Hakuho leaves unmatchable legacy after 20 years of dominance

At 3 a.m. on Monday, as most of Japan slept, information began filtering by means of that yokozuna Hakuho, arguably the best wrestler within the 2,000-year historical past of sumo, had determined to retire.

The strangeness of the timing, and the truth that the grand champion’s family and friends appeared caught off-guard by the announcement, led to a day of swirling rumor and hypothesis. The beautiful information was lastly confirmed by Japan Sumo Affiliation officers on Monday night, a lot to the chagrin of writers and tv producers anxiously hoping to fulfill their early deadlines.

It was an uncommon finish to a profession — however maybe a becoming one for a rikishi whose achievements each inside and out of doors the ring constantly broke new floor.

At a time when baseball participant Shohei Ohtani is making headlines across the globe for doing issues not seen in a century, it’s price reminding those who Raiden, Hakuho’s fundamental rival for the title of essentially the most dominant rikishi of all time, began his profession in 1790.

Even Hakuho’s most ardent critics can’t deny the truth that contained in the ring, the Ulaanbaatar native reached heights beforehand thought unattainable.

The numbers are staggering: 45 Emperor’s Cups, 16 good 15-0 championships (as many as legendary yokozuna pair Taiho and Futabayama mixed), 1,187 profession wins, 86 victories in a single 12 months — twice — and over 1,000 wins within the prime division (the one particular person ever to handle that), along with a number of different marks of notice.

If sumo had a Corridor of Fame, Hakuho’s 20-year reign might truly be break up into a number of sections that might every be worthy of inclusion.

But essentially the most sensible profession sumo has seen nearly didn’t get off the bottom.

Hakuho's legacy includes 45 Emperor's Cups and 1,187 career wins. | JOHN GUNNING
Hakuho’s legacy consists of 45 Emperor’s Cups and 1,187 profession wins. | JOHN GUNNING

Twenty years in the past, Davaajargal Monkhbatyn, weighing simply 60 kilograms and standing at barely 180 centimeters, was turned down by each sumo secure he approached and dejectedly getting ready to return to his residence nation when he obtained phrase of a late reprieve.

Miyagino stablemaster, on the urging of Mongolian rank-and-file wrestler Kyokushuzan, had determined to take an opportunity on the thin teenager.

Simply eight months earlier on the opposite aspect of the world, the New England Patriots tried their luck by choosing quarterback Tom Brady with the 199th decide of the 2000 NFL draft.

Each younger athletes — digital afterthoughts of their respective sports activities — would go on to rewrite the report books and redefine greatness over the next 20 years.

Hakuho, like Brady, reached that rarefied higher echelon of elite athletes whose success transcends their sport.

In fact, sumo doesn’t have the publicity of soccer, basketball or soccer. Hakuho, for all his achievements, won’t ever obtain the identical form of international publicity as Brady, Michael Jordan or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Nevertheless, the yokozuna’s achievements each in and out of doors of the ring make him completely worthy of being measured alongside these international superstars.

Hakuho's first of 45 championship portraits was raised at Ryogoku Kokugikan in September 2006, while the last won't be taken down until January 2027. | JOHN GUNNING
Hakuho’s first of 45 championship portraits was raised at Ryogoku Kokugikan in September 2006, whereas the final received’t be taken down till January 2027. | JOHN GUNNING

Evaluating sumo’s six annual honbasho to the 4 main tournaments in golf or tennis by multiplying titles within the latter by an element of 1.5 offers a great illustration of simply how dominant Hakuho has been in his chosen sport.

Utilizing that technique, Serena Williams’ 23 grand slam titles roughly equate to 35 Emperor’s Cups in sumo — ten behind Hakuho.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, in the meantime, could be an extra 5 titles again utilizing the identical calculation. In golf the distinction is much more pronounced: Jack Nicklaus’ report 18 main victories would equal 27 titles in sumo, with Tiger Woods sitting on simply 23.

In a sport recognized for violence and probably the most brutal coaching environments on the planet, success over a sustained interval is uncommon. Hakuho’s longevity at a place that required him to face the most effective and strongest rikishi each event is notable. The 84 basho that befell whereas he ranked at yokozuna characterize a 33% enhance on the 63-basho tenure of earlier record-holder Kitanoumi.

Sumo champions get the honour of getting their larger-than-life portraits displayed within the rafters of the Kokugikan enviornment. There are 32 areas accessible, and each 4 months the oldest two portraits are changed by these of the 2 most up-to-date event winners.

Hakuho’s first portrait went up in September 2006, whereas his most up-to-date received’t come down till January 2027. That’s an unimaginable 21-year span with photographs of the best wrestler of all time watching over the game’s operational coronary heart.

