Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hakuho Champion

This may seem strange to many of you, but sumo is one of the finest sports on the planet. If you've never watched, it might look like a bunch of fat guys smashing against each other for 5-10 seconds before one of them takes an unfortunate fall. You'd wonder how this behemoth was going to right himself like a turtle who's rolled onto the back of his shell. Spending the better part of the last 4 years of my life in Japan, I've become a fan(atic) and really appreciate the subtlety of the technique and the raw power of these athletes. They look fat, but the muscle mass beneath the flab would put an offensive lineman to shame. The very fact that these guys can master balance at their size is mind-blowing.

Anyway, the Hatsubasho (New Year's Tournament) has just come to an amazing conclusion. Each tournie is 15 days. The rikishi (wrestlers) face one another according to rankings at the start, and the daily matchups are adjusted according to record as the proceedings go on. There are currently two Yokozuna (Grand Champions), both of whom are Mongolians. On one side there is Asashoryu, who is something like the Mike Tyson of sumo. He doesn't play by the rules in his civilian life and some have accused him of buying wins in the ring. Whatever his transgressions, he is a freight train who puts the fear of God into his opponents. He is a force of nature. On the other hand, there is my favorite rikishi of all time, Hakuho. His father was a Grand Champion in Mongolia and he has risen to the top at a very young age thanks to a commitment to excellence and a variety of techniques. He has strength and balance, but he is the complete package, a chess player in the ring. He is Ali.

These two guys ended up tied on the final day of the tournament and the buzz in the arena was palpable. I present to you via the magic of YouTube the final match. Only in the offseason......Hakuho is on the left and Asashoryu is on the right....