Shame on Asashoryu and Hakuho...Osaka deserves better than that

I took a little roadie Friday evening through Saturday, which meant that I was unable to watch the day 14 bouts until I got home late Saturday night. Dying to know the result of the Asashoryu - Hakuho matchup, I woke up Saturday morning and leeched a wireless internet connection off of someone and checked the day 14 results. Asashoryu wins by hiki-otoshi? Knowing the history of these two in the ring, I wondered how in the hell the bout must have played out for the Yokozuna to win by pull-down. I next scanned the wires and read that Hakuho secured moro-zashi from the tachi-ai but was pulled down after a few seconds. Another red flag. None of it made sense, so when I returned home Saturday night and watched the tape (over and over in slow motion), I came to the conclusion that the bout had to be fixed.

First, Hakuho executes a flawless tachi-ai grabbing the quick morozashi; yet, the Ozeki fails to go for the Yokozuna's belt with either hand. Hakuho always goes for the belt from that position.

Second, the Ozeki's charge is so upright it's silly. The placement of his arms are half-assed. Either latch onto the belt or push your arms so far in that the Yokozuna's own arms are raised straight in the air. From beginning to end, Hakuho's hands are always open and never attempting to push or grab onto something.

Third, Hakuho's fall was unnatural. A hiki-otoshi means a pull down where the rikishi is pulled to the dirt on his knees or stomach. So how in the hell does Hakuho end up flat on his back?  Look at the picture at right of the reverse angle.  Asashoryu's left hand will end up pushing on Hakuho's right butt cheek, and Asashoryu's right hand is pulling backwards yanking Hakuho forward by the right armpit.  It looks to me that Hakuho pushed off with that right leg and flipped himself over onto his back.  Noting the position of Asashoryu's legs and his body bent at the waist, I just don't see how he could physically flip Hakuho completely over.

 If you have the means to watch the replay of the bout from the NHK feed, you'll see that Asashoryu goes for a neck throw as he's moving straight back near the edge.  In a flash, Hakuho squirts out of the neck throw attempt and heads for the clay at an angle unnatural to the original flow of the bout.  The Yokozuna takes a backwards swipe at Hakuho's armpit, but in order to flip a dude that big over onto his back, you can't do it with a backwards flick of your paw. In fast motion, it looks pretty legit thanks in large part to Asashoryu's pushing at Hakuho's right butt cheek with his left hand at the last moment, but watch it in slow motion, and it's easy to see.  Even watching the bout at normal speed, Asashoryu reacts to Hakuho's change of direction instead of causing it.  Hakuho fell as a rikishi would being defeated by ami-uchi, but the Association couldn't make that the winning technique because Asashoryu's offensive motions were just hiki-otoshi.  I think Hakuho instigated the dive himself.

Fourth, after the bout, Asashoryu didn't show the kind of emotion he usually shows after a big win. In the past, whenever he has caught up with a rikishi who has led him in the yusho race or scored any decisive win, he scowls all over the arena after his bout before storming down the hanamichi looking as if he's going to kick anyone's ass who comes within five meters of him. On day 14, he was cool as a cat after the bout, which is uncharacteristic of the Yokozuna. That tells me he needed no adrenaline that day because he knew the outcome already.

So, now I'm pretty convinced that the bout was phony, but what disturbed me the most about it was that the yusho was actually being compromised...or so I thought. I've always maintained that yaocho exists in sumo but that it's never used to compromise anything really significant, like the yusho. I was ready to come on this site and say that that theory was now incorrect; that was until I watched the senshuraku debacle.

I expected Hakuho to beat Kotooshu on senshuraku, and the Mongolian didn't disappoint with perhaps his best sumo of the basho. In the following bout, there was no doubt that Asashoryu would beat Chiyotaikai, but the way the Yokozuna did it was a disgrace. Not only that, but it was the single worst decision Asashoryu has made since being crowned Yokozuna...and he's made a lot of bad choices. Let's see, there was feud with Kyokushuzan where Asashoryu smashed the mirror of Shu's car (and no, he didn't need an umbrella); there was the hair-pulling incident against Shu where Asashoryu was disqualified in his bout, a Yokozuna first; there was the time he came home sloppy drunk and smashed the glass to the stable's front door so he could get in reportedly brawling with his stable master; there was the time he secretly returned home to Mongolia without telling anyone only to have the former Takasago-oyakata die while he was gone causing the Yokozuna to miss the funeral; there was the time he was photographed at Narita Airport with his hair in a pony tail; and then there are his numerous incidents atop the dohyo of giving opponents extra shoves and kicks and also questioning the judges decisions openly when calls went against them.