It wasn’t simply within the report books that Hakuho excelled. From early on he was a pupil of the sport and browse extensively concerning the historical past of sumo. As yokozuna he typically made delicate modifications to his dohyō-iri (ring entrance ceremony) to pay tribute to the types of earlier legends.

Long a student of the sport, Hakuho wore a gold mawashi belt inspired by Wajima after matching the former yokozuna with a 14th title at the 2010 Summer Basho. | KYODO
Lengthy a pupil of the game, Hakuho wore a gold mawashi belt impressed by Wajima after matching the previous yokozuna with a 14th title on the 2010 Summer season Basho. | KYODO

Nods to sumo’s previous abounded in Hakuho’s profession. He wore a Wajima-inspired gold mawashi belt when reaching 14 titles — the quantity received by that former yokozuna — and actively tried to make use of signature strikes corresponding to Wakanohana’s yobimodoshi (pulling physique slam) throw and Futabayama’s go-no-sen strategy of taking of an opponent’s finest shot on the preliminary cost.

Exterior the ring, Hakuho led the best way within the wake of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Three months after that catastrophe he was in Tohoku performing a dohyō-iri and trying to elevate the spirits of the folks within the area. Hakuho would make a number of return visits to the area and helped fund among the rebuilding efforts.

Being the one energetic yokozuna in the course of the playing and match-fixing scandals of a decade in the past meant Hakuho additionally needed to shoulder the burden of being the face of the game throughout considered one of its darkest durations. With grace and poise, the younger champion helped lead sumo again to respectability.

Hakuho celebrates with his parents after receiving a Technique Prize at the 2005 New Year Grand Sumo Tournament. | KYODO
Hakuho celebrates along with his mother and father after receiving a Approach Prize on the 2005 New Yr Grand Sumo Match. | KYODO

Sumo’s international explosion in curiosity over the previous 5 years has meant that many more recent followers overseas solely know Hakuho as a domineering, tough and oft-absent wrestler who appears to play by his personal guidelines. The reality, in fact, is that the veteran yokozuna’s late profession “heel flip” is just a mix of attempting to compensate for declining bodily skills and an effort to maintain issues personally fascinating in a sport the place he had already achieved the whole lot potential.

Widespread understanding of that truth was clear instantly following the reviews of Hakuho’s intention to retire, as posts in Japanese, English and Mongolian lamenting the choice flooded social media. Damaged hearts and crying emojis have been prevalent as followers expressed disappointment about not with the ability to see anymore bouts between the departing yokozuna and the fast-rising Terunofuji.

The latter man is now the only occupant of sumo’s mountaintop, however have been it not for Hakuho and his father, Terunofuji could by no means even have come to Japan or taken up the game within the first place.

Then-ozeki Hakuho celebrates his first top-division title with supporters, including father Jigjidiin Monkhbat (front right), after the 2006 May Basho at Ryogoku Kokugikan. | KYODO
Then-ozeki Hakuho celebrates his first top-division title with supporters, together with father Jigjidiin Monkhbat (entrance proper), after the 2006 Could Basho at Ryogoku Kokugikan. | KYODO

Japan’s latest and 73rd yokozuna isn’t the one one whose path into sumo was — at the very least partially — facilitated by Hakuho, the 69th to put on the white rope.

Former collegian wrestler Ishiura was persuaded to show his again on a job within the Hollywood film “The Wolverine” and switch professional, whereas considered one of sumo’s greatest rising stars, Hokuseiho, solely took an interest within the sport as a small youngster after an opportunity assembly with Hakuho.

The yokozuna’s affect on wrestlers extends far past the 215 males he has met within the ring. The Hakuho Cup has turn out to be one of many greatest and most necessary underage tournaments on the planet and offers a uncommon alternative for elementary and junior highschool aged youngsters from exterior Japan to compete at a excessive degree.

From vying for ozeki promotion with Bulgarian Kotooshu in 2004 and 2005 to considered one of sumo’s extra intense and legendary rivalries with fellow Mongolian Asashoryu within the latter half of that decade, Hakuho had already reached nice yokozuna standing by the beginning of the 2010s. It could be one other six years earlier than his title-winning tempo began to decelerate, however even in his decline Hakuho received extra silverware than three of the 4 yokozuna promoted after him did, or have accomplished, of their complete profession.

His stats and numbers can be marveled at for many years to return, however the best way that Hakuho led sumo again into the sunshine after carrying it by means of its darkest interval is arguably his best contribution to the game.

Though the yokozuna’s time as an energetic rikishi has drawn to an in depth, Hakuho’s affect pervades fashionable sumo, one thing for which Japan’s nationwide sport needs to be very grateful.

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