GRAND SUMO TOURNAMENT
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sumotori from the east side of the draw stood before the start of the event last night.
Asashoryu shows off
Yokozuna Asashoryu served notice that being the newest grand champion doesn't always translate to being the best.
While fellow Mongolian Hakuho has grabbed attention in the world of sumo with his elevation to yokozuna at the end of the May Basho, Asashoryu displaced Hakuho by yorikiri (frontal force out while gripping the opponent's mawashi) to win the first day of the Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii last night at the Blaisdell Arena.
Using a bracket-buster, single-elimination style tournament, the 38 top-ranked sumotori in the world squared off for a total of 37 matches to determine the winner of the Mayor's Cup.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann was on hand, thanking the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association) and Hawaii-born sumo legends Azumazeki and Musashimaru for their support in bringing the tournament to the Islands for the first time since 1993.
He appropriately closed by presenting Asashoryu with the Mayor's Cup.
Asashoryu demonstrated "strength, ability and panache," Hannemann said.
All competitors will square off again today at 12:30 p.m. for the Governor's Cup, with modified bracket positioning.
The cups don't have any bearing on the Kyokai's rankings system, but each competitor appeared to give it their all.
A crowd estimated at approximately 1,000 came to see the first sumo event in Hawaii in 14 years, including plenty of sumo fans from Japan, who shouted out the names of their favorite competitors.
Some local spectators, viewing the sport for the first time, figured out their own cheers, like "atta boy, turquoise!" (at the teal mawashi-clad Toyonoshima) and joined along with the clapping of the traditional fans. It helped make up for the not-so-subtle sight of row upon row of empty seats in the arena.
After six "play-in matches" among the lowest-ranked maegashira, the round of 32 was on. Asashoryu and Hakuho made quick work of their first foes, as did all three ozeki (second tier) sumo Kotooshu, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio.
The fans' favorite sumotori was Takamisakari, whose pre-match antics drew loud cheers in each of his three bouts. The pupil of Azumazeki lasted until his matchup with the eventual champion after a good dose of protracted posturing.
Unfortunately for the maegashira, the yokozuna wasn't having any of it, and removed Takamisakari with a series of well-placed hand slaps to the chest.
A wide variety of tactics were on display, from the piston-powered blows of Kaio to the crafty momentum shifts of Satoyama, the lightest wrestler.
But Asashoryu demonstrated versatility as he dispatched maegashiras Tochiozan, Satoyama, Takamisakari, then went with a show of sheer strength to get the formidable Kotooshu off-balance, and removed the burly Bulgarian bodily from the doyho (ring).
In Hakuho's first matches as yokozuna, he survived scares from Takekaze and Dejima in his first two contests. But he ousted sekiwake (third-tier) Kotomitsuki and ozeki Kaio with alarming speed to set up the final with his countryman.
He just couldn't match the overhand throwdown of Asashoryu that capped his coming-out party last month. The two tussled for about 20 seconds before Asashoryu worked Hakuho to the edge of the dohyo, kept up the pressure for another 8 seconds, and dropped the 22-year-old out to loud applause.