The Autumn Sumo Tournament from Tokyo, Japan has been plagued with injury and noted as an opportunity for the lower sumo ranks to step up and take advantage of a tournament without some of the upper ranks. So it’s a bit ironic that the final fight of the tournament between the two highest ranked wrestlers left, would end up determining the winner of the Emperor’s Cup.
After sailing through the early part of the Basho, Ozeki (which means the wrestler tier directly below Yokozuna) Gōeidō Gōtarō seemed to have the tournament locked up, with only one loss and the rest of the ranks far behind. But back to back losses on day 12 and 13, left the door open for the only Yokozuna in the tournament to advantage.
Yokozuna Harumafuji Kōhei, the sole Yokozuna in the tournament, despite his rumored elbow injury, got off to a rocky start. Losing on day 3, 4, and 5, fans had understandably written off the struggling Yokozuna. A fourth loss on day 10 seemed to settle it with people of wrestlers ahead of him.
So imagine the surprise for sumo fans to see just five days later, Harumafuji just one loss behind Goeido on the final day of the tournament. From the beginning, we knew the sumo council was looking to match the two up as the final match of Basho. And despite two vastly different paths, both wrestlers did what they needed to do to make that happen.
Essentially, here are the stakes. If the Ozeki Goeido (on the left) can beat the Yokozuna Harumafuji (on the right), he would win the tournament out right. If the Yokozuna wins, the two fighters would have to fight again afterward in a playoff to determine the tournament winner.
Watch below to see how the grand finale of the 2017 Autumn Basho unfolded (match starts at 2:15):
Nothing else like it in the world. Sumo wrestling’s biggest prize on the line, and one single match to determine it all. A playoff between two of the very best in the world. (Match starts at 6:30)
What an amazing comeback from Yokozuna Harumafuji. He hadn’t won a tournament all year, and his pulling out with injury during an earlier tournament had people questionings when he would be pushing for retirement. Harumafuji has a long history of shaky matches as a Yokozuna; no Yokozuna has given out more kinboshi (losses to lower-ranked, untitled wrestlers). Even during this tournament, Harumafuji was criticized by the head of the Japanese Sumo Association, Hakkaku for his day 3 loss, when he stopped wrestling mid-fight, because he expected the referee to call a “false start”. The referee did not call a stoppage and the Yokozuna was pushed out easily.
But the Mongolian Yokozuna Harumafuji, forever lost int he shadow of the great Hakuho, stuck through all adversity to win all his final 5 fights and force a playoff, where he would find victory and his redemption, once again lifting the Emperor’s Cup.