Harumafuji: The Next Yokozuna?

There has been a lot of talk recently about whether or not Harumafuji has the chops to get the promotion to Yokozuna.  For this reason, let us take a look at the career of the rikishi formerly known as Ama, and see what we think afterwards.

Davaanyamyn Byambadorj (as his mother calls him) hails from Ulan Bator and comes from a wrestling family.  His father held the title of Zaan (elephant), the equivalent of sumo’s sekiwake rank, in Bökh (Mongolian Wrestling).  Davaanyamyn himself wrestled in Mongolia and was scouted at the National Naadam sports festival by Isegahama-oyakata (former Yokozuna Asahifuji).  He made his Sumo debut at the tender age of 15 in maezumo under the shikona Ama with  10 other rikishi.  5 were Mongolian, 9 of whom are now retired, and none of whom made sekitori.

Ama’s next basho was a good one.  he picked up the Jonokuchi yusho with a perfect 7-0 record.  2 oshidashi, 2 uwatenage, a kakenage, an uwatedashinage, and a yoirikiri.  At only 87kg he had to rely more on technique than on sheer strength… I mean… look at him.

Ama breezed through jonidan in one basho, posting 5-2.  Then spent his next 4 basho in sandanme posting decent numbers each basho until picking up the sandanme yusho with a 7-0 in March 2003.  Kimarite count thusfar 11.  His low weight was still a bit of a problem, but his speed, fire, and technique were developing nicely.

His time in makushita was a bit shaky at first.  A lackluster start with 2-5 on his first two outings.  His next 3 basho were decent.  5-2, 2-5, 4-3.  But three 5-2 records and a 6-1 propelled him to makushita 1 for Kyushu 2003.  A slight stumble and a 3-4 record set him back for the first basho of 2004, but he came back with a 4-3 record good enough to propel him into sekitorihood for Osaka 2004.  Kimarite count: 19, weight 93kg.

Unlike most Ama didn’t get the juryo jitters, he put on 20 kilos since his makushita days and posted an impressive 10-5 from Juryo 12e.  A slight 6-9 setback the next tournament was more than repaid with a 9-6, and an 11-4 juryo yusho with wins over Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, Kasugao, Bushuyama, Tokitenku, and winning the playoff bout with Gojoro securing his promotion to makuuchi.

Ama had a good start in Makuuchi, not great, but solid.  He picked up his first technique prize in March 2005, and of his first 7 basho in makuuchi he only makekoshied twice, and only with a 6-9 and a 7-8, so still respectable for a smaller rikishi.  It was in hatsu of 2006 that his career opened up.

A 9-6 with a kinboshi over his buddy Asashoryu in hatsu 2006 from M6 started his run.  Next up was his 2nd technique prize the very next basho.  Like most rikishi he had trouble breaking past the komusubi meat grinder and turned in a 4-11 in his first sanyaku basho for natsu ’06.  But in September of the same year he took home 11 wins, the junyusho and his first fighting spirit prize.  Sekiwake debut in Natsu 2007, and another little stumble back down to komusubi.

However from September 2007 – September 2008 Ama picked up 4 outstanding performance prizes, 2 more technique prizes, and another junyusho.  He won 4 out of 7 bouts with Hakuho, and 1 out of 4 bouts with Asa.  With a 10-5G and 12-3JS in Nagoya and September, and one of his most memorable moments as sekitori: an absolutely crazy okuritsuriotoshi (rear lifting body slam, see left) over Goeido on day 12.  Next, his 13-2JG and playoff with Hakuho in Kyushu sealed his promotion to Ozeki for Hatsu 2009 and his change of shikona from Ama to Harumafuji.

Harumafuji’s Ozeki career started kind of slow.  He beat Hakuho in Hatsu, and Asa in Osaka.  Then came his first yusho in May of 2009, a moment all of us here at Sumo & Stogies had the privilege of seeing first hand.  Harry lost to Kublai in regulation, but won the playoff forced by Asa beating Hakuho on senshuraku.  The zabuton were flying on that day, i don’t mind telling you.

