Hakuho Sho won his 38th sumo wrestling tournament this past Sunday at the Natsu Basho in Tokyo. He is now the winningest yokozuna in the history of sumo wrestling. That’s right, you can watch the greatest sumo wrestler of all time win a tournament right now. And great googly moogly, is it an absolute battle. God bless the internet.
The man who won his first major sumo championship at this very tournament 11 years ago has cemented his legacy. This tournament victory had already been secured for Hakuho after going undefeated in the first 14 days. But this final victory against fellow Mongolian yokozuna Harumafuji awarded Hakuho an undefeated 15-0 record (zensho yusho) for the 13th time in his career. Just a fantastic moment for the man who has dominated his sport for over a decade.
With the recent surge of sumo popularity in Japan, especially surrounding the ascension of Kisenosato to yokozuna, Hakuho is a bizarre figure in sports. More eyes are on the sport of sumo than ever before, and in the midst of that Hakuho is the most dominate champion the sports ever seen. But his popularity remains muted. All of the extra fans rushing to the sport, both in Japan and in Mongolia, are not flocking to this once in a generation great. The oldest active yokozuna and active legend is not the sport’s premier star. And that sentiment does not seem to be fading.
Now it seems, talk has to turned to how long Hakuho can continue to fight at this elite high level. As if the fan base can simply wish him away for Kisenosato to take over as the dominant yokozuna. But I think it’s important even as outsiders to recognize this legend, and question how he has managed to become a man without a country, snubbed by Mongolia because of his love for Japan, and only mildly accepted by Japan because he is Mongolian. Trapped between the two cultures the define him, while he defines the culture of the most Japanese of sports, sumo.