off the dohyo thoroughly beaten and battered by the still-greatest Yokozuna, while Hakuho’s family is in the stands, weeping for joy. The GOAT is still on top, and he will likely stick around for a few more tournaments, going for his next milestone of 900 wins as a Yokozuna. Hakuho loves numbers. Hakuhuo has honored his father’s legacy by winning yet another Yusho at the time of the olympics, 53 years after his father won his silver medal at the olympics, and that same medal was at the stadium with Hakuhuo. Hakuho had to win this one, and he won it.



But what of Terunofuji? Because of his many wins throughout the last tournaments and his second place finish in this July basho, Terunofuji was promoted to the highest rank of Yokozuna, the greatest rank and honor a rikishi can obtain, and fulfilled another life-changing July. an honor well deserved for the greatest comeback in sumo history. They both had to win this basho.

And they both did.

Here is a playlist of the basho if you are interested.
 
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