Top two Yokozuna, Hakuhō vs Asashōryū
In probably the most important bout of his short but illustrious sumo career, yokozuna Hakuho beat Asashoryu on Sunday to win the first Emperor’s Cup of 2008.
It was Hakuho’s third straight makuuchi division championship, but those victories had taken place with Asashoryu absent, suspended for playing hooky from a regional tour in the summer.
Throughout the second week of the New Year Tournament, the 22-year-old Hakuho had faced questions about how he would match up against his fellow Mongolian, a 21-time Emperor’s Cup winner who had beaten him 10 times in 15 career meetings.
Hakuho’s response on Sunday was to throw Asashoryu to the dirt to win the sixth Emperor’s Cup of his career.
“Since the summer tour, I’ve been working really hard for this bout,” Hakuho said ringside after he had received the cup from Japan Sumo Association chairman Kitanoumi.
“I didn’t want to lose to a yokozuna who was coming back [from an absence]. I didn’t want to let down my supporters–their expectations were very high.
“Of course, now I want to go for four in a row.”
There is no reason Hakuho can’t, although the smart money is on Asashoryu coming back strong after he was bested in a contest of two immensely proud men.
The two yokozuna refused to back down as they prepared for the bout, and once it started, lived up to their rank.
Hakuho was always on the attack but as with everyone who faces Asashoryu, had trouble turning that into victory.
A double-handed belt grip gave Hakuho a chance to force Asa to the bales, but Asa had the same grip on Hakuho’s belt and fought back, returning the contest to the middle of the ring.
Hakuho attacked again, forcing both into Asa’s side of the ring. Asa’s response was to lift his younger compatriot into the air, but it was an empty gesture. When Hakuho touched down, he started a left-hand, overarm throw that seemed to happen in slow motion before Asashoryu somersaulted to defeat.
Asashoryu’s performance over 15 days confirmed his recovery from the stress-related illness that left him a shadow of his former self in the summer. Sunday’s loss and a Day 2 reversal to No. 1 maegashira Kisenosato aside, the yokozuna swept aside every wrestler he met in the ring.