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2013 Aki Post-basho Report

The biggest story of the Aki basho was by far the emergence of Endoh, and I know that statement may startle some of the foreign fans a bit who solely rely on English media, but if you follow the Japanese media at all, then you know that no one received more coverage this basho than Endoh, and that includes the eventual yusho winner, Yokozuna Hakuho. The reason why Endoh is so popular is because the kid has true game, and it doesn't matter that his match against Tochiohzan wasn't close. Endoh is the first Japanese rikishi the banzuke has seen since the three Japanese Ozeki--Kaio, Chiyotaikai, and Tochiazuma--who has a chance to earn his way to the top instead of fake his way to the top. Everyone in the know is aware of this, and so Endoh will be incessantly hyped until he ultimately reaches the Yokozuna rank.

The reason that Endoh is so important to sumo is because he is someone who can finally bring legitimacy back to the sport. Every basho this year has followed a disturbing pattern, which is this: we have yet to have a tournament in twenty thirteen where the jun-yusho rikishi was just one loss off of the champion. In fact, it's been so bad that the average distance between the yusho winner and the jun-yusho rikishi this year has been 2.8 bouts. That might not seem like much to the novice fan, but that is a huge number that sumo cannot allow to become the norm, and so in the absence of a true yusho race, the Association has strategically seen fit to give the appearance of a yusho race in order to maintain excitement and interest in the basho for as long as possible.

And the Aki basho was no exception. By the end of day 9 this tournament, the basho was over and everyone knew it. Hakuho had waltzed to a 9-0 start, and the next closest rikishi was Ozeki Kisenosato at 7-1 entering the day, but when he was defeated by tsuki-dashi at the hands of a rikishi who was just 2-6, it put two bouts between Hakuho and the rest of the field meaning the yusho race had just vanished like a fart in the wind, and it wasn't even Tuesday. Even the darling rookie couldn't come back from a 6-3 start, and fans don't keep paying attention just to see one of their own win a Sansho. I mean, if Japanese rikishi earning Sansho really mattered, the Association wouldn't have instigated that rule back when Asashoryu was kicking everyone's ass (with Hakuho waiting in the wings) limiting each stable to just one foreign rikishi.

Anyway, the basho was over by day 9, so what happened on day 10? Hakuho strategically dropped a bout to Goeido instantly breathing life back into the basho. I know that statement makes a lot of foreign fans groan, but it's a perfect example of just how much a Hakuho loss means to everyone else. That Goeido was his day 10 opponent was largely inconsequential because the goal of Hakuho's losing wasn't to inspire another Ozeki run for Goeido nor to propel him or Kisenosato to the yusho; rather, it was to breath life back into a tournament that was already over. At the start of the day 14 broadcast, they showed the leaderboard that consisted of Hakuho and Kisenosato to the backdrop of the Emperor's Cup for a full minute while Kariya Announcer and Takanohana broke down the various scenarios that needed to play out in order for the yusho race to be extended one more day. Everyone knew that wasn't going to happen, but it at least gave the Sumo Association a chance to carry the "yusho race" into the final weekend. If Hakuho doesn't drop that bout on day 10, the yusho is decided on day 12 or day 13, and there is no audience for the weekend.

This has been the pattern this entire year, and the only basho where Hakuho didn't purposefully need to bring himself back to the field was the Natsu basho where Kisenosato started out 13-0 guaranteeing the yusho wouldn't be decided until senshuraku. Having Hakuho lower the bar in this manner isn't an ideal solution for the Sumo Association, but it's the best method they've got until a Japanese rikishi can rise up and legitimately restore order to the sport, and that's where Endoh's popularity comes in. The Sumo Association can see the potential in this kid along with the Japanese media, and so Endoh is going to be thee story every basho until the experts are proven wrong.

Okay, enough of the politics behind the scenes; let's get to the individual rikishi who were worth talking about at the Aki basho starting with Yokozuna Hakuho and this interesting graphic displayed at the start of the senshuraku broadcast.

Since I'm too lazy to recreate this visual in English, I'll just tell you what it says. The title of the graphic says "Number of Yusho" and then it features the top three yusho rikishi in the sport along with the age of the rikishi when they won their tournaments (as denoted by that thin horizontal line of numbers). Taiho is on top with 32 yusho; Chiyonofuji is next with 31; and Hakuho crept a step closer at the Aki basho by picking up yusho #27.

The first thing that jumps out to me in this graphic is just how late in his career Chiyonofuji began racking up the yusho, and Clancy and I are both of the opinion that the Wolf started juicing around the age of 24 or 25. I won't bring Kane into this discussion because he doesn't know the first thing about
using steroids, but imagine a guy like Goeido or Myogiryu suddenly coming out of nowhere to start dominating the sport in their mid-twenties. And what's crazier is that 19 of Chiyonofuji's yusho came after the age of 30. How he accomplished this feat will never be questioned by anyone in Japan, but I think it's safe to say that with the current drug testing that goes on in sumo, we won't see anyone yusho more than three or four times after they hit their 30th birthday.

That aside, what I really wanted to point out in this graphic is just how close Hakuho's career has mirrored that of Taiho's career. I of course didn't even know what sumo wrestling was when Taiho was an active rikishi, and so I can't comment as to the strength of the banzuke or the political situation back then, but going strictly off of this chart, Hakuho is on pace to become the career yusho leader by the time he hangs up his mawashi. I'm actually of the opinion that he should already be the career yusho leader because since Asashoryu's retirement--and even about a year before then, I can't recall a single basho where Hakuho might not have won if he was fighting at full strength. Hakuho is scary good, and I only wish we had a tougher banzuke because he simply isn't challenged in sumo and hasn't been for nearly four years now. There's really no point in my breaking down his sumo. He turned it on most days and let up on other days, but even at about 75% of full strength, he's simply unstoppable and makes a mockery of the yusho race.

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