Aki Basho Point Counter-point Discussion

Topic presented by Valentine: It was five years ago, in 2005, sumo really captured my interest.  There was a yokozuna dominating the sport, and no one was even close.  By the end of the year, Asashoryu collected six emperor’s cups, a feat never achieved before or after.  Sports Illustrated named New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady the 2005 Sportsman of the Year.  Brady led his team to an “OK” season, going 10-6 and losing out in the playoffs.  Asashoryu, however, achieved 84-6 that same year, setting a record for most consecutive yushō (seven) and best record in a calendar year.  Then, just like today, the Japanese public lamented “It’s not interesting because one man always wins.  I want to see a Japanese yokozuna.”

Today, in 2010, Hakuho is shattering records as well.  Last year, he improved on Asa’s calendar year victories record, going 86-4 in the year, yet only coming home with three trophies.  As we speak, Hakuho is matching the most consecutive wins in the post-War ear set by Chiyonofuji, a seemingly impossible 53 consecutive wins.  Next in the no-so-far distance is the all time consecutive wins set at 69 by Futabayama way back in 1939.

Indeed, in 2005 Asashoryu was at a prime unlike Tom Brady or any other sportsman.  Indeed, in 2010 Sports Illustrated will probably name Tiger Woods or some other lowlife wanker Sportsman of the Year because that’ll sell more magazines to dentist offices, but we all know already that no one else is on top of his sport in 2010 than Hakuho.

So, the debate question opens here; which yokozuna is truly the better yokozuna, Asashoryu 2005, or Hakuho 2010?  It’s not a question only of who is further ahead of the pack, but also who is the stronger rikishi in technique, in mental attitude, and in physical speed and strength.

Chalmers here to defend the claim that Asashoryu is, hands down, the best Yokozuna of our time, and superior to Hakuho.  Looking at the two Yokozuna in their most pivotal years, Asashoryu in 2005 and Hakuho in the current 2010 season, we’ll see that the former is the better technical fighter, the stronger willed athlete, and the more achieved rikishi.

In the 2005 year, Asashoryu made history with six consecutive tournament victories all within the calendar year, as mentioned before.  This achievement came off of five championships the previous year.  Asashoryu could have made it six in ’04, making what would have been an even more amazing 12 consecutive cups and two straight zenyusho years!  But unrelenting stress, media pressure, and lack of ring time, due to his wedding and controversy between the wrestler and Takasago Oyakata stemming from the wedding, severely handicapped the wrestler in the Aki Basho in September.  The result was a 9-6 finish, by far the worst record of his Yokozuna career and a performance he would never repeat up to his forced-retirement in January 2010.  Asashoryu’s six championships in 2005 make him the sole rikishi to achieve zenyusho the more than 2000 years that the sport has existed.  Hakuho still has yet to become even eligible for this feat.

From a technical standpoint, it is difficult to compare the two as Asashoryu has 3 years more experience in Makuuchi than Hakuho.  Based on the diversity of techniques utilized by each wrestler over the course of a year, we can make a clear comparison of the technical skill of each wrestler (over the course of that particular year).  For Asashoryu we look at 2005, where he won 84 bouts utilizing 23 different kimarite (deciding techniques).  Hakuho, in the year leading up to Aki 2010, won 86 of his bouts, but with only 13 kimarite, relying heavily on what are called “kihonwaza,” or basic techniques.  I dare you to find a more diverse fighter than Asashoryu.

Finally, the bare-bones, most fundamental component of all competitive sports is “competiveness.”  No matter what rules players and fighters follow to make one sport different from then next, all competition is what binds all sports together.  An athlete, no matter how strong or fast, even a prodigy, is nothing with out an opponent to compete against.  And there is no one to match the competitiveness of Asashoryu, in 2005 or any point in his career.  He defeated most opponents before the tachiai with a stare that could only be matched, if even, by the “Wolf” himself, Chiyonofuji.  Those who turned their back on him only provoked him further to try to make it clear to them that they had no place on the dohyo with him.  There was a fire in him that no one could control, even himself, and no opponent could put into check.  His Yokozuna run was made interesting by his only competition, Hakuho, there for all but his first 7 basho as Yokozuna.  Now that Asashoryu has retired, we have entered a true “Hakuhojidai,” and can only wonder how long Hakuho will reign, uncontested.  Hakuho himself conceded in tears to the fact that Asashoryu was his greatest and only opponent when interviewed about the forced-retirement of his adversary.

The mark that Asashoryu has left on sumo will be long felt, and he will be missed by many as the greatest Yokozuna of all time.  Like Tyson of Boxing, the Babe of Baseball, or the Tiger of Golf, Asashoryu brought something unforgettable and unparalleled to the sport, and had it all taken away by a bad decision… or two.

2005 Asa and 2010 Hakuho eh?  I, Patton Creswell, like the distinguished gentlemen from Hawaii said before, will look at technical skill, athleticism, and distinguishing characteristics to prove that Hakuho is not only a “better yokozuna”, but that he is on the track to be the “best” yokozuna.

