Takanosato and Smokin' Joe
I found it interesting that Naruto-oyakata passed away on the same day as Smokin'
Joe Frazier. Joe Frazier can be classified as one of the greatest heavyweight
boxers of all time. Dude was an undersized junkyard dog with a mean left hook
who exemplified a hard-nosed fighter from the streets. And this was back in the
day when heavyweight fights went 15 rounds. His rival back in the day was a
complete opposite in Muhammad Ali, a taller finesse fighter who was hip,
articulate, and great with the media. He was also a progressive dude dodging the
draft and converting to Islam, but Joe Frazier exemplified a street fighter...a
kid who had no other way out and who knew nothing else but straight forward, in
your face boxing.
So what does Joe Frazier have to do with Naruto-oyakata? It actually goes back to Naruto-oyakata's stable master, Wakanohana I, who I consider sumo's ultimate badass. Wakanohana I created the most potent stable in sumo history, the Futagoyama-beya, and he did it by being crass, abusive, and in your face. He was eventually elected the sport's commissioner, and he railed on what he perceived were soft rikishi who actually had the audacity to dick with the sport and throw bouts. He understood that the only way that sumo was going to survive the changing times were for the rikishi to become hard-nosed fighters completely dedicated to the craft, not just the money. And if that meant beating the sense into the young guys over and over, then so be it.
I guarantee you that Naruto-oyakata was beaten with a board too many times to count by his stable master, but the end result was a stubborn rikishi in Takanosato who willed himself to reach the sport's pinnacle, becoming a Yokozuna after the age of 30. And you could totally see that crusty attitude pervade the Naruto-beya. Takanosato rarely allowed his rikishi to leave the stable for de-geiko. His attitude was we're going to do things my way, and if someone else wants to come visit and take on my guys, bring it on, but I'll be damned if I'll let another stable dictate the keiko of my rikishi. Naruto was criticized heavily for this stance on no de-geiko, but he was a stubborn sumbitch who never moved an inch.
And you can see how this attitude as been instilled in Kisenosato. The Kid reached the division by the age of 18, and he was either a love him or hate him rikishi. Some fans didn't like his constant smirk, especially considering his age, and others criticized him for his dame-oshi, but you could see the badass in Kisenosato from the beginning. I mean how many rikishi have ever dared to deliver a hari-te to Asashoryu? A few have tried and got their asses kicked in return, but it was different when Kisenosato did it...on multiple times. Sure, Asashoryu may have won those bouts, but Kisenosato was not defeated. He'd get up and have that same glare on face like "Just wait until I do it again next time we fight." I can't recall the exact basho and day, but I specifically remember pointing out in previous comments that Kisenosato was allowed to deliver a face slap to a Yokozuna just because. It's really not something you can put into words; it's more of the aura surrounding the rikishi. Kisenosato is a badass, and he's one of the few guys who can do as he pleases. Like the style or not, it's what made sumo great. Wakanohana I understood it, and Takanosato understood it. Fortunately, this mindset has rubbed off on Kisenosato as well, but unfortunately, I can't think of another rikishi who has carried on this legacy.
Consider what has become of the once indomitable Futagoyama-beya. It's known these days as the Takanohana-beya run of course by the former Yokozuna Takanohana who wasn't unlike Muhammad Ali back in his day...a legendary fighter, popular with the people, and an overall hip guy. I mean, look at Takanohana now. He's skinny; he has perfect hair; he's married to a beautiful woman; his vocabulary is that of a professor, not a rikishi; and he's hip and what I would refer to as politically correct. And look at his stable...nothing. The once great Futagoyama-beya presided over by Wakanohana I that produced multiple Yokozuna and Ozeki has now been reduced to a crop of rikishi no one's ever heard of that probably eat quiche for the morning meal and wash it down with Evian.
Back in the day I loved boxing. Barely in elementary school, I still remembering watching fights on a blurry television set that featured Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman. In the eighties as the heavyweight legends began to fade, you had lighter guys to carry the torch like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Thomas Hearns. And then there was of course Mike Tyson who singlehandedly carried the sport into the early 90's, but a change in "stable masters" from the crass, old school Cus D'Amato to the money-driven Don King produced two entirely different boxers in Tyson. After Iron Mike, there were a few others like Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis who mopped things up in the 90's, but look what has become of the sport since.
So why has boxing faded? There are just too many alternatives now for the kids who, let's face it, fueled the system. During the 1980's, the NBA transformed from a league of slow white guys with porn mustaches to high flying athletes like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. You also had the group Run DMC become mainstream, which would lay the groundwork for gangsta rap just a few years later. These days an African American kid from the hood gets street cred on the basketball courts or for his ability to rhyme or from getting shot in a drug deal gone bad or in frequent cases a combination of these things. What you never hear of is someone earning their street cred in the sweaty gym.
Two combat sports fueled by underprivileged kids. Two combat sports that for decades provided a way out. Two combat sports whose success was driven by a harsh, sometimes violent reality. And two combat sports that can no longer keep up with the changing times. At least we have our memories, but they just don't make 'em like Takanosato and Smokin' Joe anymore.