Despite all of that, his tachi-ai henka of Chiyotaikai on senshuraku was the single worst decision the Yokozuna has ever made. First, he looks like a chump doing it. Second, he did nothing but strengthen Shukan Gendai's claims that he can't just waltz in and beat everybody. After starting 0-2 and nearly 1-3 after that bout with Toyonoshima, admit it...the Yokozuna looked a bit vulnerable. And third, the Sumo Association is going to take a huge PR hit from it when they can least afford it. To contradict myself completely, I initially didn't have a big problem with the Yokozuna's decision to henka Chiyotaikai. As I stated previously when he used a henka to set up the keta-guri move against Kisenosato in Kyushu, Asashoryu has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants in the ring. His demeanor after the bout also made it clear that he wanted another piece of Hakuho. I really don't think many people had a problem with the henka...until Hakuho did the same thing in the playoff. Then it became a huge problem.

You cannot end a basho with two tachi-ai henka from the two strongest rikishi in the sport. You just can't. I don't know what the Khan's were thinking, but their act at the end of Haru was stupid if not outright ludicrous.

Let's get back to my allegations of yaocho on day 14 and why. First, Asashoryu had to save face this basho in light of the bout fixing allegations brought against him. A Yokozuna is expected to yusho every basho, and if he doesn't, he at least needs to have a record worthy of the yusho. The benchmark there is 13-2. I constantly stress the importance of keeping the yusho line at 13-2 or above. Anything less calls for a bad basho regardless of how exciting some of you may think it would be. Asashoryu has consistently maintained performances ranging between 13-2 and 15-0, so he had to maintain that status quo this basho as well, especially after his actual ability was publicly questioned.

In my opinion, Hakuho was fighting better in Osaka than Asashoryu, and he was the favorite to yusho heading into day 14. The Yokozuna simply couldn't take the risk of fighting his countryman straight up and picking up that costly third loss not to mention handing the yusho to someone else a day before the tournament ends. So, he agrees to swap bouts with Hakuho giving up the yusho--something he was not the favorite to get at that point anyway--in exchange for a 13-2 record, a mark guaranteed thanks to his premeditated henka of Chiyotaikai on senshuraku.  On paper, you couldn't ask more of a Yokozuna than a 13-2 record and fighting in a playoff for the yusho, so in that sense he was covered.

As for Hakuho's henka of Asashoryu in the playoff bout, there is of course no evidence from the "sumo" itself to cry foul, but the most telling thing to me that Asashoryu knew he was going to lose was his reaction after the bout. In case you didn't see it, it was this disgusted smirk that someone would probably give after something happened that they couldn't believe. The Yokozuna wore the expression as he exited the dohyo and walked down the hanamichi. The look on his face fit the situation perfectly. Problem was it didn't fit the rikishi whatsoever. When has anyone ever seen Asashoryu give that look after he's been henka'd? It's never happened. The Yokozuna is always furious with a scowl on his face so mean it could melt steel. And that's just for bouts where the yusho isn't on the line. Can you imagine how Asashoryu would react if someone henka'd him in a playoff for the yusho that he didn't know was coming? Even Fujii announcer in the booth for NHK proclaimed, "mezurashii hyoujou desu ne" or "that's an unusual expression for him" when they showed a close-up of Asashoryu's mug. There were just too many inconsistencies in their day 14 bout and the yusho playoff for me to believe that all of this was spontaneous.

Look, I don't mind such shenanigans if the most deserving rikishi takes the yusho, which did happen in Osaka in my opinion, but you can't screw with the sport's integrity and the paying public's money by exhibiting crap sumo during the final bout of the tourney and the playoff. The ending to the Haru basho was a complete disaster, and Asashoryu and Hakuho are strictly to blame.

And finally, for all of you who are in favor of the tachi-ai henka, email me now and tell me what a fantastic finish that was to the basho if you please. From all of the rock solid arguments we've given opposing the henka, we can't do any better than point to the final two bouts on senshuraku of the Haru basho. No sumo fans came away from this basho without a horrible taste in their mouth. As the subject line read from an email George sent me shortly after the conclusion: "thoroughly disgusted". Still, from all the deserved complaints and negative publicity the Sumo Association is going to receive after this basho, it's their own damn fault. Eliminate the henka. It's not a part of sumo, and it's easily resolved if they would only heed my advice to make it a false start. Simple as that. Both bouts would have been called back on senshuraku, and as questionable as the final results were, we would have at least been treated to actual sumo instead of cowardice.


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