After that Harumafuji sort of hit a slump.  He managed to get his 10 sometimes, mostly not.  In 2010 a series of injuries (shoulder and ankle) forced him to either turn in subpar performances, or go kyojuo completely, causing his first kadoban, which he shook off in Hatsu 2011 in less-than-convincing style.  We, as well as many others in the rather small fan community of sumo, had been complainging that Harumafuji’s sumo had become complacent and a lot less Ama-like.  We missed the vicious and fast tachiais, the fiery neck throttling, the quick thinking, and the lithe (yet honorable) trickery and guile.  Most of all we missed the Asa-like fire, all the more poignant in Genghis’s absence.  Then came Nagoya, and his 2nd yusho; 14-1 with a win over Hakuho in regulation.

So on to the big question, can he get the horizontal rope?  Well, as much as I’d like to see it, I think not.  While at his best Harumafuji’s savage tachiais, lightning speed, brute strength, and killer technique are not only effective, but exciting to watch, he has never been able to keep the level of consistency that is required.

Some might, and do, argue that in the past few years we’ve slipped into expecting every yokozuna must be a dai-yokozuna, racking up 15+ yusho.  While this may be true, 2 yusho in 3 years, just isn’t enough for even a run of the mill yokozuna.  Harumafuji is prone to falling of the horse a bit due to injuries, and given that he just injured his right toe during keiko in Aomori a few days back, we logically can expect a similar pattern of serious effort, varied and strong sumo, and decent performance with sporadic yushos, which, really, is what should be an Ozeki should be doing.  Added to this, as a nail in the coffin, Harumafuji has a few nemesis.  Kotoshogiku gives him constant trouble, Kisenosato can topple him pretty often, Kotooshu is tied with him, Tochiozan tends to beat him, Baruto can beat him sometimes, and of course Hakuho.

Qualifications for being given sumo’s top honor is 2 consecutive yusho (or equivalent), and the nebulous hinkaku requirement.  Equivalent could mean a lot of things: it could be a junyusho with a playoff with Hakuho, it could be a 14-1 junyusho, or various other situations.  But realistically, if it is anything but the first two he’ll have to wait and pick up another junyusho in kyushu.  I really don’t think that given his track record over the past two years that two sudden yusho will give Ama the rope.  If he can get a convincing junyusho in september and a yusho in kyushu, we could see a promotion.  Or, two more straight yusho in a row would do.  A yusho in September and a 14-1 or 13-2 junyusho in kyushu might do the trick as well.

As for hinkaku, I don’t think we’ll see many arguments that Ama is lacking. I love Harumafuji, and I would love to be wrong and see him grab the yusho in september and get the rope in kyushu.  The guy fights through injuries and refuses to give up.  He talks straight, and whipped his own ass into shape.  At a smaller size he still manages to keep up and out-muscle, and out-finesse much larger, younger, quicker, trickier, and more experienced opponents (41 kimarite over his career.)  This cat is hungry for wins and will give 100%, and do it with attitude.  If he can keep healthy and move like he was last time around he might have a little bit more than what he’s got to smile about here.

One response to “Harumafuji: The Next Yokozuna?

  1. I like Ama a lot. And yes, when I am happy with him I call him “Ama” still. When I am unhappy with him is when he is “Harumafuji.” I get happy or unhappy with him as he’s been in my Fantasy Sumo stable over the last few basho…

    Anyway, it’s definitely the most interesting storyline to watch in September – even moreso than the Ozeki runs. But I would be shocked beyond shocked if he actually put together another yusho – or even jun-yusho.

    I think he’s erratic because he just doesn’t have it all. He DOES indeed have some of the fire that made Asashoryu great (or the greatest ever – depending on who you ask), but Asa had so many tools and so many physical attributes that Ama doesn’t have. And fire isn’t enough to be dominant on a regular basis. (If it were wouldn’t Takamisikari be Yokozuna?)

    But again – this is another time I would love to be totally wrong. I would love for him to go 15-0 in September, by tossing Hakuho into Gold Tophat Guy’s lap.

    Mostly because he’ll be back in my Fantasy Stable …😛

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