Lets look at Asashoryu in 2005: At 24-25 years old, Asa was the lone Yokozuna, he had been for over a year since Musashimaru (whom he never really fought at the rank of Yokozuna) retired in Kyushu ‘03.  So he had more than entire year to build a good record which was unmolested by competition from other Yokozuna.  In 2005 he put together a string of 27 consecutive victories, which is nothing to sneeze at, but not his 35 from the previous year.  He snagged all the yusho, 2 of which were zesho.  He only lost to an Ozeki once in the entire year.  He never lost to anyone ranked below M6.  At the time of the Aki Basho that we are now in the midst of, he was at 67-5.  There were only 2 or 3 ozeki in 2005, two of which were getting up in years.  Over the year he employed 25 (by my count) kimarite (the most diverse of any rikishi in Makuuchi), the majority of which were bread and butter kihonwaza.  Asa would go on to end the year 84-6 picking up his 15th yusho. Asa was fast, like a goddamn racing horse out of the gates, and his tachiai was reminiscent of a tank battle.

Asa brought intensity and will to win to every bout he fought in, and he was never afraid to show it.  Like Chalmers said, Asa’s stare could melt metal and turn an otherwise confident rikishi into a quivering pile of blubber and chonmage.  His glower screamed at his opponents: “come on, i will take you apart brick by brick motherf*cker… I’ll rip you in two…and after I’m done with you I’ll eat your babies so your trick-ass shit won’t be carried on.” One time NHK showed a close up of him staring down Harumafuji and I think Daly might have dropped a hot deuce out of intimidation.  Asa had a fire and ferocity in the ring that truly dominated the sport.  However, since Asa’s ferocity and determination were always thrust to the fore, this eagerness on occasion led to losses to lower ranked wrestlers (Aminishiki M5, and Kokkai M6, Futeno at komosubi and twice to Kotooshi once as Komusubi and once as Sekiwake in 2005 alone).  Not only that, but it also caused several incidents off the dohyo that resulted in his ultimate demise.

Now lets look at Hakuho 2010:  At 24-25 years, Hakuho has been the lone Yokozuna since February, when Asa (his great rival) retired.  Still in the year leading up to 2010 Hakuho picked up 3 yusho, 2 of which were zensho and 3 jun yusho, never having turned in a score below 14-1 giving him an 86-4 record for the year.  Currently Hakuho  is on a streak of 60 consecutive wins, 2nd most in the modern era.  Hakuho has snagged all but one of the yusho this year, and all of his wins have been zensho.  He is the first man to achieve this amount of straight zensho in the modern era.  Hakuho lost 3 bouts this year, but only to Ozeki and one sekiwake, who was soon to be promoted to Ozeki.  However, he beat Asashoryu in regulation for the 7th straight time.  Right now Hakuho is at 69-3 where Asa was at 67-5 at the time in the year.  During 2010 there were either 4 or 5 Ozeki, some of which are past their prime, some of which are still settling, all of whom have proven in the past they are able to scrape out a win against Hakuho.  So far this year Hakuho has employed 14 different kimarite, although as Chalmers said he relies mostly on kihonwaza.  The reason for this “reliance”, however, is not lack of versatility.  It’s simply due to one of Hakuho’s greatest traits, his patience and cool head.  Hakuho goes in for the win every time.  He doesn’t let his emotions take over, and he waits for the right moment, and the safe moment to execute the win.  The fact is that Hakuho just doesn’t get into the situation where these complicated kimarite are required.  His tachiai is lightning fast, and he almost never fails to get some grip out of it.  Sometimes all it takes is the initial hit to seal the deal.  Hakuho has what everyone calls his “go to weapon.”  Look at the bouts between Asa and Hakuho just before Asa retired, even Asa knew well to avoid Hakuho’s outside lefthand grip.  Once he gets that grip the bout is over.

Hakuho will take this yusho, and he will take it zensho.  As he will in Kyushu, which will end his year with 17 yusho.  2 more than Asa at the same time.  He will likely shatter Futabayama’s record of 69 consecutive wins (one win away from double Asa’s best), and, if so, he will reset the record for most consecutive zensho.  At his current rate if Hakuho is allowed to continue unchecked and injury free than he’ll have close to 40 yusho, way past Taiho’s 32.  Hakuho studies, trains hard, and improves with each basho.  On the dohyo he exudes confidence and his cool collected manner not only appeases the “hinkaku” crowd who said that Asa did not have the proper temperament, but his icy stare echoes in his opponents’ skulls ringing loud and clear the message that “perhaps it would be best for you to quit the dohyo forthwith…you cannot succeed here, and you will be given no quarter, for this is my land, and I have dominion over all that dwell here.”

While both Asashoryu and Hakuho are two of the greatest Yokozuna ever, I view them as sort of a yin and yan.  Asa’s brash, fiery, oft dramatic sumo to Hakuho’s perfect, ice-cold, calculating sumo.  Who is the better Yokozuna?  Hakuho.  Who would I rather watch?  Well… that’s a different question altogether.  One thing we all can agree on is that their senshuraku bouts will go down in history.

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