GRAND SUMO TOURNAMENT
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maegashira Tamakasuga, left, locked up with Maegashira Kyokutenhou during the first match of the final round yesterday.
A grand finish for sumo
The two yokozunas matched up twice to decide the overall championship
Asashoryu vs. Hakuho for all the marbles was billed as the ultimate possible match in the two-day Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii.
Sumo fans got their wish both nights -- the yokozunas' meeting was destined, again.
Hakuho thwarted his fellow Mongolian for the sumotori-sized Sakura Cup last night at Blaisdell Arena to complete ozumo's return to the islands for the first time in 14 years.
The 68th and 69th grand champions in the history of the ancient sport met Saturday on the first night of the single-elimination, bracket-style tournament, and the elder Asashoryu got the better of that encounter. But Hakuho responded with a nerveless march through the field yesterday to set up a rematch for the overall title.
About 3,000 fans, both local and from Japan, watched 38 top-ranked competitors of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai square off in the dohyo for 38 total matches.
While the weekend's turnout was less than spectacular, the attendees appreciated the tournament's display of brute strength, technique, and sense of humor.
Events such as keiki wrestling against full-sized sumotori in the dohyo -- eventually 12 kids on three wrestlers -- effectively mixed the comical with the traditional.
"The audience was more excited than I thought," Hakuho said through a translator after addressing the crowd in English and Hawaiian.
An opening-day loss to his rival wasn't going to prevent Yokozuna Hakuho from having a good time in Hawaii.
Closing the Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii by avenging that defeat to Yokozuna Asashoryu made the trip much sweeter.
The 69th grand champion in the history of the 2,000-year-old Japanese sport stormed his way through the second day competition at the Blaisdell Arena and disposed his fellow Mongolian by yorikiri (frontal force out) -- a reversal of what had transpired just a day prior.
The only difference was this time the stakes were higher. Hakuho, (22-year-old Munkhbat Davaajargal) was presented with the Sakura Cup for the weekend's overall exhibition title, and the Governor's Cup for winning the 38-man tournament yesterday.
He greeted the crowd with some practiced English on behalf of all the sumotori at the end of the first sumo event in Hawaii in 14 years -- "Aloha! Thank you for coming. I'll see you again. Mahalo nui loa" -- to the delight of the approximately 3,000 in attendance.
While other sumotori would pump up the crowd (and themselves) with belly slaps and staredown contests with their opponents while entering the dohyo, Hakuho went about his business calmly and efficiently.
Later, the placid wrestler wouldn't gloat about his victories over maegashiras Kakuryu, Kyokutenho, Roho and Ryuo that put him in the Governor's Cup final against the speedy Ama. Ama went with a series of hand slaps, but the yokozuna absorbed the sekiwake's thrusts without budging and removed the nuisance by yorikiri.
Asashoryu, meanwhile, stumbled in the round of 16 to veteran Kokkai, but was still awarded a place in the Sakura Cup final because of his Mayor's Cup victory on Saturday.
In that showdown, Hakuho, at 6-foot-4 and 342 pounds, gripped the mawashi of the 6-foot, 326-pound Asashoryu for about 15 seconds as the two fought for an advantage in the middle of the ring. The two carried each other to the Eastern edge of the dohyo, and the elder grand champion couldn't stop his rival from dropping him outside.
It was a stylish tournament debut for the new yokozuna, right down to the dohyo-iri (ring entry) ceremony he performed for the first time ever over the weekend. He was promoted from ozeki after going 15-0 and claiming an Emperor's Cup in the May Basho.
"I'm very happy to be a champion. Nice victory and memories here in Hawaii," Hakuho said, smiling. "I enjoyed the activities: ocean, dolphins ... it was very refreshing."
Mongolia, landlocked between Russia and China, has eight sumotori in the makuuchi (upper division), the most of any country besides Japan. Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, and South Korea were represented with one sumotori apiece.
Hakuho pledged to continue his success by doing his best in the upcoming Nagoya Basho in July.
Fan favorite Takamisakari, of Maui-born stable master Jesse Kuhaulua's training, advanced to the quarterfinals on Saturday with his popular pre-match routine of face slaps, staredowns, and energetic posturing. But "Robocop" lost to the unheralded Ryuo by pushout in the round of 16 yesterday. The other popular wrestler, the 6-foot-9 Kotooshu of Bulgaria, lost to Ama in the semifinals when the diminutive sumo -- relatively speaking -- forced Kotooshu to trip forward after a quick change in momentum and chop to the back of the head, drawing a huge round of applause.
Like on Saturday, sumo fans from Japan helped guide the chants and cheers during the various wrestlers' introductions and special techniques.
During the trophy ceremonies, the tournament coordinators pledged it wouldn't take another 14 years for the return of sumo in Hawaii; before yesterday, it was last held in 1993.